Press conference with director Michael Haneke, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Riva and more…

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are an elderly couple living out their retirement in Paris. When Anne has a stroke, however, the couple’s way of life is changed forever.

Michael Haneke’s film won the coveted Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Brogen Hayes braved the sunshine and was present at the press conference for the film.

Jean-Louis, you have been focusing on theatre work for the last number of years, what made you come back to cinema for this movie?
J-LT: Since Patrice Chereau’s film [Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train] I had not appeared in a film, that is 14 years now. I didn’t want to act in films any more. I love the theatre. Haneke offered me this part, it was quite exceptional. I think that Michael Haneke is one of the greatest directors in the world, so it was a wonderful opportunity, but I won’t do it again. I suffered greatly but I am very pleased to be in the film, I am very proud of our work. It was painful but very beautiful at the same time. I think I am better in the theatre because I have never seen myself, whereas you see yourself in a film. I have been in over 100 film and it is perhaps the first time that I have felt pleased to see myself on screen. This may sound a big pretentious, I beg your pardon.

Isabelle, what was it like working with Michael Haneke once again? There is a rumour that he is very demanding…
IH: I would be very happy to accept parts in further films if I am asked to do so by Michael Haneke. He is demanding as a director, but we are very much rewarded; there is tremendous reciprocity in this undertaking. Jean-Louis has said that he enjoyed seeing himself in Michael Haneke’s film and I agree. I like watching myself in Michael Haneke’s films; it is very gratifying so I don’t see why I shouldn’t do this time and again.

Mr Haneke, what made you want to tell the story of two elderly people – a minority whose stories are not often told on screen?
MH: I never write a film to show something. Once you reach a given age, of necessity, you have to contend with the suffering of someone you love; your grandfather, your spouse or companion… It’s inevitable. In my family as well there were events that weren’t very happy and it’s very difficult to put up with the suffering of someone you love; that’s what gave rise to this project. I was not trying to say anything about society per se, if you have picked that up in addition to what’s in the film that’s fine, but it wasn’t my intention to express this idea specifically.

Isabelle, the next generation – which you represent in the film – is represented in a very cruel way. Would you agree?
IH: My character isn’t particularly cruel; it is the situation that is cruel. The situation is cruel because the dead are inevitably separated from the living. Someone said about a painful situation that death should not eat away those who are alive and I have the impression from Michael’s film that those who are alive should not eat away those who are dead. I play a character who represents life. Life, which is an ongoing flow, it is very mobile. When she turns up in the house she comes up against an image that is at a halt. One character is in movement and the others are still; they are halted, so it is life versus death or death versus life.

Emmanuelle, how did Michael Haneke present the film to you? Was there anything you were nervous about in the film?
ER: I met Michael Haneke several times. I remember something quite amusing; we went into a restaurant and he showed me in first. I had the impression that he was sort of studying my back and seeing how I moved. It was a funny feeling and I am not sure if it was what Michael was actually doing and I didn’t know how to walk. I really wanted to meet him, I wanted him to come up and meet me. Maybe I was very apprehensive about the work but I very much wanted to play this part. I am not trying to boast but I deeply felt that I could identify with Anne, with this character and when I saw the film, I didn’t think that I was seeing myself; I was seeing a different person. It was total identification. Gradually we came to an understanding, we worked closely together. For me it was a tremendous joy to do this film. It wasn’t voluptuous, but even in the most difficult scenes nothing struck me as difficult, apart from the electric wheelchair! I was very afraid of the wheelchair [laughs] I was afraid of crashing into the wall! I didn’t really know how to control it and there I was quite scared; I was afraid that I wouldn’t succeed. Michael was in his armchair and he tried out the wheelchair and he was very successful! He went around and around to show me how easy it was to drive it. That was the most difficult thing for me. In terms of the character, once again I became passionately interested in the character and it didn’t strike me as a very difficult character to play. There was a difficult moment in this or that scene, you get the impression that you are not going to manage and then suddenly it becomes simple, it all works out and everything proved very successful so it was a tremendous joy for me to act in this film for two months.

Emmanuelle, how did you approach your character and prepare for the part?
ER: I don’t remember having prepared things in a very organised way. I felt tremendous trust and confidence working with Michael Haneke. I felt things were working out just right and he said to me ‘You shouldn’t be overly sentimental, so not be sentimental’ and then it fell into place; I understood what he expected of me and he dispelled all my fears. The penny dropped and I felt our work together was not difficult. One shouldn’t try to go too far [with the character], because otherwise one goes beyond what is authentic. You have to be just right; you have to remain real and true. I think once I heard him say ‘that, I don’t believe’ and I thought ‘Yes, you are quite right’ and then one really espouses the character; you become that person, that person’s soul, that person’s physical entity.

The scene with the pigeon is fascinating, how was it done?
J-LT: That was very painful because Michael wanted to direct the pigeon [laughs] and he didn’t think the pigeon was very good! I didn’t think the pigeon was very good either. It took us two full days to shoot that scene and I broke my wrist. Stupidly, I just fell down. I had a cast that one could remove and he told me to take it off and asked me to do terrible things. We were never quite sure what the pigeon was going to do, but he had a very precise idea about what he wanted to do and so long as he didn’t get what he really wanted, he made the pigeon do things again and again. I think there were two pigeons because one gave up! [all laugh]

Michael, you often use violence in your films, why is this film different?
MH: it is not up to me to judge. Violence is a theme that often crops up, but I don’t ask myself the question ‘should there be violence here or there?’ I just try to portray given situations and given tales. There are times in life that are less pleasant than others and I would say the same of violence as about love. One has to portray these things as effectively as possible. However, I am not a specialist when it comes to violence, I refuse to be put into that box.

Words – Brogen Hayes