Michel Hazanavicius: “For me every new film is like my first film, as if I have to invent everything all over again”

After a successful first edition of the BRIFF (Brussels International Film Festival) last year, the  second edition (June 20-29) looks just as promising. This year’s guest of honor is Michel Hazanavicius, French screenwriter and director of “The Artist” (2011). With his wife and frequently praised actress Bérénice Bejo, this renowned Oscar and César-winning filmmaker is one of the Dream Teams of French and international cinema.

After Roman Polanski (with “The Pianist,” 2002), Mr. Hazanavicius is the second French director in film history who took home an Oscar in the ‘Best Director’ category—“The Artist” won a total of five (watch here his acceptance speech). This silent black-and-white film became a tremendous and worldwide hit movie and in all honesty, as far as I am concerned, in terms of filmmaking Mr. Hazanavicius immediately became a saint. After all, how often do you get to see a film with this kind of empathetic power, that broadens your horizon and pushes the boundaries of your own imagination to the next level? In that respect, Mr. Hazanavicius is a master in terms of filmmaking and storytelling—undoubtedly a true ‘artist’ in his own right.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, guest of honor at the BRIFF. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

The only regret is that he only makes few films. After he did “The Artist,” he made the in-depth drama “The Search” (2014)—a remake of Fred Zinnemann’s classic from 1948, with Bérénice Bejo playing the female counterpart of Montgomery Clift’s character in Mr. Zinnemann’s original—and “Le Redoutable” (2017, a.k.a. “Godard Mon Amour”), about the French director Jean-Luc Godard during the filming of “La Chinoise” (1967), and his relationship with actress Anne Wiazemsky whom Godard married after making that film.

Prior to “The Artist,” Mr. Hazanavicius had demonstrated time and time again what a distinguished filmmaker he was, with films such as “OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions” (2006, a.k.a. “OSS 117: Nest of Spies”) and “OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus” (2009, a.k.a. “OSS 117: Lost in Rio”), both with Jean Dujardin as secret agent OSS 117 in a loving tribute to the espionage films of the 1950s and 1960s. “Thanks to the success of these films, I was able to make ‘The Artist’,” Mr. Hazanavicius said. Or how everything can fall into place. Currently his latest feature “Le prince oublié” starring Omar Sy, Bérénice Bejo and François Damiens is in post-production and is scheduled to be released next January.

During the BRIFF, a huge crowd enjoyed Mr. Hazanavicius’ very animated masterclass at UGC De Brouckère in Brussels. The following day I also had this conversation with the man.

Mr. Hazanavicius, when you made “The Artist” it seemed you were swimming against the stream: a French filmmaker who went to Hollywood to make a silent black and white film. Not a very obvious choice, is it? Is that what defines you as a filmmaker and how you set your creative priorities?

Yes, I never looked at it that way, but I guess you’re right. I’m not tempted too easily because my own personal choices are more important to me than anything else. So in a way I’m swimming against the stream, that’s for sure, and whenever I am offered to do a film, I only accept it if it’s really appealing. The choices I make are always my own, and I’m never influenced by anything or anyone else.

With the projects you make now, do you have total autonomy? You make the final decisions?

Yes, pretty much. The last film I did [“Le prince oublié”] was suggested to me. I know the producer and the screenplay was sent to me. I was able to rewrite it wherever and whenever I wanted, so we went through it together, but by far and large I had carte blanche. In France, the film director is really in charge of the production, while in the U.S. the producer is le patron.

I’m sure that you got a lot of job offers from Hollywood after you did “The Artist,” but I have the impression it doesn’t keep you awake at night. Is that correct?

If you’re talking about me having a film career in America, that’s correct, because that’s not what I’m after, although the idea of working there, working with American actors, and being part of this American mythology, that sounds very appealing. I get a lot of offers to work there, but up until now it didn’t work out—also because I was commited to other projects that I really wanted to make, like “The Search” [2014] and “Le Redoutable” [2017]. So it’s basically a matter of priorities.

Film director Michel Hazanavicius during his masterclass. Photograph: © Leo/Film Talk

As a multiple award-winning filmmaker, is it easy for you to raise the funds you need to make your films?

There is never enough money, and you can always use more. But if it’s necessary or if I need to—and if it’s a project I’m really committed to—I do my best to adjust the screenplay to a certain extent to make sure I can make the film. The budget of the last film I did was enormous, but when you’re able to work with that kind of money, it means it’s a more expensive film to make, it’s that simple. And when you get less money than you need or than you hope to get, you have to be creative and find solutions. As long as it is possible to work my way around it, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve also had the experience when I had to compromise too much, and then I turned it down. But generally speaking, it’s possible to come up with a number of solutions for economic reasons and save one or two million euros. If you write a script, you always imagine what it will look like on the screen, and when you need to change it according to the budget, you may look at it differently, or look at it from another angle and find a different perspective, but the choices you make are still yours. And if that works for me, I can live with it. So to get back to your question, financing the films I have made so far has worked out pretty well.

You have a wonderful chemistry with a lot of your actors you work with frequently, like your wife or Jean Dujardin, but what about your frequent collaboration with your DP Guillaume Schiffman? What is his contribution to your work, and how do you work with him?

We get along very well, we even live in the same area. For me every new film is like my first film, as if I have to invent everything all over again. So you enter a new world, and you have to ask yourself, ‘How will we do it, and what do we need to invent to make sure it will work?’ There are great cinematographers who always shoot the same images the same way, but his approach is different. He’s very open-minded and always creates a new and particular look for each film. That makes it so interesting and so inspiring.

Brussels International Film Festival, Brussels
June 22, 2019

[The theatrical trailer of “The Artist”]

FILMS

LA CITÉ DE LA PEUR, a.k.a. FEAR CITY: A FAMILY-STYLE COMEDY (1994) DIR Alain Berbérian PROD Charles Gassot SCR Dominique Farrugia, Alain Chabat, Chantal Lauby CAM Laurent Dailland ED Véronique Parnet MUS Philippe Chany CAST Chantal Lauby, Alain Chabat, Dominique Farrugia, Gérard Darmon, Sam Karmann, Patrick Lizana, Rosanna Arquette, Michel Hazanavicius (Régis)

DIDIER (1997) DIR – SCR Alain Chabat PROD Claude Berri CAM Laurent Dailland ED Roland Baubeau MUS Philippe Chany CAST Alain Chabat, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Pascal Gennesseaux, Laurent Dailland, Chantal Lauby, Claude Berri, Michel Hazanavicius (Fabrice), Josiane Balasko, Serge Hazanavicius

DELPHINE 1, YVAN 0 (1996) DIR Dominique Farrugia PROD Dominique Farrugia, Danielle Foatelli, Olivier Granier SCR Michel Hazanavicius, Dominique Farrugia CAM Pascal Gennesseaux, Catherine Georges, Nicolas Herdt, Beatrice Mizrahi ED Gaëlle Boutin, Gaëlle Ramillon, Marie-Blanche Colonna MUS Philippe Chany CAST Julie Gayet, Serge Hazanavicius, Alain Chabat, Dominique Farrugia, Lionel Abelanski, Amélie Pick, Thierry Roland, Yvan Attal, Michel Hazanavicius

LE CLONE (1998) DIR Fabio Conversi PROD Dominique Farrugia, Olivier Granier SCR Michel Hazanavicius, Fabio Conversi, Alexandre Pesle CAM Bruno de Keyzer ED Marie-Blanche Colonna MUS Jean-Louis Négro CAST Elie Semoun, Dieudonné, Smadi Wolfman, Axelle Abbadie, Pierre Vernier, Zinedine Soualem, Aurélie Remacle, Marie Guillard, Serge Hazanavicius

MES AMIS (1999) DIR – SCR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Olivier Granier, Dominique Farrugia CAM Laurent Machuel ED Xavier Loutreuil MUS Ludovic Bource, Kamel Ech-Cheik CAST Yvan Attal, Serge Hazanavicius, Karin Viard, Mathieu Demy, Lionel Abelanski, Léa Drucker, Thibault de Montalembert

MA FEMME EST UNE ACTRICE, a.k.a. MY WIFE IS AN ACTRESS (2001) DIR – SCR Yvan Attal PROD Claude Berri CAM Rémy Chevrin ED Jennifer Augé MUS Brad Mehldau CAST Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Terence Stamp, Noémi Lvovsky, Laurent Bateau, Keith Allen, Ludivine Sagnier, Annette Hazanavicius, Roschdy Zem, Michel Hazanavicius (Cameraman)

LES DALTON, a.k.a. THE DALTONS (2004) DIR Philippe Haïm PROD Saïd Ben Saïd, Yves Marmion SCR Michel Hazanavicius, Ramzy Bedia, Eric Judor CAM David Carretero ED Richard Marizy MUS Alexandre Azaria CAST Eric Judor, Ramzy Bedia, Saïd Errari, Romain Berger, Til Schweiger, Javivi, Marthe Villalonga, Jean Benguigui, Jean Dujardin, Elie Semoun, Kad Merad

OSS 117: LE CAIRE, NID D’ESPIONS, a.k.a. OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (2006) DIR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Manuel Alduy, Nicolas Seydoux, Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Sidonie Dumas, Franck Chorot, Christophe Riandee, Bertrand Maheux SCR Jean-François Halin (adaptation by Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-François Halin; novel by Jean Bruce) CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Reynald Bertrand MUS Ludovic Bource, Kamel Ech-Cheik CAST Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Béjo, Aure Atika, François Damiens, Khalid Maadour, Constantin Alexandrov

OSS 117: RIO NE RÉPOND PLUS, a.k.a. OSS 117: LOST IN RIO (2009) DIR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Clara Machado SCR Michel Hazanavicius, Jean-François Halin (characters created by Jean Bruce) CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Reynald Bertrand MUS Ludovic Bource CAST Jean Dujardin, Louise Monot, Rüdiger Vogler, Alex Lutz, Reem Kherici, Pierre Bellemare, Ken Samuels, Serge Hazanavicius

THE ARTIST (2011) DIR – SCR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Thomas Langmann CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Michel Hazanavicius, Anne-Sophie Bion MUS Ludovic Bource CAST Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Joel Murray, Malcolm McDowell

LES INFIDÈLES, a.k.a. THE PLAYERS (2012) DIR Michel Hazanavicius [segment LA BONNE CONSCIENCE], other segments by Emmanuelle Bercot, Fred Cavayé, Alexandre Courtès, Jean Dujardin, Jan Kounen, Eric Lartigau, Gilles Lellouche PROD Jean Dujardin, Marc Dujardin, Guillaume Lacroix, Éric Hannezo SCR Nicolas Bedos, Philippe Caverivière, Jean Dujardin, Stéphane Joly, Gilles Lellouche CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Anny Danché, Julien Leloup MUS Evgueni Galperine, Pino D’Angiò CAST Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Guillaume Canet, Manu Payet, Géraldine Nakache, Priscilla de Laforcade

THE SEARCH (2014) DIR – SCR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Michel Hazanavicius, Thomas Langmann CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Michel Hazanavicius, Anne-Sophie Bion CAST Bérénice Bejo, Annette Bening, Maksim Emelyanov, Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev, Zukhra Duishvili, Lela Bagakashvili, Yuriy Tsuliro

JACKY AU ROYAUME DES FILLES, a.k.a. JACKY IN THE KINGDOM OF WOMEN (2014) DIR – SCR – MUS Riad Sattouf PROD Anne-Dominique Toussaint CAM Josée Deshaies ED Virginie Bruant CAST Vincent Lacoste, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Didier Bourdon, Anémone, Valérie Bonneton, Michel Hazanavicius (Justin), Noémie Lvovsky

RÉALITÉ, a.k.a. REALITY (2014) DIR – SCR – MUS – CAM – ED Quentin Dupieux PROD Kevin Van Der Meiren, Diane Jassem CAST Alain Chabat, Jonathan Lambert, Élodie Bouchez, Kyla Kenedy, John Heder, Eric Wareheim, John Glover, Michel Hazanavicius (Award Presenter)

LE REDOUTABLE, a.k.a. GODARD MON AMOUR (2017) DIR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Michel Hazanavicius, Riad Sattouf, Florence Gastaud SCR Michel Hazanavicius (novel “Un an après” by Anne Wiazemsky) CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Michel Hazanavicius, Anne-Sophie Bion CAST Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, Bérénice Bejo, Micha Lescot, Grégory Gadebois, Félix Kysyl, Arthur Orcier, Michel Hazanavicius (voice only)

AU POSTE!, a.k.a. KEEP AN EYE OUT (2018) DIR – SCR – CAM – ED Quentin Dupieux PROD Mathieu Verhaeghe, Thomas Verhaeghe MUS David Sztanke CAST Benoît Poelvoorde, Grégoire Ludig, Marc Fraize, Anaïs demoustier, Orelsan, Philippe Duquesne, Jacky Lambert, Michel Hazanavicius (First Policeman)

LE PRINCE OUBLIÉ (2020) DIR Michel Hazanavicius PROD Philippe Rousselet SCR Michel Hazanavicius, Noé Debré, Bruno Merle CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Anne-Sophie Bion CAST Omar Sy, Bérénice Bejo, François Damiens, Théo Hellerman, Oudesh Rughooputh, Maxence Huet, Manon Koltès