Following its debut at Cannes this summer, Jacques Audiard’s latest film “Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades)” screened at the Zurich Film Festival this week.
In his monochrome opus of young lives unexpectedly intertwined, the director of the Oscar-nominated “A Prophet” and Palme d’Or-winning “Dheepan,” returns to shoot in Paris, but he does his best to defamiliarize its well-known streets and tropes.
“I’ve shot a lot in Paris and had come to certain limits, because Paris is becoming more and more a city that’s like a museum, or a romantic city, and I have to take my distance from that — which I could do using black and white,” he said while in conversation with Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge at the Variety Lounge at Zurich Film Festival, presented by Power Chord Films
Discovering new ways to see the city through fresh eyes is the reason he chose to set his tale in the 13th arrondissement in the first place. The more multi-cultural, vibrant district feels far from the stuffiness of other parts of the city center.
“I wanted to say that the 13th district is not Paris, because a French Chinese person can meet a French African and they can meet a girl from Bordeaux. [Those are] encounters that can only happen there,” he explained.
The film is adapted from a series of short narrative comics by New Yorker cartoonist Adrian Tomine. Audiard said that he was drawn to the American source material despite the Parisian setting in order to tell a story specific to the capital, but also “not so French.”
Turning multiple different stories into a single film was a challenge that appealed to him — a chance to make his work more “choral” thanks to the numerous voices emerging from different narrative threads.
“if I just read one book and it just tells me one story about a couple, I sometimes find that’s not complex enough. I tend to make things more complex, and so taking source material from different novels allows me to work on that,” he said. He’s drawn to creating works with a more complicated structure, where things are happening simultaneously and he has to “multitask” to juggle the characters.
Through their encounters, he hoped to explore how relationships have changed for a generation much more sexually liberated than people were in his youth and much more accustomed to relating through screens. He described the core of his inquiry as the question of whether love is still possible when sex is cheap.
“This is something I have wanted to talk about and explore for a long time,” he said. The answer, he ultimately concluded, was yes. “It’s still possible, but in a different way.”