His face may not be that familiar but many Europeans have seen his films. Cedric Klapisch has come up with two great European successes in recent years: ‘Auberge Espagnol’, or ‘Pot Luck’ in English and ‘The Russian Dolls’ put the European Erasmus student exchange programme onto the big screen. May is a big month for cinema, and Klapisch told Euronews what he thought of the state of his art.
EuroNews: Many people say that European cinema is in a bad state. You’ve directed some successful films such as ‘L’Auberge Espagnol’ and ‘The Russian Dolls’. What do you think about this assessment?
Cedric Klapisch: “Firstly, in a global context, European cinema is rather healthy. There aren’t that many other parts of the world that make cinema. Of course there’s the United States, there’s a lot in Asia and then there’s Europe. So Europe is one of the centres of world cinema because we’ve got Kaurismaki, we’ve got Almodovar. There are the new German productions, French, Spanish ones. So there’s a lot going on. But it’s true there are many problems, particularly in that it doesn’t travel well. I mean the French don’t watch many German, Spanish, Scandinavian or Eastern European films. In the UK 80 or 90 percent of films are American, 10 percent British, leaving less than one percent for the rest of the world. That situation is a bit of a cliché but there’s more and more truth in it in Europe. It’s quite rare to have a European film that does well across Europe.”
EuroNews: There are European policies, various grants available. Are these poorly adapted? What more can be done?
Cedric Klapisch: “Well the results certainly aren’t there! So it must be badly used. There are so few regular grants around. UGC cinemas had a European film day, but that’s just one day in the year. We never see any Maltese films, or ones from Albania or Poland. I get the impression there’s so much money being given to these supposed European film grants, but I’ve never seen any of it, neither for ‘Auberge Espagnol’ or ‘Russian Dolls’. And cinema distributors struggle to make the most of it so I don’t know where this money goes.”
EuroNews: European co-productions have been widely criticised. ‘L’Auberge Espagnol’, or ‘Pot Luck’ in English was nearly called ‘Europudding’ but that was thought to be too pejorative. So do you have to make a Europudding to get hold of this money?
Cedric Klapisch: “I liked the idea of Europudding for Auberge Espagnol. Because the notion of Europe, especially in cinema, created this awful-sounding idea of Europudding. If you put let’s say a German, an Italian and a Swede together you end up with this kind of horrible cake!” “What’s interesting in Europe, and it’s what I try to say in ‘Auberge Espagnol’, is that we’re all very different states. We’re relatively close to each other but there’s such a huge diversity from the north of the continent to the south, and from east to west. We have a hard time living together but that’s what makes Europe so culturally rich. I’ve always seen Europe as the Divided States as opposed to the United States. We don’t have a common language, we have lots of opposing cultures and at the same time we’re making something together. But what we are making doesn’t exist yet.”
EuroNews: So European cinema as an entity, is it starting to exist or not yet?
Cedric Klapisch: “It does exist it’s just we don’t know it. I mean I understood I was a European when I went to America. After two years living in New York I found out that I was close to the Russians, that I was close to the Italians, and the Germans and I didn’t even know it. We always refer to cultural clichés: in Spain its bullfights and flamenco dancing, in Italy it’s spaghetti. There are little charicatures like that going on but it goes far deeper. Because a Frenchman knows who Don Quixote is, or who Shakespeare is, and this culture is a shared one. I think it’s shared more within Europe than it is within the United States. For an American, when he talks about European cinema, he could be thinking about an Italian film or a German one, it’s Europe as a whole and sometimes we over here don’t realise that.”
EuroNews: When you film outside France are there things that strike you particularly about the way of doing things?
Cedric Klapisch: “Yes, when I was making ‘Auberge Espagnol’ and ‘The Russian Dolls’, it raised alot of questions filming in London, St. Petersburg and Barcelona. And seeing all these European cities taught me that we do have things in common. Europe’s identity is all linked to the conflict between history and modernity. One thing I noticed that’s particularly evolutionary here, after giving some lessons in Germany, is that I’ve seen the extent to which cinema is being revived. Lots of money and effort is going into something that had got lost in Germany. In the same way, Danish cinema was nothing great but became so with Lars Von Trier, and with Winterberg, this generation of movie-makers. Cinematography in some countries can just come out of nowhere because three people, or even just one person, give it a kick start. It’s very important to keep an eye out for European cinema because it really is alive, and not just commercially.”
EuroNews: Do you think that current computer technological developments can be beneficial to the industry or is it more of a worry?
Cedric Klapisch: “It really depends on politicians, actors, directors, distributors, producers and whether they know what they’re doing with these new tools, because you can really make any old rubbish! You can create quite quickly even a kind of fascism, or a kind of limited thought which does nothing to expand the mind. In a strange way, the internet, multiplex cinemas it all leads to a marketing and blockbuster culture. The more cinema screens there are, the more television channels, the more internet sites to see films, the more we just end up seeing the same thing. It’s all good news for selling and marketing, telling us to ‘go and see Spiderman’. It’s bizarre how diversity has brought more intellectual poverty.”
EuroNews: Cannes is celebrating its 60th birthday this year and there are five American films in the official selection. Is too much weight given to US cinema, do you think?
Cedric Klapisch: “You have to recognise that American cinema, well for me anyway, is the healthiest in the world. I don’t like the fact we have to sift through so many bad American films and they do take up a lot of space compared to some really interesting European films. But still they make some quality movies. You just have to think of Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, Jarmusch, the Coen brothers and independent films from young directors. It’s no surprise to me that there’s such a strong American contingent at Cannes because a lot’s going on in the US. It’s also true of Asia and I hope it’s true of Europe as well.”