P:O.V. No.5 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, IMMEDIATE DEPARTURE

An interview with Thomas Briat

Richard Raskin

Can we begin with the ending of Immediate Departure? With your decision to end the film the way you did?

On several occasions, I was in doubt as to how to end it. And of course, I thought about a punchline. For example, another person could find the picture of the man, left behind at the photo automat, and do what he had done... That might have been funny and a lot of people might have liked it.

As for the ending I chose instead, a lot of people told me: "That's a great film, we really liked it. But at the end, we were waiting for something and nothing happened." That's what I like in the movie. My producer, Mary Anne de la Palme, didn't say that to me, but other producers who had seen the script, said: "That's great. That's really exciting. But at the end, nothing happens. We wait for something and there is nothing. What happens in the train? What will you film? Just someone looking? This is nothing!" This is the only thing I'm proud of in the film, because I think there are a lot of mistakes in the movie. But the one thing I'm really proud of is the end because that was really what I wanted: no end. Because nothing happens and that's the story of the film. The story is about someone who desperately wants something, and when he gets it, or when it is within reach, he realizes that he didn't really want it. He tried to catch up with the woman in the photograph, but when he finally does and he can speak with her, he doesn't want to anymore. That was really the meaning of the film.

People usually think that a short film must have a punchline at the end, because that's the classical rhetoric of the short film. Whether it's a drama or a comedy, you have to have a punchline. And in a way, I have a non-punchline. The film is built that way. You wait for something. You say, okay, he's going to kiss her, or speak to her, but nothing happens. He doesn't even say a word. I can understand that some people find it very frustrating because there is nothing. But that's the film. That's what I wanted.

It's not that I don't like films that have a punchline. Some of them are very well done. In fact, I think I don't know how to manage that kind of an ending... There's always the classical way of doing things, and sometimes it's interesting to do the opposite.

I think the best short films are the ones that are open-ended, the way yours is. I do have a question about it that I was hoping you would answer. After the man gives the woman a tissue to dry her tears, a moment goes by and she looks at him. And that's the first time that he is the one being looked at. He feels very uncomfortable and he gets up and leaves. Why does he feel uncomfortable when she looks at him?

A lot of people give me different interpretations of the ending and I like that. Some have said that she's too beautiful for him and he realizes that a relationship would be impossible. I think one of my favorite interpretations is that now that it's possible to speak to her, it's not interesting for him any more.

But that's the kind of thing you realize after having made the film. At the beginning, the main thing for me was to tell a story about someone who would do anything to meet a woman he had seen. But it's totally stupid, because he leaves his I.D. at the supermarket, he gets on a train without even knowing its destination, etc., etc. That was the only purpose of the film. And afterwards, I realized that with this ending, the thing I wanted to tell - the most personal thing - was the fact that sometimes, you think that you really want or really need something, and once you have it, you don't want it any more. You ask yourself: why did I do that, because in fact, I really didn't want it.

I can give an example from a movie, that wasn't a reference but that I thought about when I was writing Immediate Departure. There is a sequence in Antonioni's Blow Up, when the main character goes to a live concert, and the singer throws his guitar out into the audience and everyone tries to grab it, including the main character, who wants it so much that he would kill to get it. And at the end of the sequence, when he has the guitar and leaves the concert, he throws it away. [Laughter] Just moments earlier, getting the guitar was the most important thing in his life, but when he has it, he doesn't care about it any more.

So maybe that was the main thing I wanted to say. But the other interpretations are also valid... It doesn't bother me that the end can be interpreted in several different ways. But it's true: the fact that he gives up at the very moment when she looks at him, of course, that's the main thing...

When I showed the film to my students and we talked about the ending and tried to understand why he weeps in the final shots, some also thought that the woman's sadness was so great that it had spread to him. I think it's a richness when the image is open to three or four different interpretations.

I think it's very important to realize that. That's the magic of movies, and I think it's a quality that is specific to the cinema. It's not the same when you write a book. It's the difference between what you write and what you want, and what you get at the end. You could also be very disappointed because you always think when you write something that it will be the masterpiece of the century. And afterwards, you discover so many problems to solve.

For example, in the train... Maybe when you are a big director, you have everything you want during the shooting, but when you are just starting out, it's impossible to have everything you want. You have very little time, very little of everything. So you have to be very quick. For example, I think that the shooting is very poor at the end. In my head, I had imagined hundreds of shots between the two characters, the reflection in the window, etc. And in fact, we had about one hour to shoot the scene, because even our very limited authorization was extremely expensive. I had to do reverse angle

shots and in the simplest way. I did all the shots of her and then all the shots of him. That was the only way to shoot it, because it was either that or nothing. So I shot it that way, and I'm very surprised that no one has told me that the shooting in that scene is very poor. I think the actors performed so well that it worked.

And at the end, I got something a little bit - not totally different, but a little bit different than what I wanted. And I like that! Of course, at the beginning, you have to have a desire, to have something you want to say but at the end, maybe you will have something more or less, but different from what you had in mind at the beginning, and I like the surprises that come in that way.

Can you tell me about your choice of Bruno Lochet and Amira Casar. Why did you choose them for the main roles?

Outside of France, no one knows Bruno Lochet, but in France he is well-known from his work in television. He did a daily comedy sketch with a kind of theater company and he was very well-known as a comic. Those sketches are really masterpieces, because they are very realistic and funny. What I liked about Bruno is that he was not only funny but also very emotional. For example, in one sketch he played a farmer who really loved his chicken. The situation was very funny at the beginning but I must say - and I've spoken to other people about it and I'm not the only one who feels this way - that I was also on the verge of tears because of the way Bruno played in the sketch. It's incredible to think that you can cry about someone who loves a chicken. I didn't want any comedy in my film, maybe for one or two seconds you laugh a little, but it's not a comedy. And I thought that if an actor can make you cry about a chicken, he can do anything. [Laughter] So that's why I wanted Bruno in that role.

Bruno Lochet (right) and Yolande Moreau (left) in the famous chicken sketch on the French television series, Les Deschiens (1994).

In general, I prefer to work with unknown people. That's why I like foreign cinema. When I see a movie without knowing anybody. It's only new people. But that was not the case with Bruno, because everybody knows him as a comic. But after making the film, I think that was a kind of advantage for the film. I hadn't done it on purpose, but a lot of people told me: "That's really great, to have chosen Bruno Lochet in a drama." That was not a commercial purpose but I think that maybe it was a good choice for that reason as well. I thought: this guy can play something totally different. I think that's what he liked. I was very surprised that he accepted the role. He's not a star, but you go to a café with him anywhere in France and hundreds of people will flock to him, because he's a TV personality. He's kind of like a Mr. Bean. You wouldn't ordinarily think of casting a Mr. Bean type in a dramatic movie. And I think that was an advantage for the film. It was not an obvious choice.

You can of course make mistakes, but maybe that's one of the most difficult things in doing this job: to be sure of your choice. You can be wrong too. I was wrong about other choices. Just as with the ending, a lot of people told me that my choice of Bruno Lochet was wrong, saying that everyone would laugh because this guy is too funny. I'm proud to have made this choice.

What about Amira Casar?

I didn't know her at all. Now she's making feature films. She made a film called La vérité si je mens, a tremendous success in France. Now people know her, because she was the main character in that film. But when I chose her - I don't want to say that it's my film... - but when I chose her, she hadn't yet made any films. She was studying at the conservatory, the theater school. I saw a very small thing that she did in the theater. What I liked was that she was totally unknown, and she was the kind of person you meet in the street and you turn to look at her. Also, I didn't just want a beautiful girl, a kind of model, because at the end I wanted something emotional with her. I knew when I saw her in the theater that she could give me what I wanted in my film, and she did it very well. And in the train, she was also good at working quickly and under a lot of pressure. Despite the fact that she didn't have any experience in films, she was very professional in this kind of emergency. She was perfect in the first take. With Bruno it was different, maybe because Bruno's role was more difficult to play. Amira's was quite simple: she was a girl - you can imagine what you want - whose boyfriend has left her, or whose father is dead. It was a simple emotion. Bruno's role was more difficult. He wanted to know what he had to play, and even I couldn't give him a simple answer. I just told him: "You don't know what to do. And at a specific moment, you prefer to give up rather than continue." It was a very difficult role to play. The idea was: "I want to see in your eyes the fact that you give up." That was the only thing I could tell him.

What about your policy as a director of actors? Do you encourage the actors to be independent, or do you tell them what you want them to do?

I don't know if we can even talk about a policy for someone like me, who has only made such a short film. But I can say what I would like to do. Yes, I think I would prefer to give a kind of freedom to the actor.

For example, I didn't say: We have to do that, or to imitate... For example, one thing that impressed Bruno: I was almost crying when I told him about the moment when his character gives up. I had never lived this personally, but I was thinking about this kind of abandon, of giving up. Maybe because this was such a personal thing, that explains the success of the movie. That's the only reason I found. I don't think it's a masterpiece or so well executed. The main thing is: there is a personal thing in the film. And when I tried to explain to Bruno what I wanted, at that moment I told him a very personal thing and maybe that's why he finally gave me something that I liked. At first it was very hard. We shot an enormous amount of film, which was terrible because we only had a limited number of very small reels. We shot about ten minutes for just that one shot of Bruno when he gives up. And I was terrified that I would run out of film. But I understood him, because it was very hard. I would say: "Action," and there was nothing. "No, no, cut! Okay, we'll have to try that again." In this one shot, it was much more difficult to do something without any dialogue, without any action... Just with his face and with something inside. That was the main challenge of the film. And also the fact that we were in a train, with very little time and no possibility for taking a break... But he did it! What he did was very natural. He looked toward the left... I don't remember exactly what he did, but it was something like: I stay, I go, I stay, I go - and he goes. We kept that. Those details, about where he looks, were not in the script. That's the sort of thing I like in film: it's only in the shooting that this kind of thing can happen. You can't write everything in a script. You have to be open to things and even use difficulties to the advantage of the film.

Let me ask you about a small detail, if I may. The plant that the woman carries is a nice touch. Was that in the script?

That was in the script, yes. The origin of this idea was something I once saw in a street: in a crowd, someone was carrying a very tall plant, and all you could see was the plant moving along above the people's heads. That's the kind of thing I wanted, because I thought it would be easier to see her in the subway. But I didn't have the time to do it. I had written much more for the subway sequence, which was supposed to be much longer. I'm not going to explain to everybody that I wanted to include other things. This is the film as it is. But at the beginning, it was almost a technical device for spotting her in the crowd from far away. Maybe for some people, it's a kind of symbol, but the original intention was very simple - just to see her from afar.

Are there short films that inspired you? Are there any short films that you especially like?

Yes, of course. No particular short film inspired me for Immediate Departure. As I already mentioned, I don't especially like short films that end with a punchline. Most short films are constructed that way. But sometimes you find a pearl. I recently saw an English short called Kill the Day. I saw it because it was co-produced by an English producer along with the producer of my next film. It's closer to what I think short films should be in the sense that I see someone behind the film and I want to see more, and wonder what will her feature films be like. I see her personality and not only a story that is filmed well or well done in some other way. That's the kind of story that interests me. Of course, a style or a way to shoot is important, but the main thing is the person. I prefer a badly made film with a personal idea behind it to a very well done film, like a commercial, but without anything personal at its core...

A final question: is there any advice you would give to student filmmakers?

It's hard for me to give advice because I'm just a beginner myself. But in a way, I already answered that question when I said that for me, the main thing - and the most difficult thing, as well - is to know what is the most important thing you want to say. Not a message. I don't think there's any message in my film. My film doesn't tell anyone what to do. Actually it's the kind of thing you realize afterward. When I was making my short films, I didn't say to myself: "Okay, what is the most important thing to me? What is the most personal thing, etc." I just wanted to tell this story. And it was afterwards that I realized what was so essential and personal in this story. But that came afterwards. So it's not really advice. But just try to do something personal and not something à la manière de... in the style of someone else. When I made my first short films as a student at the national film school, L'IDHEC, those first films were totally à la manière de... But now I think that it's more interesting to give or to project something of yourself rather than imitate the Coen brothers. I made that mistake when I started.

Maybe it's also a problem of generation. I think I am in this generation, with video tapes and with television, it's much easier to integrate other people's films. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing because if I want to see a Dreyer movie, or a Scorsese movie, I can do it right now. But it's also a bad thing because the young directors - with some exceptions of course - are more making movies about movies than movies about life or about themselves.

It's paradoxical because I have the same desire to make a movie like someone else, and maybe that's the most difficult thing: to realize, okay, I'm trying to make a remake of some other movie, but what is it that really interests me?

We began by discussing the end of your film, and now I would like to conclude with a question about the beginning. At the very start of Immediate Departure, you use fast motion, and I was interested in your reason for doing that.

At the beginning, the idea was: a man in the crowd. How to show in a cinematic way the miracle of une rencontre, an encounter. That's the main subject of my film. That's what fascinates me, and I wanted to know how to show that. When I went to the supermarket and I saw the cameras, I thought that that would be a fun way to show a kind of ant-hill with people. So we proceeded in a very classical way. We started with a very wide angle, then got progressively closer, then the photo automat, with all the faces, then the story started when we chose one person in the crowd. That was the idea.

Paris, 17 October 1997