"Like a fairy tale of two children lost in the forest"

Interview with director Jacques Audiard
How comes that a French director making small budget independent films creates an American western starring Joaquin Phoenix , John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal? We asked him about the details of this exceptional collaboration.
Q: How did this project come about?
A: Under unusual circumstances, for me. In this case, the idea came not from myself but from John C. Reilly and the producer Alison Dickey, who is John’s wife. We all met in 2012 at the Toronto Film Festival, where my film Rust and Bone was being screened. They asked me to read Patrick deWitt’s book because they had obtained the rights. I did read it, and it got me enthusiastic. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the first instance where someone recommended material that I responded to. Up until then, I was always working from my own ideas or a novel I had read — so, generating my own movies. I should add that, left to my own devices, I would never have happened on deWitt’s book or would have thought to try making a Western. I was already at work writing Dheepan, which was my next film.
Q: You weren’t harboring a desire to make an authentic Western movie?
A: Frankly, no. I haven’t felt a connection with the genre. The ones that had interested me the most were the Western “in decline,” more or less post-modern works; for example, Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks. Among the more classical Westerns, it would be the same, as I was more interested in movies about the twilight of the West, ones that critique…perhaps, the genre itself: Rio Bravo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cheyenne Autumn. Dramatically, the Western is very linear and without suspense, although epic. In my work, I feel I have been drawn to stories that are more fraught…
Q: You gravitate to very personal intimate stories.
A: Yes, and the book had the strong theme of brotherhood, so I guess that drew me in. It’s hard to say. The element of fraternity is a motif common enough to Westerns, linked to the legacy of violence dating back to one’s ancestors and how to manage that. With that, you’re never far from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which is about no more and no less than arriving at a state of democracy. All the vestigial violence, how is one going to quell that moving forward? So for me, what distinguishes The Sisters Brothers is that this mythology has to be addressed — and as a conversation between two brothers. This is a Western taking place before Freudian analysis: two brothers talk and talk, finally saying things they’ve never said before. Normally, that might happen in a living room and on a couch; here, it’s happening on horseback. The Sisters Brothers are active talkers and ruthless killers, and it is that unexpected mixture which made telling this story so attractive. Also appealing was how dark we could make it — like a fairy tale of two children lost in the forest but moving forward towards…something.
Q: Now, to recreate North America, you had to film in Spain and Romania.
A: It was our call, and not just because of budgeting. We saw some wonderful locations in the U.S. on the West Coast, and in Alberta, Canada, where the television series Deadwood shot. But you get to
these locales and they’re camera-ready: the big sky, the mountains, the constructed town sets…These have been seen many times. I felt we needed to be more inventive. What’s at stake for me as a director is the reality. I went through this on A Prophet, where we had visited real prisons in France, Switzerland, and Belgium; you would get documentary, yet not so much real and natural gestures.
Q: Your films have increasingly explored the need for reinvention of the self and being a stranger to oneself and others.
A: And for myself, with each movie it’s vital to find the means of placing yourself in a situation that engages you in a different way, as you work in a different way; that’s not always a given. Dheepan was making a movie with nonprofessional actors, from elsewhere, speaking Tamil. In a way, The Sisters Brothers doubled the challenge: filming a Western in English, in Spain and Romania, with American and British actors.
Q: Speaking of which, how was it collaborating with cinematographer Benoît Debie?
A: I had admired his filming for Harmony Korine and Gaspar Noé. Benoît first and foremost wanted to shoot in 35mm; he’s one of the few cinematographers today who seeks to impart color into an image, rather than the de-saturated, blue-dominated look that’s become the standard with digital.
Q: You have dedicated the film to your own brother, who disappeared at age 25. When remembering a brother, does this right away take one back to childhood?
A: In my case, it does. For a family of two brothers, when one disappears, the other becomes the only son and the eldest. All the responsibility that was his now falls to you; it’s like an inheritance. You realize how you were comfortable in taking shelter behind him. In an instant, you have all of the inconveniences of the first generation and are without advantages. And you are alone.
 
UIP-Duna Film
2019.03.27
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(13 pictures)


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