Posts Tagged ‘La Haine’

Mathieu Kassovitz – Film Director

Mathieu Kassovitz is a French actor and filmmaker with several artistic and commercial successes under his belt and, at only 45, a glittering future ahead of him.  He wrote and directed La Haine (Hate, 1995), a highly-acclaimed yet controversial film that delves into themes of racial hatred, violence, and police brutality. The film won the Cesar for Best Film and won him Best Director at Cannes in 1995.

He later directed Purple Rivers  (2000), a police detective thriller starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel, another commercial success in France, and Gothika (2003), a fantasy thriller that enabled him to finance his more personal outing  Babylon Babies. Kassovitz set up a production company MNP Entreprise in 2000 responsible for a number of co-pros including Avida (2006) in which he also stars.  

Andrew Rajan spoke to him in London at the UK premiere of his latest outing REBELLION which he both stars in and directs.  It’s an action-packed war film based on a true story of French commandos up against tribes in New Caledonia, a French territory.

Q How would you describe REBELLION for those only familiar with (your breakout success) La Haine?

MK As a grown up version of La Haine [laughter]. Less welcoming or accessible, still about brutality, the same kind of energy and message.

Q You seem happy to sit at odds with mainstream politics.. a revisionist view..

MK Revisionist… you need to be careful with words like that… [laughter]
Being a director is being able to tell stories and there are very many, but the true ones that you only hear one voice, one side and (then) you discover that there is another… so all of a sudden, what you have been told you find is not the whole story. There is nothing more fascinating than being able to show that to people. 
That’s what historians are here for. As a director, if you take it seriously hen you become a reporter and the movie becomes like a very important piece of journalism, but the difference (with) a magazine is that a movie is here to stay. 

So, when you are saying something with which you are able to revise history, or point of view, or… way of thinking, it is the best thing you can do… you cannot get a bigger kick than that. Because you aren’t only going to make a movie, but you are going to say something and reveal something and that is something very important. 

Of course I feel very comfortable like that, it is how I am, not only in movies, but in everyday life; I like to confront ideas and to shock people, so movies are a great vehicle for that.

Q How has the film been received in France and on the island?

MK It’s a hard film for people to deal with, even for France. We were talking with one of your colleagues, about “Bloody Sunday”. Even now, the British are very uncomfortable with that story; the audience still has a problem with admitting that (the soldiers) went that far. I know this story.. I know it really well, but this story is 20 years ago and 25,000km away and… who gives a shit? That kind of movie requires patience and intelligence. I am trying to get the audience to be smart about it and think.. I designed a film to get the audience right into the centre of it, right into Philippe’s Legorjus’ shoes so they can experience it and say ‘what would I have done in his shoes?’ 

It’s a difficult movie to sell; best reviews ever, but no one went to see it in France. I understand, when you are down, you don’t want to hear the government is lying.. I don’t want to hear it all the time. And people want to laugh. I get that. 
But it was really strange. I’ve never had such good reviews and (yet) no one went to see it. I thought a French audience would see it… but French people are not French any more. Five years of Sarkozy has just killed our spirit… and I don’t feel that any more. We aren’t French any more. A year and a half of (President) Hollande has not brought it back either, so..  we’re not the French people we were before… 

New Caledonia is going to vote for its independence and I hope that the movie is going to be revealed then and people will think…. But you do need to sit down for two hours and think when you watch this and that is not what movies do today. Difficult and very subtle (film)… I’m a little sad… that it didn’t do well- I am very happy I did it, I am very happy with the movie- but just because it didn’t do well, it is just going to make it harder for any director wanting to do another movie like that. 

Q Would you embark on another movie like that again?

MK I’m burned out right now. Ten years of my life and no one goes to see it? Why? Why would I put another ten years of my life to another project like that? That nobody cares about. 

But people ask how I found it. I didn’t go out to find that story, that story found me. You stumble over it. That kind of story it doesn’t come along every day. You need to cross paths with it, be it a news article or whatever, but you need to find it, if you don’t you won’t have that kind of story to tell. 

Right now, I am working on Hollywood, so I am doing the exact opposite… I am resting my brain and building a good muscle tone [laughter] and my tan.

Q How have the Kanaks reacted to it? Has it been therapeutic for them?

MK Yes, they’ve seen it. It was censored out there because the theatre owners were scared that people would burn the theatre down. And there was some politics involved there too, so that was a way to hide it and not to show it- to delay the screening yet again. 

Q Did you expect these kinds of responses out there?

MK No.. No, I made a movie that didn’t show many things.. If I knew that was going to happen, I would have made a way harsher movie- for the French government. Here, I didn’t show torture, didn’t really show the violence.. I didn’t want to go that far.. I made it that it was balanced.. so I wouldn’t have those problems of censorship. 

But people also say I am Partisan… people say the film is partisan and that I agree with the Kanak point of view from the get-go… the Story- with a big ‘S’, is that the French Army came a killed people. So, there are victims and in the Military too, there are victims also and you have to explain how and why it happened but there are no two sides to that story… some people can be on the side of the military. I didn’t expect that- we really worked hard… What I really want to do, when I say I want intelligent people to see the film, is have the Military see this film and the people responsible to see it I don’t want to shock them, or slap them in the face, but even by trying to be subtle and (respectful), they still can’t accept it, it’s too much for them.

Q How does Philippe feel about the film, was he involved much?

MK Very much, as soon as I started working with the Kanak, they were like, why not. I started working with them in 2001 and with Philippe from about 2003, so he was very much involved. I actually understand what he went through. He’s like a snake- he’s like a cold-blooded animal. They’re totally professional, they can’t let their emotions take over, so they don’t communicate that much. And even if he wanted to, he couldn’t really tell me much about how he felt going through it at the time because it was all happening. He realised only a few months later what happened, you know? So, he likes the film. The Kanaks like the film and he likes the film. From both sides, I have the same reaction. Both parties were so involved they knew the film they were going to get at the end. 

Q Can I ask, is there a much more open culture now with the Kanaks now talking about these events? I understand they didn’t talk about it at all…

MK Well, the film is now out there. Discussions are now up in the air. If they want to discuss it they can. The film is here, so they can use it as a stepping stone.. I said I was not going to tell just their stories, I was going to tell a global story and their bad actions will be shown and the (military) bad actions will be shown but they needed something they could regroup around. It was very important for them. They wanted to be portrayed in a real way. Not in a good way, not in a bad way. What are they here for. What they are fighting for. I spent so much time with them. I love that island, that culture, that’s why they let me do it. I had the same thing with La Haine, in the projects. I’m not from there, but I could look in from a distance. If you live there, you are knee deep and do not have a perspective. You need someone to be able to come in from outside and se it for what it is.

Q You talked about Bloody Sunday being a favourite film.. What’s your view on the British in Northern Ireland? 

MK I think it’s shit [laughter]. No, when I spoke about that film, I was really only talking about the way the film was made… and also the implications… he did it with people from the neighbourhood; used real people. The whole community was involved. To shoot the way he shot it was fascinating. You can feel the energy in the movie, I think. You couldn’t do riots like that if people weren’t involved. Like Ken Loach, you know, you have to be involved for the people to get involved, otherwise you cannot make films like this. 

Q Injustice seems to be a common thread running through your films. Can you tell me what inspired you to become a filmmaker?

MK Very simple, my parents were filmmakers and very good filmmakers, so they taught me the craft and the love for the craft. And my father was very ethical you know, and taught me the basics, like you know, stay on schedule work under the budget, if you can do it for less then do so. Problems are solutions; you don’t need money to find solutions, you need to be smart. He knew his craft and he passed it on to me. My mother was the same, she was an editor. I always say, if they were butchers, I would have been a butcher. A very good one. I would be killing cows right now. In a very good way- without hurting them. [laughter] no, I mean, I would have been doing what my parents had taught me and with passion. I was lucky it was movies so I can hang out with beautiful people and not dirty cows, but the rest is simple.

MK Now, why political movies, I have no fucking idea. My parents- it was the Sixties, the Seventies and they were from Hungary; they escaped during a communist regime.

Making movies is difficult. You have two choices. Either you make movies because wow, I make movies and fuck(!), it’s a great way to make a living, you just want to make money and get rich, or you make movies because you have something to say and that’s where it’s really, really interesting, because its such a powerful and amazing medium to play with. I realised during this movie that when you make a movie like that, the movie is done and you said what you had to say and you say the truth, so it’s a great responsibility, but it’s also a great honour to be able to… I said the truth about that movie and what happened and that is going to influence the vote next year. That’s amazing. I am doing politics at the same time. And I did that for ten years with them.

It’s very difficult to make a movie, so it’s better to make it for a purpose other than your bank account or your next girlfriends, you know?

Thankyou Matthieu.


Q&A *Contains Spoilers*

MC Thank you for a thought provoking film from beginning to end. Tell me, the story came from Philippe Legorjus’ book, I think he wrote it very soon after the conflict in 1990..?

MK I didn’t want his point of view. I didn’t read his book first, because I couldn’t trust his point of view. That story happened in 1998 around the time of the elections and all we heard in France was that 19 savages got killed cos they decapitated some militia, so they got what they deserved and then the elections went on and we all just forgot about it. So then some time after I discovered a book from the League of Human Rights they investigated for six moths. When I read that it was amazing- it was a movie by itself and the one name popping up was Philippe. So I read alot and did alot of research. 

MC What do you make of Philippe’s book now?

MK I think his book is pretty close to reality and what he went through. Pretty accurate.

What I still don’t know is what he thinks about it all.. he spent alot of time buried in it and then after some time realised he simply couldn’t take it any more so he quit the military.   He’s not the kind of guy that can take the wrong orders.  Didn’t want to be influenced too much by him, as I knew he was the axis of this story, so I needed to get other voices first. And because he retired made me think he was an interesting character. I couldn’t have done this if he hadn’t retired.

What would I do if I ever meet these people? What would I do if I ever met Mitterand? I would go insane. I would tell them that they kill people. And Philippe just wants to understand how all this happened. Because it’s very strange when you look at the whole picture, something strange happened… How could Mitterand have made this decision? How could he have decided just to sacrifice these people? 

MC You make a smart decision to show the archive footage and focus in very well and how it resonates at the top. 

MK There was a decision about how much I show of Paris and the corridors of power, but I didn’t want to focus very much on the character of Philippe and focus on the issues. I’m trying to get as close to reality as possible AND would you pass on the chance to use this archive footage?! These two guys. They have ten minutes talking about New Caledonia.. if I had had the balls, I would have put the whole ten minutes in, you can see the fight that’s going on there between these two guys very interesting.

MC Research there on the island, was it easy?

MK The story itself the journalist investigation. One very important element is their culture and what they are fighting for. There is a whole civilisation there, all about listening and learning and taking time to respond and share. They tested me for ten years. They wanted to see how far I was willing to go. So I realised that I needed to be that guy.. if they had a problem, then I was the guy they could shoot. 

In 2001, it was 13 years after the facts; people had their families wiped out, cousins, fathers, brothers, it’s a very small place and a very shocking story, but no one knows this story, because no one talks about it. So I heard the stories whilst I was there and from the news. It took ten years to get permission from the whole community to say yes. I mean everybody. Everybody on the island. There are different kinds of Kanaks, independence fighters, families, so, I had a friend who worked for five years full time to see everybody on that island and spent 8 hours with each of them, to explain what I was doing and get them to say yes. So that took a very long time.

We shot in Tahiti, as it was sacred ground almost in New Caledonia. It became way more than a movie. A political statement. 

MC Finding actors was hard?

MK There are only five Kanak actors in the world. We are looking for the truth, so one way to do it is to work with people who could say that it is legit, or not. It is a big responsibility for them to let me do it. Of course, I could have just messed with them; told them something and then gone and made a totally different movie and it would totally destroy them. So they gave me a pass to express what they are around the world.

MC Kanaks have now seen it? That was nervous moment?

MK Yes, in needed to show the families of people who died. When I had them I knew how they would react.

It’s their and their culture- their story. They’ve never had a moment to get their own voice out. This film gives them that. They weren’t allowed to express their story. That’s very disturbing. 

If I showed all the torture and the harassment going on in the villages, it would have shocked people, but I didn’t want to show that. 

MC One very shocking scene we see at least two captured prisoners assassinated by soldiers. How quickly was it reported? 

MK Never in a military assault do you have 19 deaths and no wounded… maybe you have 5 dead and ten wounded, some seriously… But here, no, they were all just shot. All 19. People were found with a bullet in their forehead. I didn’t want to show that. I don’t show, but if you are smart enough, you will understand. I could have shown it, they shot between 5-10 people, bullet in the head. That’s disturbing but I didn’t want to make the film about that. I wanted to make it about something more universal and tragic than just the death of 19 people.

MC How did you get large French companies and the army involved..?

MK I chose not to show too much. I didn’t want shock, I wanted to open the discussion. We went to Kanak and asked for their help and also the military also and asked for vehicles and choppers, in the hope that we could then say that look, everyone is helping here and perhaps that would start the discussion that needed to be had. Military said no. So, there is not one thing that comes from them. 

The helicopter is made out of wood. We got it off the ground digitally. Cars, there is only one with an engine, the other is simply linked with chains to the first one. The two armoured cars are made of wood and dragged by another car. And we went to the politicians and they said ‘not only are we not going to help you, but it would be better if you didn’t actually make the movie.’ 

So no, we didn’t have any help. We got unofficial military to help. Part of the cast is military. We had both sides working with us, but in a very unofficial way, which makes the film very accurate. Concerning finances, we were very lucky, because of my career, and because I was so passionate about that story and it is so amazing, so cinematic, it wasn’t difficult to find the money. We had very good and trusting partners. It was a ten million Euro budget. Half went in to the logistics; fridges, lodging, food, everything. There are no compromises. 

And we said to the army, just help us so we can start to bring people together and they just said ‘fuck you’. So we said ‘fuck you too’. [laughter]

MC Are you now a hero of the gendarmerie?

MK Am I a hero? It’s strange, officially no, and the high ranking officers, Hell no. but for the guys hat were there, I was approached by the grunts that were there not part of the GIGN, but that were here and they told me things that were too horrible to put in the movie but they were very grateful that we did the move and they needed some way to get it all off their chests. They have been living with this stuff for 20 years so for the regular army guy, we helped. 
That’s the conflict of being in the army. They have to obey orders and if they don’t then the whole system collapses. But still they have brains and hearts and they can’t talk about it all, so when somebody else does, it helps. 

MC The Cesars… you had a spat on Twitter with them..?

MK Yes, for those that don’t know, they are like our Bafta’s or Oscars… I have won, I think, three of them and been nominated for more, but I never went to get them. Because I don’t like them, because I think it’s tacky in the extreme. And boring and I’m not keen being seated next to these people. I would love to go to the Oscars and be seated next to Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola and all these people and these amazing directors that I built my childhood on. But I hate competition, I don’t like it. 

I don’t really care about having a Cesar or not. It’s not about it being a good film or not. But if the French industry doesn’t help, doesn’t support films like that, you see, there is not another movie like that out there, so if they don’t support movies like that then we didn’t have ten political movies.. they gave Oscars to the most successful film of the year. Why? Why give a Cesar to a film that doesn’t need it? Just recognise that French movies and cinema are also (political) and if you just support comedies, then what does that mean? And why support films that are mimicking the Americans.? Fuck that. [round of applause] 
We had a relationship with the Brits. But right now, we don’t have that relationship. So I made that movie because I thought the French were feisty and not any more. They aren’t concerned and they are no longer interested. I understand the public didn’t go and see it. They would rather laugh in the cinema and have a good time. I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it… but for the industry not to recognise it, I was very shocked. I gave my best. I think it’s time for me to go somewhere else.

MC We have to draw things to a close. Thank you, Matthieu Kassovitz.


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