PARIS– Since coming on board Directors’ Fortnight five years ago, Edouard Waintrop has fully revamped and energized the program with audacious selections, luring well-established helmers such as Arnaud Desplechin with “My Golden Days,” Marco Bellocchio’s “Sweet Dreams,” Chilean helmer Pablo Larrain with “Neruda” to come play alongside flurries of promising newcomers.
A former film journalist at national newspaper Liberation who previously worked as artistic director of the Fribourg Film Festival, Waintrop has been applauded for discovering gems from emerging directors, such as Deniz Erguven’s Oscar-nominated Turkish coming-of-age drama “Mustang,” Thomas Cailley’s romantic comedy “Love at First Fight” and Guillaume Gallienne’s unusual dramedy “Me, Myself and Mum.” This year, Waintrop once again defied expectations with a number of under-the-radar entries.

Your selection of French films is totally surprising. We were expecting to find some of the movies tipped for the Official Selection in Directors’ Fortnight, notably Bertrand Bonello, Katell Quillévéré and Arnaud des Pallières…

Well, I don’t want to talk too much about what films we didn’t take. But I’m very proud of showing films that were off-the-radar!

“Sweet Dreams” by Marco Bellocchio isn’t exactly a low-profile film but it’s a great catch!

Yes, we got lucky. Some treasures fall of the wagon and we’re there to pick them up, like last year with “My Golden Days” by Arnaud Desplechin. This one, “Sweet Dreams,” is even stronger. I was really blown away by it. It’s at the level of “Buongiorno, notte” which is one of my favorite films by Bellocchio.

You also managed to poach another treasure, Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda.”

It’s a very surprising film, notably for its innovative aesthetic which also reflects Larrain’s perception of Neruda and his relationship to the truth. Larrain weaves fictional characters into the film and it becomes very suspenseful because we don’t know where the fiction is. It’s a very beautiful, sensual and metaphysical film.

If you had to define your mandate at Directors’ Fortnight, what would it be?

Yann Gonzalez, a young French director, wrote a very touching text which was read by Pierre Salvadori (president of the French directors guild) this morning at the press conference. He said that at Directors’ Fortnight we mix film masters with newcomers. It creates a permanent dialogue between a new breed of filmmakers and well-established ones. I was very moved by his words because that’s precisely what I’m trying to achieve at Directors’ Fortnight.

How did you come up with three Italian films?

It’s a total coincidence. It happened in three movements. First I saw Paolo Virzi’s film three months ago here in Paris and it was a “coup de coeur.” I knew Virzi from before. I have an Italian audience in Geneva (where I run an arthouse theater) so I show a lot of Italian films. It’s both auteur and feelgood. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is monstrously talented and beautiful, and so is her co-star Micaela Ramazzotti, who is Virzi’s wife. Then “Fiore” by Claudio Giovannesi, we saw it in Rome and we were blown away. Usually, I like when a film ends, but not this one. It’s a very harsh story about a young girl who steals cell phones to survive and finds herself in prison where her encounters lead her to discover love and tenderness.

Your selection of American films is also very much unexpected. Can you tell me something about “Mean Dreams”?

“Mean Dreams” is a great thriller about a bored youngster living with his father, a broke farmer. He falls in love with a girl whose father is the new sheriff, a corrupt cop involved in drug trafficking. The film is about how these two young folks escape their abusive homes.

You don’t have a single film from Sundance, right?

Nope. No film from Sundance this year. We saw stuff at Sundance but then when Paul Schrader offered us “Dog Eat Dog” and we got the opportunity to show “Risk” by Laura Poitras, we just grabbed them both! With “Risk” it happened very fast. Laura emailed me four days ago to say that she could send me the link. I watched it and called her straight away to invite her. It’s really bold. I think it matches “Iggy Pop” on the level of sex. You’ll see! Do you know Julian Assange? He’s very charismatic…

Last year, you discovered “Mustang” which went on to become the talk of Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar. Which movie in your selection do you predict could create as much buzz?

It’s so hard to predict. Last year, we didn’t know “Mustang” would turn out this way. I think if audiences click with “Tour de France,” it could be very big. When someone talks about today’s politics the way Rachid Djaidani does, it doesn’t go unnoticed. The movie has a lot of heart and it shows you who votes for the National Front (France’s far-right party) these days, and it’s often former left-wing union reps who’ve become racists, like Gerard Depardieu’s character in “Tour de France.” In this film, we see that character’s racist beliefs shaken up after he spends time with a young Arab who drives him around France.