Claire Denis on Women Filmmakers, Working With Robert Pattinson

This April 4, 2019 photo shows
Brian Ach/Invision/AP

Presiding over Venice Film Festival’s Horizons jury, French filmmaker Claire Denis stopped by the festival and Mastercard’s “Life Through a Different Lens: Contactless Connections” talk on Thursday. The “Beau Travail” helmer addressed the female directors issue head on. “I am not a pioneer. There weren’t many women when I started, I knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of support, but since #MeToo there is this fight to have more of them present, also at festivals. It doesn’t mean that it used to be hard and now it’s oh-so-easy. Making films is difficult for men and for women. But more difficult for women, still.”

Asked about pointers for those who want to embark on a similar career, Denis replied: “Be stubborn. That’s the only thing I know. When you say ‘embark,’ I see someone getting on a boat, crossing the oceans, and that’s what you need in your heart. You need to be sure it’s really what you want in order to survive many things, the first one being fear,” she said, especially the fear of being disrespected. “The respect for a female director isn’t as big as for a male director. Maybe the difference is not that big, but it exists.”

She also talked about her experience as an assistant director, working with the likes of Wim Wenders. “I was very interested in his trust and the belief that film is something you have to look for. We know it costs money and it has to happen, but every morning and every night, there is a search for it,” she said. “Yesterday I saw a film in the competition, directed by a young woman [Mona Fastvold] and I could see her shivering before the screening started. Coming to a festival, there is some glory to that. But that glory is built on millions of doubts, fear and fragility.”

Recounting her first movie experience, Denis mentioned her childhood in colonial French Africa. “My mother missed cinema so much! I was maybe 6 or 7 when I saw ‘War and Peace’ with Audrey Hepburn. For months I was dreaming about Russia and those faces, the snow and the Napoleonic Wars.”

While describing inspiration, Denis called it her “pain and joy.” “It’s something that’s supposed to come at my order: ‘Please, answer me, inspiration!’ But it doesn’t. It’s a fugitive.”

She also opened up about her methods on the set of “High Life,” starring Robert Pattinson. “I never shot with Robert before and we were a bit shy with each other. I said: ‘Robert, don’t be offended, but when I direct, I have to touch, and maybe I will touch you too. I can’t help it, it’s necessary for me.” He looked at me: ‘Touch?!’ He was surprised, but later understood what I meant. I am not seated by the monitor. I am close to the camera, I touch my DP, his shoulders, his head, the props and sometimes my actors and actresses too. Filmmaking is full of sensation.”