Claude Chabrol
Photo by Alex de Brabant

Claude Chabrol: “There’s nothing original in my movies”

Short Profile

Name: Claude Henri Jean Chabrol
DOB: 24 June 1930 (d. 12 September 2010)
Place of Birth: Sardent, Limousin, France
Occupation: Director

This interview was conducted at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

Mr. Chabrol, what is your least favorite aspect of making a film?

The part that I maybe like the least is writing the script. I always write with somebody and I always work the same way: handwriting with a special notebook where I know that every page corresponds with approximately one minute of shooting. When I write a movie I know exactly how long it will be. I also already have a clear vision of the images in my mind.

Which part do you like best?

I still love and find great joy in filmmaking. The part of the job that I love the most is being on set. Thanks to the 50 unlucky people that work with me all the time, they make my joy. When I start shooting I am surrounded by these technicians and actors who do nothing but to make me happy and to share my dream. What can I want more?

It sounds like you dislike working alone.

The most beautiful thing in filmmaking and especially in a director’s job is the fact that it is a collective work. It's amazing to have 50 people, very skilled in what they do, literally busting their asses to make the dream of the director come true. No other profession has this creative backup – maybe with the exception of an orchestra conductor who has all the musicians to play his music. But of course the director has to have a dream, otherwise it is useless.

“If somebody makes a mistake, you better laugh about it.”

How often do you get upset while shooting?

I never get mad. If something goes wrong, I laugh. It is totally useless to get mad if something goes wrong. What can you do? If somebody makes a mistake, you better laugh about it, believe me.

How do you avoid being too relaxed? There is a fine line.

I don't think it is very pleasant if you tell people what to do. So I do my work and research before I hire someone and I am always pretty sure that the chosen people match to my work. That's the reason why I always leave the actors totally free to do what they want to find in themselves the means to play the role that they've been chosen to play.

And that works every time?

This is a system that works very well nine times out of ten. The actors find in themselves the way to play their characters. For instance, it was exceptionally easy with Ludivine Sagnier for my movie A Girl Cut in Two because we are on the same wavelength.

Is being on the same wavelength also the reason you always have so many of your family members on your team?

Yes. My second son has written the music for my movies for more than 20 years and you can see more and more Chabrol names in my credits. And I can tell you: there are many more incognito. (Laughs) For instance, Cécile Maistre, who is my assistant director and also a screenwriter, is my daughter-in-law. They are very good in what they do, so I enjoy their company a lot.

"The bourgeoisie are the way I show them in my movies, neither bad nor good."

Your oeuvre is very critical of the bourgeoisie. Why?

The bourgeoisie are the way I show them in my movies, neither bad nor good. They make me laugh. Quite honestly and objectively they never were a hundred percent nice. Because they are scared of living. That's what makes them how they are. They fear the real life. That's what makes me laugh.

But your work often seems to directly reference your own life. Isn’t your work somewhat autobiographical?

I am not writing autobiographically, my movies have a different approach: I take the tales of my life and of the lives of the people who are close to me just to do the opposite of an autobiography: to show the universal elements that can be shared by other people. Whoever likes autobiography wants to show his or her originality. For me it is the opposite. There’s nothing original in my movies. It is something which can be shared by many people.

You helped invent a new style of filmmaking with the French New Wave. Do you still see that avant-garde spirit in cinema today?

Luckily the cinema of filmmaking did not stop with La Nouvelle Vague. Of course there are many young directors that are avant-garde nowadays. I think all over the world there are two kinds of filmmakers: those who have the inner need to make films and those who just want to be in the film industry. The second category doesn't interest me at all, while the first one is always very interesting. Having said that, I see a lot of movies and two or three per year are very good, but the rest you can forget.

Was that ratio higher in the past?

It has always been like that. The ratio was always the same. The only difference is that they nowadays come from all over the world and different countries. Nowadays there are films coming from different realities, different horizons. For a long, long time we didn’t see films coming from Asia and now we can see many. But the proportion is always the same. You always have a few good ones and many bad ones. You have to seek after good movies – but that's part of the joy.