His presence made La Maine and L’Appartement two of the biggest arthouse hits in recent years. Now French actor VINCENT CASSEL is ready to kick European cinema into the I‘ICXt millennium. til/ores: Hannah Fries
'VINCENT CASSEL IS A MIX 0F GENTLENESS
and violence.' says Jan Kounen. director of
DUIH'I‘HIHHII. (‘assel‘s latest film. To anyone who has seen this film or ('assel‘s early hit. Lu Hui/1c. the former attribute mttst seem
tmlikely. In Duln'rmunn. the 31-year-old actor
spends most of his screen time snarling and cocking a massive gun. As the angry. disenfranchised \v'ince in La Hui/w. his expression of forced animosity was at the centre of a film that spurred riots in oppressed suburbs and shook the French establishment.
In person. ('assel's energy takes a positive shape: he’s clear-minded. enthttsiastic and driven. But he's also sincere. and the violence expressed through the roles he has chosen is something he believes to be meaningful. 'l)()/)('I'HI(HIII is a reaction to censorship and to the system which says you shouldn’t do that. you should do this.‘ he says. ‘It is very provocative. cynical and dark. but it goes with the time. It's a had boy movie. l.ike somebody saying. “I want to have fun with things I'm not allowed to laugh at".‘
More than most actors. (‘assel chooses to make his background a defining element in his career. ‘I was raised in North Paris in a very cosmopolitan area. with Algerian. African and (‘hinese neighbours.’ he says. ‘When I was young I used to do things like graffiti and so on. My brother is a rap singer. So Lu lluim' was pretty much part of my experience. except that I‘m not from the suburbs and I didn't suffer from police injuries. But
definiter it‘s the people I was 'La Haine hanging around with. I went to all was pretty
kinds of schools state schools. boarding school. religious school.
I wasn‘t very good. I wanted to my
act. and I wasn‘t into finishing my -
stttdies.‘ expenence' Out of this dissatisfaction with excePt that
authority. both personal and political. comes (‘assel's par- ticular commitment to ‘his generation’. He and his friend Mathieu Kassovitl. director of La
Hui/Iv. grew up knowing they suffer from would not fit into the existing pOIice format of lirench cinema. ‘Iiven - - - y
as a boy. I was watching what was InIurIes'
going on in French cinema and I couldn’t think how I would fit into the frame.’ (‘assel explains. ‘So I decided to create my own frame and people to work with -— to do the movies I would like to do instead of sneaking in on what was going on.'
Before becoming an actor. (‘assel was a street acrobat. After the success of La Hui/iv he was offered - but turned down ~ some hiin profile. mainstream I‘rench projects. choosing to act mostly for first-time directors because that's where I felt I should concentrate my
much part of
I'm not from the suburbs and I didn't
EUROSTAR 0F 99
energy.‘ For (‘assel. work must be inventive to the point that he now prefers to write and
direct his own ideas. So. with the exception of a high-profile role in I.uc Besson's .lmm ()f xIl't'. his acting career is on hold — despite just
breaking into the linglish language market as the Due d‘Anjou. the Queen‘s suitor in If/imbcl/z.
(irowing tip in a multi-ethnic neigh- bourhood. and being pitched between Paris and New York after his parents split (his father is actor Jean-Pierre (‘assel). far from creating feelings of confusion. has left (‘assel with a trust in his own instinct.
‘.\’Iy childhood was complex. but the thing
I learned was that you have to trust yourself
because there‘s nobody who can tell you what's wrong.’ he says. ‘When I write. I know in the depth of my soul whether I believe this or not. or if I‘m just being lazy. If you do it with all your guts. then you understand more
about yourself than if you stay and keep on thinking about what you should or should not do.‘
(‘assel's own film is set in a neighbourhood like the one in which he grew up. and where he still lives. and its characters are local low- lifes. ‘It is especially about the relationship between a father and son.‘ he explains. 'and the way all the hidden things have an effect on you. even if you don‘t know about them — and the way you grow with all the problems they create inside you. But put like this it sounds strange and metaphysical. For myself. I wish to make something which is accessible to the kids down the block.‘
Dobermann plays Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 15 Jan and Glasgow Film Theatre from Fri 29 Jan. See review, page 35.