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:- Family values
Director Andrew Birkin talks to Andrew Pulver about The Cement
Garden, a different kind of family movie.
‘1 never wanted it sold as a family movie,‘ says Andrew Birkin of his award-winning ﬁlm adaptation of Ian McEwan‘s The Cement Garden. It could never be that sort of family movie anyway, since the McEwan original is a macabre tale of adolescent trauma, incest, and other kinds of deeply disturbing activities. Birkin is referring to his niece Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Serge and Jane, who has taken a leading role, along with Birkin‘s young son Ned. ‘I had a problem,‘ explains the director. ‘1 5 could never ﬁnd the right actors. Then I i had to go to Paris for a funeral. ; Charlotte and l were driving back i together, and it was like asking ' someone to marry me: I just popped the a
question. It had been lurking in the back of my mind — I said “Will you be in my movie?".‘
Persuading Charlotte Gainsbourg to act was virtually the last piece of a very complex jigsaw that Birkin, and his producer wife Bee Gilbert, had been assembling around the project since 1982. ‘I read McEwan‘s novel after my wife gave it to me, and fell in love with J
_ French toasts
Thorn Dibdin previews Scotland’s second French Film Festival.
Les Visiteurs are coming! To the CF!" and Filmhouse for the second French Film Festival. Not every ﬁlm made in France over the last year will be there, mind you, just ﬁfteen of the 150 or so. Which is about the total number of ﬁlms made in the UK in that time. However, despite France‘s busy ﬁlm industry, this is a good deal more than the number of ﬁlms which normally make it across the channel to our cinema screens.
Augmenting the new releases is a ﬁve-ﬁlm retrospective of Cyrano De Bergerac director Jean-Paul Rappeneau and a programme of early short ﬁlms by directors, such as Truffaut and Jeunet, whose names have subsequently become famous. Several of the ﬁlmmakers will be coming over to discuss their work after the screenings, which all adds up to a very respectable programme.
After the success of last year‘s Festival, which received excellent notices in France, there was no problem in attracting directors, according to Festival co-director, Richard Mowe.
' the lucky position of being asked to 3 make a ﬁlm I didn’t want to direct [a
he’d ﬁnance Tire Cement Garden at
, sneaking nastiness, a semi-surreal
One such name is Rappeneau, who will
it. We tried to get it going while doing other things, and then I found myself in
Greta Scacchi vehicle called Salt On Our Skin, made for the German market]. The producer, Bemd Eichinger, said if I took this other ﬁlm,
100 per cent. So that’s what I did.‘ McEwan's novel — his ﬁrst — established his reputation for a kind of
grotesque atmosphere that encompasses. a family of three children who are left
be present for post-ﬁlm question and | answer‘sessions after each screening of Cyrano. In fact, the difﬁculty was in physically getting hold of the prints. ‘Very often the number of English language subtitled prints is very small to start with,’ says Mowe, ‘so when you start talking about ﬁlms that are two or three years old, then you discover that there is perhaps only one print surviving. In the case of Le Sauvage, one of the Rappeneau movies, the print is coming from Los Angeles, where the Americans are studying it frame by frame for the possibility of a remake. The print is not of wonderful quality, but it is the only English
language subtitled print that exists in the whole world.‘
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alone when their mother dies. ‘The thing I know it’s not about is burying your mother in cement. I‘m not even sure it’s about incest. lan never worked on the screenplay — the ﬁrst time I met him was at a showing — so we never talked about it. Critics have said it‘s about rites of passage, progression; but I realised recently it’s the opposite — it’s regression, the whole thing‘s going back into childhood.‘
To complement the ﬁlm‘s distinctive subject matter, Birkin worked hard at creating an equally disorientating lack oftime/place speciﬁcs. ‘I even spent
all, . .. \
[as Visitor's: ‘a Winner of populist entedalnmt’
One ofthe joys of the Festival is that you don’t only get to see ﬁlms by those arthouse directors whose work is normally guaranteed a distributor in the UK. There are the hits which your Parisien homme dans le boulevard is going to see in droves. One such ﬁlm is Les Visiteurs, a humdinger of populist entertainment, which sees a chivalrous knight and his loyal but smelly servant thrown forward from the 13th century to modem France. It's a mix of Python and Don Quixote which would distract any pop-com wielding youngster who has the smallest smattering of French. It even had the most jaded of Scottish hacks tittering in the aisles during its press show.
Of course the arthouse favourites are
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£1000 of my own money in post- production to get rid of a tiny triangle of Canary Wharf that crept in. The thanks you get — I read a piece later that said it was irritating that you couldn’t tell exactly where it was set. We were also very precise about the progression of colours and ﬁlters, to take the action through from ordinary reality into a kind of heightened reality. Objects get foreshortened all the way through the ﬁlm — it‘s just a subconscious thing - but it‘s like their lives are getting less focused.‘
The international recognition that The Cement Garden has received (including the Silver Bear at Berlin) is the latest achievement of Birkin’s genuinely individual career. After working on 200/: A Space Odyssey as Stanley Kubrick’s assistant, he produced a succession of screenplays (including The Name Of Tire Rose. The Final Conﬂict and Inside The Third Reich) before breaking into direction with Burning Secret in I988. But it’s his deﬁnitive ﬁve-hour TV documentary (and accompanying book) on J. M. Barrie. The Lost Boys (I978). which is the most surprising item on his CV. ‘l’m in the strange position, entirely by default, of being some kind of expert. I have no desire to be an expert on anything, least of all ﬁlrnrnaking. I like to be a jack-of—all-trades, dance about between subjects. It just about covers my boredom threshold. But long after any movie of mine is dead, rotten and forgotten, I like to think ofthat book of mine sitting on a shelf in the British Library.
The Cement Garden opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Mon I Nov
well represented. There’s Bertrand (Merci La Vie) Blier‘s latest, Un Deux Trois Soleil. Set in the Marseilles suburbs, it focuses on Victorine, a young woman in search of a decent life. Then there are three ﬁlms from Claude Chabrol whose Madame Bovary was the disappointment of last year‘s Festival. Une Affaire de Femmes earned Isabelle Huppert a prize at the Venice Film Festival for her emotionally charged portrayal of the last woman to be guillotined in France, for procuring abortion. L'Oeil de Vichy is set at the same time, during the Second World War Vichy government. but is a documentary using archive material and newsrcels passed by war- time censors.
Most feature ﬁlms will be accompanied by a short ﬁlm, thanks to
g the links the Festival has forged with
the Brest Short Film Festival. Two representatives from Brest will be present at the Generation Court screenings. ‘Shorts have a very strong tradition in France,‘ adds Mowe. ‘We hope that there will be a dialogue with Scottish ﬁlmmakers.’ As he points out, it is these sorts of encounters, where information can be freely exchanged, which make the event valuable and turn a collection of movies into a real Festival.
The French Film Festival runs concurrently at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh F ilmhouse from Friday 22 October. See Film listings and index.
l I i
20 The List 22 October—4 November 1993