“Back to Burgundy” with Cédric Klapisch: “I always like to discover and rediscover the characters in my films”

French filmmaker and screenwriter Cédric Klapisch (b. 1961), who made his first feature “Rien du tout” (a.k.a. “Little Nothings”) exactly a quarter of a century ago, has been going strong ever since. As one of France’s leading creative forces, his latest effort “Ce qui nous lie” (a.k.a. “Back to Burgundy”) is a warm family epic about a son who is reunited with his ailing father and his siblings in the family winery in the French Burgundy wine region, after living abroad for many years. As the story evolves, the many layers make “Ce qui nous lie” a precious and valuable comedy drama to welcome with open arms. Traditional family values, sibling camaraderie, what the family’s future will look like after their father has passed away, and the taste of good wine are some of the relevant ingredients this smooth narrative covers beautifully.

Mr. Klapisch, internationally highly regarded after his Erasmus-students-through-the-years trilogy “L’auberge espagnole” (a.k.a. “The Spanish Apartment,” 2002), “Les poupées russes” (a.k.a. “Russian Dolls,” 2005) and “Casse-tête chinois” (a.k.a. “Chinese Puzzle,” 2013) with his delightful quartet of leading players composed of Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France and Kelly Reilly, demonstrates once again his talent as a skilled craftsman who finds a perfect balance between the individual storylines of his principal characters, the story set in and around the family winery over the course of four seasons and two harvests, and the gorgeous landscape photography of the Burgundy region. With his other films in mind, Mr. Klapisch writes plots that service his characters instead of limiting them. And even though this time the leading characters may not be played by the first actors off the top of your head, they will prevent you from imagining anyone else in their roles.

The art of tasting and judging wine in “Ce qui nous lie” (a.k.a. “Back to Burgundy”) with François Civil, Pio Marmaï and Ana Girardot who play the siblings of the family winery. Photograph: Cinéart

This roundtable interview with Mr. Klapisch in the salon of a Brussels hotel also contains a few paragraphs taken from my transcript of a masterclass of his a few days earlier at the Brussels Cinematek.

Mr. Klapisch, can you explain how “Le ciel qui nous lie” came about?

I like wine, so I think that’s an obvious explanation why I made this film. It seemed interesting to me to talk about how wine is being made, and who the people are who work day in day out in a winery. A family that owns a winery, you can’t compare it with a family of teachers or doctors. So everything involving wine fascinated me. When I started working on this project, I hoped that when the characters drink a glass of wine at the end of the film, it would give the viewer an idea of those who own and work in a winery, about the area where this particular wine is being made, things like that. A simple glass of wine has a whole history to tell, and that’s what I had in mind when I started working on “Le ciel qui nous lie.” The brothers and their sister [played by Pio Marmaï, François Civil, Ana Girardot], their bond and what keeps them together, that’s another main issue of the film.

Hence the very appropriate [French-language] title of the film.

That’s right, and I must say that the concept of the film has slightly changed along the way: now it’s at least as much a film about the fraternity between the three siblings as it is about wine.

You focus on this family in your film. Can you tell something about your own background and your own family?

My parents are Jewish and so during World War II, they had to hide. It marked them for life, and when I was born in 1961 – which was a glorious and happy time for me – I knew it was a privilege not to grew up during a war. That is what I inherited from my parents: they allowed me to grow up happily, which was much easier for me than it was for them. The family as you get to know in the film has a totally different history than mine; the winery, their different personal background,… the film tells you an entirely different story.

Pio Marmai and François Civil in “Ce qui nous lie,” directed by Cédric Klapisch. Photograph: Cinéart

How did you cast your actors?

In fact, I had my three principal actors – the siblings – before I started writing the screenplay which may be unusual, so I was able to write the script with them in my mind. And, you know what François Truffaut said, ‘Casting is ninety percent of the direction.’ A lot of decisions are made during the casting; later on, you still have the script to get through, the rehearsals, things like that, but a lot of problems are solved once you have chosen your actors.

Was it difficult to finance the film?

Not really, because this was not a very expensive film to make. The major issue was the time frame we needed in order to shoot the film: it took a whole year to cover the four seasons, so we had four shooting schedules of three weeks each. But the location shootings nor the actors were terribly expensive, and so we were able to make it with limited resources.

You have worked in different countries, and introduced all kinds of characters along the way, also various nationalities. That seems to be important to you?

Absolutely. I believe in building bridges and not building walls, no matter where – between the US and Mexico, in Berlin, or in Israel. For me, the question is always how to build bridges, and that’s the kind of cinema I prefer to make: how do characters relate to one another, how do they feel, how can people who may even be totally different still get along or live together? The question in “L’auberge espagnole” [2002] with people living together in an apartment, while they all speak a different language, how do they manage to get along? It’s a mini version of Europe, so that’s a question that fascinates me and that I’d like to answer. So you really have to get to know those other people – it’s like the whole issue of gay marriage in France some time ago: those who were opposed, didn’t know any homosexuals. Once they got to know people from the gay community, they realized that those people are just as normal as you and I. So we just have to know each other in order to understand each other.

That also happens in this family which you portray – when Jean comes back home after being away for so many years.

Absolutely, they all have to get to know each other all over again.

The father is also an important character in the story. Did fatherhood change your point of view as a filmmaker?

Undoubtedly. We all change when we have children. The main character in the film has to straighten out things with his father, but also with his own child: he becomes a better father after dealing with the problems with his dad. When I became a father, there were a lot of things I had to learn along the way, like empathy, you can’t only think about yourself, you can’t just do as you please – there a lot of new responsibilities. When my son was three and a half, he told me, ‘Dad, I am not like you, I don’t think like you.’ And he was absolutely right! I never forgot that, it’s one of the many lessons you learn as a father.

Up until now, your films were located in major cities, while now, the location of “Le ciel qui nous lie” is the French countryside with panoramic landscapes. That’s quite a change of pace, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s something entirely different and I loved the experience. I was born and raised in Paris, so basically I’m a very urban person. I also lived in New York for three years: two years as a student in my early twenties, and then another year to make “Casse-tête chinois” [2013]. So I’m very familiar with those two cities and when I’m writing a screenplay, a city automatically comes to mind as a location. And why do I love cities? Probably because I love people, I guess. In a city, people live in a small area, in small spaces, apartment buildings, so it brings a lot of people together, while in the country, people have much more space and are widespread, isolated even, in certain areas. I like to discover people, just as I like to discover and rediscover the characters in my films.

Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou in “L’auberge espagnole” (2002)

How do you choose the subjects or the themes of your films? Is there a general method?

Not really, it all depends. I did twelve features up until now, and only after I have finished them, I often understand why I really wanted to do this story in that particular way. When I start working on a new project, it’s a combination of things I want to do. Before I did “L’auberge espagnole” [2002], my sister was an Erasmus student in Barcelona, so I visited her and spent quite some time in the apartment she shared with five foreign students – there was a Swedish student, one from Germany, France and Spain, if I remember correctly – and I thought it would be great to do a film about that. So I mixed that idea with my own experience as a French student in New York, and I chose Barcelona as the location, because at that time not too many films had been shot there. The locations we used were pretty unknown, so that certainly triggered me. I also wanted to work with Roman Duris and Cécile De France. I had already met Audrey Tautou – this was before she became world-famous with “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” (a.k.a. “Amelia,” 2001; US gross over $ 33 million) – and I was looking forward to working with her too. So, plain and simple, I had the desire to show a European city, and work with this wonderful mix of actors.

Is it true that the original screenplay was very short – only ten pages? How did you manage to work in a foreign city with such a short screenplay?

I got the film financed after I had shown this ten page script to the producer. But on the other hand, I had to work very fast, as I only had four months to get the film made. That’s a very short period, everything we did had to be viewed in terms of our tight time schedule. By the time I had written the screenplay – about fifty pages – two weeks had gone by. Those fifty pages tell the story as you see it in the film, but it was not too detailed. So when we had to do a scene in a restaurant for example, we often needed to improvise, look around and see what was available, and go on from there. At times, it was almost like making a documentary about those students and what their daily life looked like. And it was also necessary to rewrite or complete a number of scenes in the script, at the very last minute, even at night. I remember when Audrey Tautou arrived in Barcelona, we went to a restaurant in the evening, and when we left, she asked me, “What do I have to do tomorrow?” Because in the screenplay, the only thing that was written about her character for this particular scene, was ‘she hates the world and the world hates her.’ It was one of the scenes that I hadn’t finished yet, so when I got back in my hotel room, I began to write the entire scene with her dialogue. It was her breakfast scene on the terrace, and it was written between midnight and three o’clock in the morning. So the next morning, I gave her her lines and she did the scene just beautifully. By the end of shooting, I only slept a few hours at night because I was always working almost all night long, so I was in terrible shape by the time we finished the film. But my enthusiasm for the film kept me going.

After you finished this film, did you ever plan to make a second and possibly a third film about the characters you had introduced in “L’auberge espagnole”?

No, not at all. After “L’auberge espagnole” was released, people asked me, “Will there be a sequel?” I didn’t even want to think about it, but a lot of people just kept asking me about it, even the actors brought it up. Then, a few years later I was in Saint Petersburg to introduce a few films of mine, and there I got the idea for a sequel. It wasn’t really difficult for me to continue their story, because I liked those actors very much. During the first film, all of them were pretty unknown, but by the time we did the second film, “Les poupées russes” [2005], they were all stars, and it was a joy for all of us to get together again.

Cédric Klapisch’s trilogy composed of “L’auberge espagnole” (2002), “Les poupées russes” (2005) and “Casse-tête chinois” (2013)

So, a logical question, would you also consider a fourth movie with the characters of the trilogy?

No, I don’t think so. I like the idea of a trilogy. I think their story has been told in those three films. A fourth film might be one too many.

Generally speaking, after you have finished the post-production, the editing, sound editing, score, etc. of a film, when can you say, ‘Okay, the film as he is now, is exactly what I want”?

There is something very particular about making a film. You write the screenplay, you read it over and over again, and you constantly change things, also when you’re shooting – it’s like you’re changing things the whole time, always trying to correct the smallest mistakes that you might have overlooked earlier. And then one day, you say to yourself, ‘I don’t think I can change anything anymore, I don’t think I can make it any better.’ It’s a long and slow process, but ultimately you reach that stage, and then you got the film you want.

Brussels (Belgium),
June 20, 2017

The trailer of Cédric Klapisch’s “Ce qui nous lie” (“Back to Burgundy”)

FILMS

MAIVAIS SANG, a.k.a. BAD BLOOD (1986) DIR – SCR Leos Carax PROD Alain Dahan CAM Jean-Yves Escoffier ED Nelly Quettier ELECTRICIAN Cédric Klapisch CAST Michel Piccoli, Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, Hans Meyer, Julie Delpy, Carroll Brooks, Hugo Pratt, Mireille Perrier, Serge Regianni, Leos Carax

RIENS DU TOUT, a.k.a. LITTLE NOTHINGS (1992) DIR Cédric Klapisch PROD Andeline Lecallier SCR Cédric Klapisch (adaptation by Cédric Klapisch, Jackie Berroyer) CAM Dominique Colin ED Francine Sandberg MUS Jeff Cohen CAST Fabrice Luchini, Daniel Berlioux, Marc Berman, Olivier Broche, Antoine Chappey, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Olivier Rabourdin, Cédric Klapisch

LE PÉRIL JEUNE, a.k.a. GOOD OLD DAZE (1994) DIR Cédric Klapisch PROD Farid Lahouassa, Aïssa Djabri SCR Cédric Klapisch, Alexis Galmot, Daniel Thieux, Santiango Amigorena CAM Dominique Colin ED Francine Sandberg CAST Romain Duris, Vincent Elbaz, Nicolas Koretzky, Julien Lambroschini, Joachim Lombard, Julie-Anne Roth, Cédric Klapisch

CHACUN CHERCHE SON CHAT, US title WHEN THE CAT’S AWAY (1996) DIR Cédric Klapisch PROD Farid Lahouassa, Aïssa Djabri SCR Cédric Klapisch (Cédric Klapisch) CAM Benoît Delhomme ED Francine Sandberg CAST Garance Clavel, Zinedine Soualem, Renée Le Calm, Olivier Py, Arapimou, Simon Abkarian, Cédric Klapisch

UN AIR DE FAMILLE, US title FAMILY RESEMBLANCES (1996) DIR Cédric Klapisch PROD Charles Gassot SCR Cédric Klapisch, Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri (play by Agnès Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri) CAM Benoît Delhomme ED Francine Sandberg MUS Philippe Eidel CAST Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Catherine Frot, Agnès Jaoui, Claire Maurier, Wladimir Yordanoff, Cédric Klapisch, Zinedine Soualem

LILA LILI (1999) DIR Marie Vermillard PROD Paolo Branco SCR Marie Vermillard, Jacques Bablon CAM Pascal Lagriffoul ED Valérie Loiseleux MUS Cyril Moisson CAST Alexia Monduit, Geneviève Tenne, Simon Abkarian, Zinedine Soualem, Antoine Chappey, Adèle Blé, Nathalie Moraux, Cédric Klapisch

PEUT-ÊTRE, a.k.a. MAYBE (1999) DIR Cédric Klapisch PROD Farid Lahouassa, Aïssa Djabri, Manuel Munz SCR Cédric Klapisch, Alexis Galmot, Santiago Amigorena, Christian Vincent CAM Philippe Le Sourd ED Francine Sandberg MUS Loïc Dury, Mathieu Dury CAST Jean-Paul Belmondo, Romain Duris, Géraldine Pailhas, Ann’So, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Julie Depardieu, Emmanuelle Devos, Olivier Gourmet, Cédric Klapisch

PRINCESSES (2000) DIR Sylvie Verheyde PROD Cédric Klapisch, Bruno Levy SCR Sylvie Verheyde, Alexis Galmot CAM Rémy Chevrin ED Laurent Rouan MUS Philippe Sarde CAST Emma de Caunes, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Karole Rocher, Jeannick Gravelines, Johan Leysen, Alexandre Zecevic, Dani, Olivier Gourmet

L’AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE, a.k.a. THE SPANISH APARTMENT and POT LUCK and EURO PUDDING (2002) DIR – SCR Cédric Klapisch PROD Bruno Levy CAM Dominique Colin ED Francine Sandberg CAST Romain Duris, Judith Godrèche, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France, Kelly Reilly, Cristina Brondo, Federico D’Anna, Cédric Klapisch

NI POUR, NI CONTRE (BIEN AU CONTRAIRE), a.k.a. NOT FOR OR AGAINST (QUITE THE CONTRARY) (2003) DIR Cédric Klapisch PROD Farid Lahouassa, Aïssa Djabri, Manuel Munz SCR Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena, Alexis Galmot CAM Bruno Delbonnel ED Yannick Kergoat MUS Loïc Dury, Mathieu Dury, Sylvia Howard, Charlie O. CAST Marie Gillain, Vincent Elbaz, Simon Abkarian, Zinedine Soualem, Dimitri Storoge, Natacha Lindinger, Diane Kruger, Cédric Klapisch

LES POUPÉES RUSSES, a.k.a. RUSSIAN DOLLS (2005) DIR – SCR Cédric Klapisch PROD Bruno Levy, Matthew Justice CAM Dominiqie Colin ED Francine Sandberg MUS Loïc Dury, Bruno Epron Mahmoudi, Laurent Levesque, Christophe Minck CAST Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France, Kevin Bishop, Evguenya Obraztsova, Irene Montalà, Lucy Gordon, Cédric Klapisch

PARIS (2008) DIR – SCR Cédric Klapisch PROD Bruno Levy ASSOC PROD Cédric Klapisch CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Francine Sandberg MUS Loïc Dury, Christophe Minck, Robert Burke CAST Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Albert Dupontel, François Cluzot, Karin Viard, Mélanie Laurent, Gilles Lellouche, Zinedine Soualem, Julie Ferrier, Cédric Klapisch

MA PART DU GÂTEAU, US title MY PIECE OF THE PIE (2011) DIR – SCR Cédric Klapisch PROD Bruno Levy CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Francine Sandberg MUS Loïc Dury CAST Karin Viard, Gilles Lellouche, Audrey Lamy, Jean-Pierre Martins, Raphaëlle Godin, Fred Ulysse, Kevin Bishop, Marine Vacth, Zinedine Soualem, Cédric Klapisch

DE FORCE (2011) DIR – SCR Frank Henry PROD Nicolas Steil, Franck Chorot, Jesus Gonzalez-Elvira CAM Jean-Pierre Sauvaire MUS Gast Waltzing CAST Isabelle Adjani, Eric Cantona, Simon Abkarian, Thierry Frémont, Anne Consigny, Linh Dan Pham, Slimane Dazi, Cédric Klapisch

CASSE-TÊTE CHINOIS, a.k.a. CHINESE PUZZLE (2013) DIR – SCR Cédric Klapisch PROD Cédric Klapisch, Bruno Levy CAM Natasha Braier ED Anne-Sophie Bion MUS Christophe Minck CAST Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt, Flore Bonaventura, Benoît Jacquot, Zinedine Soualem, Cédric Klapisch

CE QUI NOUS LIE, a.k.a. BACK TO BURGUNDY (2017) DIR – PROD Cédric Klapisch SCR Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena, Jean-Marc Roulot CAM Alexis Kavyrchine ED Anne-Sophie Bion MUS Loïc Dury, Christophe Minck CAST Pio Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot, María Valverde, Yamée Couture, Florence Pernel, Cédric Klapisch