Lucas Belvaux : “It always helps if you can imagine a familiar face saying the lines you’re about to write”

Belgian-born French screenwriter and film director Lucas Belvaux (b. 1961) was a jury member at the Brussels International Film Festival last June, so consequently this five-time César-nominee spent quite some time in Brussels to see and judge a string of films screened at the Festival. Formerly a screen actor (1980s) who gradually turned to screenwriting and directing (early 1990s), he became a reliable and creative force in the French film industry with a new film every two to three years. His latest features are “Pas son genre” (a.k.a. “Not My Type,” 2014) and “Chez nous” (a.k.a. “This Is Our Land,” 2017), both with Émilie Dequenne in the leading role.

I met Mr. Belvaux in a Brussels hotel lobby to talk about his craft as a filmmaker, right after the World Cup’s football match France vs. Argentina which he had watched in his hotel room, and before he attended the closing ceremonies of the Festival later that same evening.

Mr. Belvaux, in your films there’s always a lot of dialogue. Is that essential to you when you’re telling a story?

That’s true, there is a lot of dialogue and it’s essential, but in a film there’s always much more to it than just the dialogue. The expression and the body language of the actors are crucial components as well, so you have to look at the whole picture. When you got a scene and at a certain point the dialogue ends, that’s when facial expressions and movements take over. So as a director, you need to take advantage of everything you can imagine to tell your story or to capture the emotions you are looking for. You take everything into consideration: the dialogue, how the actors play their scenes, their movements – there’s really nothing you can overlook. I’m always aware of that when I write a screenplay. In that early stage I also try to figure out where the camera should be and in the meantime I’m already cutting the film. That helps me when I’m writing.

When you’re writing your screenplays, do you already have certain actors or actresses in mind?

Sometimes. When I can’t find someone right away, I tend to think of actors who passed away. This could be something for Robert Mitchum, for example. It may seem strange, but it always helps if you can imagine a familiar face saying the lines you’re about to write.

Is it an advantage for you as a film director that you have been an actor yourself for many years, and if so, to what extend is it useful?

You’re aware of their worries, the difficulties – any problems the actors might face on the set. We interact a lot, we talk all the time and I’m always very open and communicative with my actors. You simply have to. When I make a film, I consider myself a conductor of an orchestra. That’s a comparison I like.

Do you have a specific way to cast your roles?

Not really, there are no rules as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes I cast actors that I know personally or have worked with in the past, or people I simply would like to work with.

When you write a screenplay, do you keep in mind that an audience will see it later on?

Yes, because you’re writing a story they have to understand. After alI, I can’t be the only one who appreciates the story that is being told on the screen. A screenwriter writes – and very often rewrites his screenplay or his scenes over and over again – just to make sure every situation or every detail is as clear to the audience as it is in his own head, and there’s no time to lose, it must happen right way: that’s when the audience sees your film. So when I work on a screenplay, I write. That’s it. When I write a scene, I don’t really think about the structure of the screenplay. I know the characters, I know who they are, how they relate to one another, and what they will do within the limited time frame of roughly two hours. I take notes in between the writing process whenever I get an idea, and in the end, it all has to come together. Sometimes when I start working on a new script, I don’t even know how the film will end. But that doesn’t matter, as long as I know what the story is about. If it’s a story about a married couple, will they still be together by the end of the film? That depends on what happens along the way, maybe they will have to work out a solution of some kind to make their relationship stronger. So sometimes it’s a good thing to write with an open mind, see what happens en then come up with a reasonable outcome.

Lucas Belvaux during his visit to the Brussels International Film Festival. Photograph: Leo Verswijver

Are you critical of your own work?

You know, it’s very strange, because you never see your film for the first time to judge it properly. You write the film, then when you’re shooting you see the rushes, you edit the film… It’s a work in progress that you see all the time for a year and a half, or two years. And then when the film is released, it’s not even all that different from what you have seen the whole time. That makes it more difficult – at least for me – to judge it from an objective point of view. And besides, you remember everything that happened on the set, good and bad things that occurred when you were shooting, so a filmmaker never gets to see his film like an audience does.

You’ve been working as an actor and a filmmaker for more than three decades now. How did you end up in the film business?

When I was eighteen, I left Belgium, went to Paris to study acting and there I became an actor. It wasn’t difficult for me to leave home, because I really hoped to become an actor, and I couldn’t have done that if I had stayed in my suburban hometown Profondeville. But I must tell you that I have been very lucky: I arrived in Paris in August 1979, and in January 1980 I had my first screen role for French television. Three months later I got another part for television, and by September 1980, about one year after arriving in Paris, I did my first feature, directed by Yves Boisset [“Allons z’enfants”]. Back then I looked younger than I really was: I was an adult but looked more like an adolescent. At the time, there were less young actors around than today, and in France they made lots of films in those days, both for television and for cinema. If I could start all over again, I think I would follow exactly the same path. Now I am very happy to be a filmmaker, but I was very glad to become an actor back then, and I learned a lot. It was a great learning experience, and besides I would never have been able to be a filmmaker at age twenty.

Brussels International Film Festival, Brussels
June 30, 2018

The theatrical trailer of “Chez nous” (a.k.a. “This Is Our Land”, 2017), a drama and the latest feature Mr. Belvaux made up until now. He’s currently working on a new screenplay.

FILMS

ALLONS Z’ENFANTS (1981) DIR Yves Boisset SCR Yves Boisset, Jacques Kirsner (novel by Yves Gibeau) CAM Pierre-William Glenn ED Albert Jurgenson MUS Philippe Sarde CAST Lucas Belvaux (Simon Chalumot), Jean Carmet, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jean-François Stévenin, Jacques Denis, Eve Cotton

LA TRUITE, a.k.a. THE TROUT (1982) DIR Joseph Losey PROD Yves Rousset-Rouard SCR Joseph Losey, Monique Lange (novel by Roger Vailland) CAM Henri Alekan ED Marie-Castro Vasquez MUS Richard Hartley CAST Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Jeanne Moreau, Daniel Olbrychski, Jacques Spiesser, Isao Yamagata, Craig Stevens, Alexis Smith, Lucas Belvaux (Clerk)

LA MORT DE MARIO RICCI, a.k.a. THE DEATH OF MARIO RICCI (1983) DIR Claude Goretta SCR Claude Goretta, Georges Haldas CAM Hans Liechti ED Joële Van Effenterre MUS Arié Dzierlatka CAST Gian Maria Volontè, Magali Noël, Heinz Bennent, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Michel Dupuis, Michel Robin, Lucas Belvaux (Stéphane Couyaz), Claudio Caramaschi

RONDE DE NUIT, a.k.a. NIGHT PATROL (1984) DIR Jean-Claude Missiaen PROD Alain Sarde SCR Jean-Claude Missian (story by Jean-Claude Missian, Marc Perrier, Claude Veillot) CAM Pierre-William Glenn ED Armand Psenny MUS Hubert Rostaing, Yvan Jullien CAST Gérard Lanvin, Eddy Mitchell, Françoise Arnoul, Raymond Pellegrin, Lisette Malidor, Lucas Belvaux (Laurent)

LA FEMME PUBLIQUE, a.k.a. THE PUBLIC WOMAN (1984) DIR Andrzej Zulawski PROD Rene Cleitman SCR Andrzej Zulawski, Dominique Garnier (novel by Dominique Garnier) CAM Sacha Vierny ED Marie-Sophie Dubus MUS Alain Wisniak CAST Francis Huster, Valérie Kaprisky, Lambert Wilson, Patrick Bauchau, Giselle Pascal, Lucas Belvaux (François)

AMERICAN DREAMER (1984) DIR Rick Rosenthal PROD Doug Chapin SCR Jim Kouf, David Greenwalt (story by Ann Biderman) CAM Giuseppe Rotunno, Jan de Bont ED Anne Goursard MUS Lewis Furey CAST JoBeth Williams, Tom Conti, Giancarlo Giannini, Coral Browne, James Staley, C.B. Barnes, Lucas Belvaux (Thief on Bike)

LA FEMME IVOIRE (1984) DIR Dominique Cheminal SCR Dominique Cheminal, Sylvie Moinet CAM Jean Orjollet MUS Jean-Marie Sénia CAST Lucas Belvaux (Maurice), Dora Doll, Sylvie Granotier, Roland Blanche, Céline Valérie, Maurice Chevit

POULET OU VINAIGRE (1985) DIR Claude Chabrol PROD Marin Karmitz SCR Claude Chabrol, Dominique Roulet (novel by Dominique Roulet) CAM Jean Rabier ED Monique Fardoulis MUS Matthieu Chabrol CAST Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, Lucas Belvaux (Louis Cuno), Pauline Lafont, Caroline Cellier, Josephine Chaplin

LE BASTON (1985) DIR Jean-Claude Missiaen PROD Denise Petitdidier SCR Jean-Claude Missiaen, Jacques Labib CAM Jean-Claude Vicquery ED Armand Psenny MUS Yvan Jullien, Hubert Rostaing Trust CAST Robin Renucci, Véronique Genest, Gérard Desarthe, Michel Constantin, Patrick Depeyrrat, Lucas Belvaux (Jeanjean Levasseur), Natacha Inutine

HURLEVENT, a.k.a. WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1985) DIR Jacques Rivette PROD Martine Marignac SCR Jacques Rivette, Pascal Bonitzer, Suzanne Schiffman (novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Brontë) CAM Renato Berta ED Nicole Lubtchansky CAST Fabienne Babe, Lucas Blevaux (Roch), Sandra Montaigu, Alice de Poncheville, Olivier Cruveiller, Philippe Morier-Genoud

DÉSORDRE, a.k.a. DISORDER (1986) DIR – SCR Olivier Assayas PROD Claude-Éric Poiroux CAM Denis Lenoir ED Luc Barnier MUS Gabriel Yared CAST Wadeck Stanczak, Ann-Gisel Glass, Lucas Belvaux (Henri), Rémi Martin, Corinne Dacla, Simon de la Brosse, Etienne Chicot

LE LOI SAUVAGE (1988) DIR Francis Reusser SCR Jacques Guhl CAM Emmanuel Machuel CAST Michel Constantin, Lucas Belvaux (Luc / Gandhi), Hélène Lapiower, Jean Boissery, Roland Armstutz

L’AIR DE RIEN, a.k.a. EASY IN MIND (1989) DIR – SCR Mary Jimenez PROD Benoît Lamy CAM Raymond Fromont ED Philippe Bourgueil MUS Thierry De Mey CAST Carole Courtoy, Gabriel Arcand, Josse De Pauw, Lucas Belvaux (Francis), Bernadette Lafont, Eugénie De Mey, Maria de Medeiros

TROIS ANNÉES (1990) DIR Fabrice Cazeneuve PROD Jacques Kirsner SCR Fabrice Cazeneuve, Jacques Tournier (short story by Anton Chekhov) CAM Pierre-Laurent Chénieux ED Yann Dedet MUS Michel Portal CAST Sabine Azéma, Jacques Villeret, Philippe Volter, Lucas Belvaux (Pilou), Claude Bouchery, Christine Cohendy

MADAME BOVARY (1991) DIR Claude Chabrol PROD Marin Karmitz SCR Claude Chabrol (novel by Gustave Flaubert) CAM Jean Rabier ED Monique Fardoulis MUS Matthieu Chabrol, Jean-Michel Bernard, M.J. Coignard-Helison CAST Isabelle Huppert, Jean-François Balmer, Christophe Malavoy, Jean Yanne, Lucas Belvaux (Léon Dupuis), Christiane Minazolli, Jean-Louis Maury, Thomas Chabrol

PARFOIS TROP D’AMOUR (1992) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux PROD Jean-Jacques Andrien CAM Bertrand Chatry ED Valérie Loiseleux MUS Lee Clayton, Christian Monheim CAST Joséphine Fresson, Bernard Mazzinghi, David Martin, Francis Bouc, Lucas Thierry

GRAND BONHEUR, a.k.a. GREAT HAPPINESS (1993) DIR – SCR Hervé Le Roux PROD Humbert Balsan CAM Sophie Caretta, Antoine Roch, Jean-René Duveau ED Lise Truong, Nadine Tarbouriech, Marie Lecoeur MUS Charlotte Léo, Pierre Gérard, Pierre Berriau, Christine Vouilloz, Lucas Belvaux (Luc), Marilyne Canto, Nathalie Richard

POUR RIRE!, a.k.a. JUST FOR LAUGHS (1996) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux PROD Paolo Branco CAM Laurent Barès ED Danielle Anezin MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Ornella Muti, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Antoine Chappey, Tonie Marshall, Philippe Fretun, Bernard Mazzinghi, Benoît Poelvoorde, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle

SORRISI ASMATICI – FIORI DEL DESTINO (1997) DIR – SCR Tonino De Bernardi CAM Tommaso Borgstrom CAST Lucas Belvaux, Lou Castel, Giulietta De Bernardi, Ines de Medeiros, Manuela Giacomini, Ivano Marescotti

ON APPELLE ÇA… LE PRINTEMPS, a.k.a. THEY CALL THIS… SPRING (2001) DIR – SCR Hervé Le Roux PROD Gilles Sandoz CAM Pierre Milon ED Nadine Tarbouriech CAST Maryline Canto, Maryse Cupaiolo, Marie Matheron, Bernard Ballet, Pierre Berriau, Lucas Delvaux (Luc)

CAVALE, a.k.a. ON THE RUN (2002) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux PROD Patrick Sobelman, Diana Elbaum CAM Pierre Milon ED Ludo Troch MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Lucas Belvaux (Bruno Le Roux), Catherine Frot, Dominique Blanc, Ornella Muti, Gilbert Melki, Patrick Descamps

UN COUPLE ÉPATANT, a.k.a. AN AMAZING COUPLE and TRILOGY: TWO (2002) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux PROD Patrick Sobelman CAM Pierre Milon ED Valérie Loiseleux MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Ornella Muti, Lucas Belvaux (Pierre), François Morel, Valérie Mairesse, Dominique Blanc, Gilbert Melki, Catherine Frot

APRÈS LA VIE, a.k.a. AFTER LIFE and TRILOGY: THREE (2002) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux PROD Patrick Sobelman, Diana Elbaum CAM Pierre Milon ED Danielle Anezin MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Dominique Blanc, Gilbert Melki, Lucas Belvaux (Bruno Le Roux), Ornella Muti, Catherine Frot, François Morel

DEMAIN ON DÉMÉNAGE , a.k.a. TOMORROW WE MOVE (2004) DIR Chantal Ackerman PROD Paulo Branco SCR Chantal Ackerman, Eric De Kuyper CAM Sabine Lancelin ED Claire Atherton MUS Sonia Wieder-Atherton CAST Aurore Clément, Sylvie Testud, Natacha Régnier, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Lucas Belvaux (Delacre), Dominique Raymond, Elsa Zylberstein

JOYEUX NOEL, a.k.a. MERRY CHRISTMAS (2005) DIR – SCR Christian Carion PROD Christophe Rosignon CAM Walther Vanden Ende ED Judith Rivière Kawa, Andrea Sedlácková MUS Philippe Rombi CAST Diane Krüger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Dany Boon, Gary Lewis, Ian Richardson, Lucas Belvaux (Gueusselin), Gary Lewis, Michel Serrault, Christian Carion

LA RAISON DU PLUS FAIBLE, a.k.a. THE RIGHT OF THE WEAKEST (2006) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux PROD Patrick Sobelman, Diana Elbaum CAM Pierre Milon ED Ludo Troch MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Éric Caravaca, Lucas Belvaux (Marc Pirmet), Claude Semal, Patrick Descamps, Matacha Régnier, Elie Belvaux, Gilbert Melki, Patrick Sobelman

PARS VITE ET REVIENS TARD, a.k.a. SEEDS OF DEATH and HAVE MERCY ON US ALL (2007) DIR Régis Wargnier PROD Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Cyril Colbeau-Justin SCR Régis Wargnier, Ariane Fert, Harriet Marin, Julien Rappeneau, Lawrence Shore (adaptation by Régis Wargnier, Ariane Fert, Harriet Marin, Julien Rappeneau, Lawrence Shore; novel by Fred Vargas) CAM Laurent Dailland ED Yann Malcor MUS Patrick Doyle CAST José Garcia, Lucas Belvaux (Danglard), Marie Gillain, Olivier Gourmet, Michel Serrault, Nicolas Calazé

L’ARMÉE DU CRIME, a.k.a. ARMY OF CRIME (2009) DIR Robert Guédiguan PROD Dominique Barneaud SCR Robert Guédiguan, Gilles Taurand, Serge Le Péron (adaptation by Gilles Taurand; original idea by Serge Le Péron) CAM Pierre Milon ED Bernard Sasia MUS Alexandre Desplat CAST Simon Abkarian, Virginie Ledoyen, Robinson Stévenin, Lola Naymark, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Adrien Jolivet, Lucas Belvaux (Joseph Epstein)

RAPT (2009) DIR – SCR Lucas Belvaux CAM Pierre Milon ED Danielle Anezin MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Yvan Attal, Anne Consigny, André Marcon, Françoise Fabian, Alex Descas, Lucas Belvaux

38 TÉMOINS, a.k.a. 38 WITNESSES and ONE NIGHT (2012) DIR Lucas Belvaux PROD Yvan Attal, Patrick Sobelman, Patrick Quinet SCR Lucas Belvaux (novel by Didier Decoin) CAM Pierric Gantelmi d’Ile MUS Arne Van Dongen CAST Yvan Attal, Sophie Quinton, Nicole Garcia, François Feroleto, Natacha Régnier, Patrick Descamps

PAS SON GENRE, a.k.a. NOT MY TYPE (2014) DIR Lucas Belvaux PROD Patrick Sobelman, Patrick Quinet SCR Lucas Belvaux (novel by Philippe Vilain) CAM Pierric Gantelmi d’Ille ED Ludo Troch MUS Frédéric Vercheval CAST Émilie Dequenne, Loïc Corbery, Sandra Nkake, Charlotte Talpaert, Anne Coesens, Daniela Bisconti, Didier Sandre

CHEZ NOUS, a.k.a. THIS IS OUR LAND (2017) DIR Lucas Belvaux PROD David Frenkel, Patrick Quinet SCR Lucas Belvaux, Jérôme Leroy CAM Pierric Gantelmi d’Ille ED Ludo Troch MUS Frédéric Vercheval CAST Émilie Dequenne, André Dussollier, Guillaume Gouix, Catherine Jacob, Anne Marivin, Patrick Descamps, Charlotte Talpaert

TV MOVIES

QUATRE FEMMES, QUATRE VIES: ÊTRE HEUREUX SANS LE BONHEUR (1981) DIR Jacques Trébouta SCR Hortense Dufour CAST Nicole Courcel, Marice Barrier, Ronny Coutteure, Gérard Darrieu, Lucas Belvaux, Olivier Destrez

LE ROMAN DU SAMEDI: L’AGENT SECRET (1981) DIR Marcel Camus SCR Roger Grenier (novel by Joseph Conrad) CAM Pierre Petit MUS Even de Tissot CAST Michael Lonsdale, Marina Vlady, Lucas Belvaux (Stevie), Jeanne Herviale, Jean-Pierre Sentier

NON RÉCUPÉRABLES (1982) DIR Frank Apprederis SCR Sylvain Joubert MUS Jean Musy CAST Sylvain Joubert, Bernard Fresson, Anne-Marie Besse, Lucas Belvaux (Joël), Jacques Richard, Sheila O’Connor

LE VENT DU NORD (1984) DIR Alain Dhénaut SCR Richard Caron, Geneviève Cluny CAST Georges Géret, Lucas Belvaux (Patrick), Antoinette Moya, Henri Marteau, Totin Liebman, David Reboul

LE PASSAGE (1985) DIR Frank Apprederis SCR Christine Carrel, Jean Patrick MUS Nicolas Peyrac CAST Marie-Christine Barrault, Pierre Vaneck, Jacques Dufilho, Philippe Ogouz, Lucas Belvaux (Lutz), Nicolas Peyrac

LE BANQUET (1989) DIR Marco Ferreri SCR Marco Ferreri, Monique Canto, Radu Mihaileanu, Platon MUS Didier Vasseur CAST Lucas Belvaux (Phèdre), Jean Benguigui, Christian Berthelot, Farid Chopel, Renato Cortesi, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Irene Papas, Roger Van Hool

INCOGNITO (1989) DIR Alain Bergala SCR Alain Bergala, Philippe Arnaud, Renée Falson CAM Jean-Paul Rose da Costa MUS Eric Dolphy CAST Arielle Dombasle, Lucas Belvaux (Serge), Jean-Pierre Beauviala, Yves Afonso, Gaële Le Roi

DÉRIVES (2001) DIR Christophe Lamotte PROD Arlette Guedj SCR Christophe Lamotte, Pierre Chosson CAM Florence Levasseur ED Benoît Quinon MUS Didier Cattin, Sofiane Gnaba, Benjamin Duvallet, Gillian Boughey CAST Guillaume Gouix, Jacques Spessier, Francis Renard, Ludwig-Stanislas Loison-Robert, Véra Briole, Marina Golovine, Lucas Belvaux (Policeman)

NATURE CONTRE NATURE (2004) DIR Lucas Belvaux SCR Lucas Belvaux, Jean-Luc Gaget CAM Pierre Milon ED Danielle Anezin MUS Riccardo Del Fra CAST Lucas Belvaux (Sébastien Chantoux), Raphaële Godin, Catherine Mouchet, Jacques Spessier, Henri Guybet, Nicolas Silberg, Michèle Silberg

LA FIN DE LA NUIT (2015) DIR Lucas Belvaux PROD Jérôme Clément, Georges-Marc Benamou SCR Lucas Belvaux, Jacques Fieschi (novel by François Mauriac) CAM Éric Guichard ED Ludo Troch MUS Frédéric Verchavel CAST Nicole Garcia, Louise Bourgoin, Amir El Kacem, Sandra Nkake, Bernard Mazzinghi