Maurice Pialat, l'amour existe

By Jean-Pierre Devillers,
Anne-Marie Faux

“La Nouvelle Vague missed everything, because they didn’t show real life. Those were hard times! What they showed was false.” A veteran outsider in French Cinema, Maurice Pialat looks back on his difficult development within the French film industry. In film history, he is one of the few filmmakers (like John Cassavetes), who managed to make films and work with actors as close as one can get to the truth of life in the moment: intense, contradicting and disturbing. While receiving the “Palm d’Or” at the Cannes Film Festival, Maurice Pialat (1925-2003) responded to the shouts of a protesting crowd with: “I don’t like you as well”. This film sketches a ‘self-portrait’ of this great director using his own words. Pialat never forgot how it was to be a child, remaining uncompromising, vulnerable, even ruthless; knowing that love exists.

Pialat made several important films with Gerard Depardieu, including “Le Garçu”, “Sous le soleil de Satan”, “Police”, “Loulou”, and one of the best fictional portraits of an artist, “Van Gogh”. In the film, Depardieu nervously defends his director’s attitude towards the public: “I wouldn’t go that far, but he is right”. Elegant and intelligent, this documentary interweaves a variety of material: from television interviews; magnificent photos from his bleak childhood; paintings from his days as an art student; with scenes from his own films as well as films which were crucial to him (by the Lumiere brothers, Renoir and Ozu).

We listen to Maurice Pialat’s voice while watching scenes of his films. His comments are illuminating, provocative and sometimes doubtful. Many outtakes from his films, and scenes of the filmmaking process, are used to show the intense atmosphere on the set of his films. We watch Pialat (who also acted in his films) trying to convince and coerce his actors, and we see how some of them react with insecurity and anger. Pialat comments “Everyone can be an actor…. what matters most is the truth at the moment you shoot. And it is a special truth because it is a game, it is not realistic… otherwise paralysis sets in...”. And we see him slapping his partner in the face for real…. As we witness scenes from the making of his films, we understand how difficult and demanding it was for his actors to negotiate the uncertain line between life and illusion. Needless to say, in his films these actors deliver stunning performances.

Produced by his wife Silvie Pialat.