Claude Lelouch’s latest film was released on Feb. 12, read what he has to say about it.
The Concordian: Anna and Antoine, the protagonists played by Jean Dujardin and Elsa Zylberstein, have nothing in common, and yet they can’t help but be attracted to each other. Is a love story usually not supposed to start like a love story?
Claude Lelouch: The greatest love stories are always complicated ones—it would not be a good sign if it were all simple. There is the visible part and the invisible part, the latter is the most important one. Those who have tried to love each other have attempted to uncover this invisible part. If a love story starts off wrong, people were misled by physical appearance … This love story is a digression that may be the most important digression of their lives [Anna and Antoine].
C: Anna and Antoine are polar opposites. He’s a ladies’ man; she’s all about spirituality. Do you like to play with clichés of such an overused theme like love?
CL: Anna’s character wants to understand the unexplainable; she wants to measure up to the universe. It’s the portrayal of a man who cares about nothing. The clown becomes a man. Un plus une shows how a country and a woman can change a man.
C: Antoine says “To love is to love someone else more than you love yourself.” Is that your definition of love?
CL: Love is when you go from heroism to generosity. This is the portrait of a chauvinist who never realized that women have seized power. Nowadays women have to explain to men that they don’t need them anymore. Everything we could provide them with they can now find in canned goods! What changed is that there’s a mistrust—men are scared of women, and women mistrust men. Life is a load of trouble, which love can rid you of. I think that the real religion of humanity is love. I really wanted to make an ode to love.
C: There are strong female characters in this movie, like Amma—an Indian spiritual leader*—who Anna wants to meet to get on “the path of fertility.” In your films, is an ode to love the same as an ode to women?
CL: I put women above everything else. Amma is probably the most impressive woman I have ever met. When she took me in her arms it was like a load of love that I could do anything with.
C: Amma’s religion is love. Is it yours when you’re behind the camera?
CL: She’s above any religion, she believes in love most of all things. Love is kind of my religion, too. Amma and I, we have the same profession. You know, happiness is about complication. Life is like riding a bike: when you’re going up the hill, you keep thinking about going down, and when you ride on a flat surface you’re just bored out of your mind!
C: Is it your love of humanity and life that drove you to make films?
CL: I’m nothing but a reporter of life. Life is the greatest of all screenwriters, and I want to collaborate with it. I’m only a concierge. My films are scents of truth, spontaneities. I love cinema and I love life.
C: The music, composed by Francis Lai, is an important element of this movie, just like it was in Love is a Funny Thing (1969), which the characters reference in the film. Can the divine elements of the music mentioned by Anna also be found behind the camera?
CL: Music is the best way to reach the subconscious. I really want music to prevail over intelligence, I want people to lose themselves in the unknown. I use music to reach the heart, and film to reach the brain. I like my subconscious more and more every day … I wanted to go back to the theme [Love is a Funny Thing] to find out whether I still saw things the same way. We haven’t learned anything about love since the dawn of time.
C: Antoine and Anna are constantly looking for adventure. Is the quest for freedom tied to love and visions of cinema?
CL: Freedom is one of the most wonderful things, as well as love. If people are in love, they must also be free. If you accept the notion of freedom for two, a love story can truly last. Freedom is a way to grow old. Jealousy is the opposite of sexy.
C: When things begin to get spiced up, Antoine refers to his story with Anna as a vaudeville. Is Un plus une a typical vaudeville as well?
CL: There is nothing more cruel than a vaudeville. You may well laugh about it, but there’s nothing that hurts more than being cheated on. Why would we laugh about the thing that makes us suffer the most? … In vaudeville stories, there are always four characters. Those two actors [Alice Pol and Christophe Lambert playing Alice and Samuel] are the cement of the film … The scene with the four characters at the airport is important, it’s the most terrible scene of the film. What I like about love stories is that there’s always competition.
C: You said in an interview “Had I known India earlier, I would have probably done all of my films there.” This country illustrates all of the main themes, such as spirituality and the pursuit of one’s self. Was your encounter with India also a love story?
CL: I love France, I love Quebec and I’m in love with India … India is the country of acceptance. Every life you live is a draft of the next one. It was essential for me to grow up in France and to grow old in India. This story wouldn’t have been as powerful if the characters hadn’t met in India. India is very revealing of our subconscious: it sees right through every one of us, just like an x-ray.
*Amma, whose full name is Mata Amritanandamayi, is known as one of India’s foremost spiritual leaders: people from all over the world come to her to have their problems hugged away. She says her only religion is love.