Denis Côté (Boris sans Béatrice) – Interview
An interview with Denis Côté on his ninth feature film Boris sans Béatrice, that premiered at the Main Competition of the 66th Berlin Film Festival.
An interview with Denis Côté on his ninth feature film Boris sans Béatrice (Boris without Béatrice), that premiered at the Main Competition of the 66th Berlin Film Festival.
Many people are concerned about their career and they focus their lives on that and neglect other parts of their lives. As does your main character Boris. What was your inspiration for this film?
Denis Côté: It was related towards maybe me personally. You wake up one morning and you are like “OK, I am 42 years old, I was lucky enough in the past 10 years to make 9 feature films and it’s always a film by Denis Côté, I’m free, I travel the world, I saw 40 countries in 10 years, I have little money. But then it is what is next? Am I a good person?”
That’s how the film started. Can I make a film about that? Am I a good person? What is that? And that seemed quite funny. So I’m going to make a sort of moral fairytale. Even if you have everything, still you can find places inside you that you can improve. I’ve always filmed lower social classes and I’ve never filmed rich people and never filmed the powerful and the wealthy. So, I decided to film rich people with strong lights and confrontational camera, they can’t hide and they must look inside themselves.
So, it’s not autobiographical but that was the spark the starting point and then I thought I film rich people. Most films would crash or destroy a bourgeois character like that, I said no, I will just look at him for who he is. He is rich and I’m going to look at him on the human level of who he is and from there I had to put into image someone who is having a dialogue with his conciseness, so Denis Lavant is his conciseness all those people around him maybe they exist maybe not because the whole film is a dialogue with yourself.
So, you decided to make this perfect glossy film that to me seemed more like a paradox and a criticism towards this bourgeois society that has some problems about nothing. How do you deal with that issue?
You said about criticism but when you direct a film like that then you should consider, how strong should my criticism be? Should I be explicit? Should I just laugh at them because they are rich? So, I thought, OK it’s going to be glossy, it’s perfectly lit, my DoP said you want something elegant something very bright. So yeah. let’s make something like a magazine cover and we are going to find human elements in that. Of course, it’s seen as a very cold film that makes you stay away but you need to work to go closer to this arrogant character. Is this working? I don’t know but I agree that it is very distant. This film is an object more than a narrative story. I feel that Curling or Vic + Flo are the same film, just now it’s more difficult to sympathize the character. I’m still dealing with people that are considered outsiders of the society and they need to build their own intimate government and they don’t need anybody around them, but sometimes society comes back knocking on your door and the whole film is like that.
Talking about government, how important was for you to make Boris’ wife, Béatrice, a minister. So, he is not even rich but he also has political power too.
Because this an idea on how I see power and success. As you can see Béatrice, who doesn’t talk that much, I didn’t want to give her too much backstory or too much psychology because if we start working on her then we will lose Boris. There are so many elements in the film about him, especially the women around him, they are stronger than him, he needs those women or else he can’t function. He sees that weird guy (Denis Lavant) and first time he does is tell his maid (Isolda Dychauk), then he tells the lover (Dounia Sichov) so he’s always bumping those women around him. Sometimes he can be an asshole and damp the girl via an SMS which is super bad but still he needs all these women around him and I needed a figure of power next to him. But it doesn’t go deeper than that. So somehow you can feel I’m not interested in that class, I’m using just elements because I wanted to presented esthetically a film about this upper social class.
Could this be the most male film that you have ever made? All the female characters seem to “support” Boris, and maybe they can also be mirror versions of himself too.
That’s an interesting interpretation, all these women could be dormants or sleeping parts of Boris and I thought this is a very original way to see it. It’s not such a male film, of course this came from me to explain it but I always had all these women coming. I think my cinema is much more feminine. Boris is not me and I have been always surrounded by strong women and I am always nasty with the guys around me! I don’t get angry with women and more and more as I grow up I’m angrier with men! I’m ready to put in my place by women like these, by women who tell me all my mistakes and problems.
What about Denis Lavant, was he the first that you thought about this controversial role?
I knew I needed an actor that would look mythical and legendary for Quebec. I wanted a French actor because we are a small nation so our inspiration is always France. It took me 2-3 months to focus on Denis Lavant. It was too obvious that this was the right one. The danger with Denis Lavant is to be too much Denis Lavant. This is very characteristic. But he’s the character. He was just perfect. He is a magnificent person and he is seven years old, 24/7 he is seven years old! He is incredible, people were crying on the set when he just delivered every scene.
Talking about mythological references, there are so many references towards Greek mythology and Oresteia.
I didn’t want to make it too explicit but of course when you create a character of a rich guy it’s obvious that I won’t tell the story of some guy I needed echoes. I needed to lift the film to somewhere else and this guy has mythological substance so let’s do something about him. I’m not an expert in Greek mythology but he is a modern-day Tantalus or Don Juan or even Pygmalion. Also, he is a right-wing so I thought the worst thing you can see your child doing is theatre and being an artist so you hate your child for not being a doctor or engineer. The guys are playing Oresteia to and another layer to that mythological echo of the film and then you have all this didactic last scene where Denis Lavant explains the whole story. I felt it was so heavy handled explaining this whole thing and for me it’s funny. Because instead of being punished like Tantalus he gets a warning that he is under observation!
So, it’s an ending without catharsis!