Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interview with Pascal Laugier (writer-director of Martyrs) - March 17th, 2009

Promoting: Martyrs
Venue: The Charlotte Street Hotel
Interview type: One-on-one

ViewLondon (VL): Where did the idea for the film come from?

Pascal Laugier (PL): I don't know, to be honest. The only thing I can tell you is that I started to write the film by thinking about the revenge sequence, you know, the girl knocking on the door on a sunny morning and killing, one by one, the members of a very regular, very middle-class French family. That was my starting point. Then I started wondering about her past, why is she doing it and the consequences of her actions and little by little I had the whole plot. And as I was writing it, the more I realised how violent it was, you know, almost like a surprise, the more I realised that the violence itself was the subject of the film. The pain, the suffering. That's more or less how the whole project came up in my mind.

VL: How did you find the financing for the film?

PL: I don't know – it's a miracle. And we didn't even wait too long before getting the two million to do the film, probably because in France, besides the big studios, there are still some independent people brave enough to believe that the French industry can produce something other than boring national comedies, if you know what I mean.

VL: It's interesting that Martyrs was produced by the same people who made Irreversible, because I think the films are very similar.

PL: Thank you! I take that as a compliment – I'm a big Gaspar Noe fan.

VL: What was your reaction when the film received the 18+ certificate in France?

PL: It was a surprise. I knew that we were living in very hard times, in terms of censorship and that France was returning to the old times when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead were kind of forbidden, but I couldn't have anticipated it. I really thought that the film would get a normal rating for extreme violence, like a 16, forbidden to under 16s. But finally we understood that it was a way for the classification commission to simply erase the film, to kill it commercially, you know? It was an indirect way of censoring the film, because in my country, if you censor a film directly, it won't be accepted, if you ask a director to cut out some sequences, it won't be accepted by anybody. So they found a new system, which is to say 'Let's make it an 18+'. If the film is an 18+, it's considered a porn film so you won't find any theatre to release it and it won't be in the big stores on DVD.

VL: So it's like the NC-17 rating in America?

PL: Absolutely. And it would have killed the opportunity for other directors to make horror films too, so it was a very very dangerous thing and I'm very glad we finally got the decision overturned, because of the small media scandal it created. So in the end, we got the normal 16 rating for an extremely violent horror film and it was released. A lot of exhibitors still refused it, but we managed to find 60 places in France to screen the film and the box office was okay for the 60 prints we had.

VL: The make-up effects in the film are extraordinary. How long did it take to do the make-up?

PL: Thank you! It took months and months and months of preparation. It was done by a genius, he's called Benoit Lestang. Unfortunately, he is dead now, Benoit died a few months ago. He was my friend, so we shared a house during all the prep and the shooting in Montreal, where we shot the film. And I saw Benoit working days and nights to do all the special effects that he did. So what more can I tell you? I had the chance to be surrounded by a great guy, you know, who took care of everything.

VL: It looks like it must have been an intense and emotionally draining shoot. How did you prepare the actresses?

PL: We spent two months in Paris rehearsing. We weren't rehearsing the sequences in the script. We more spent our time working on building a trust between all of us so they wouldn't feel uncomfortable crying in front of me or showing me their dark side. So it took time for us to trust each other enough so that they would feel open on set and wouldn't be scared of my sights, you know?

VL: Can you speak about the casting process?

PL: I met dozens and dozens of French actresses who refused to even meet me or call me back after reading the script, so sometimes I had the feeling that I was offering them a paedophile or pornographic film, you know? Don't get me wrong – in France, the horror genre is still despised, it's still taken very condescendingly by a lot of people. So that gave me even more energy and even more strength to do that kind of film – the more it was despised, the more I felt like trying to do it (laughs).

VL: Can you say a little about Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï?

PL: What can I say? I was very lucky. On set they were real troopers. They never complained, they worked hard to achieve the level of performance you can see. I'm very proud of them onscreen – I think they make the film. So obviously they were the perfect actresses to play the parts and they belong to a younger generation in Paris that's not afraid of horror, that's not afraid to deal with transgressive material. They accepted the film instantly. Morjana agreed to have her head shaved, that was no problem for her.

VL: You really shaved her head? And the same when you see them cutting her hair?

PL: Yes, yes. It's not a special effect. It's true, it's all true. And it probably created her real emotion on set, you know?

VL: Obviously you're an enormous horror fan yourself. Which horror films and directors have influenced you?

PL: Oh, I love all the Italian wave of the 1970s, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and you know in general, I love all the genre directors who use the genre as a way to express themselves. I don't like the tongue-in-cheek horror films that we do today. They're the kind of post-modern, very self-referential films made today. I much prefer the more innocent times, you know, like in the 70s where people like Dario Argento, John Carpenter, were using the genre as a way to talk about their own vision of the world, you know and the human condition. At first that's why I loved the genre so much, because it told me a lot of things that were hidden and largely ignored by other genres. In the genre I saw something really true about my life, about our mind and our experiences.

VL: Are there any horror films today then, of the ones that are being made today, that you admire?

PL: Yeah, of course, I admire M. Night Shyamalan a lot, because he's the kind of guy that chooses the genre as a way to express himself. His films all seem very personal and I can feel that as a viewer, you know? And he is quite serious. He proves that we can still tell very innocent stories with faith, you know? I love films that are the result of an act of faith. I hate distance in the genre.

VL: But The Happening was pretty bad though, wasn't it?

PL: Yes, but I much prefer a bad Shyamalan film than a good, er, Quentin Tarantino film. Well, Quentin Tarantino makes very good films, but I'm saying that, for me, Grindhouse (Death Proof and Planet Terror), for example, that's exactly what I hate at the moment, the self-referential, post-modern film, when you digitally scratch the film, you make it look like a 70s film, that's exactly the kind of thing I don't like. So I much prefer The Happening to the new Batman film, for example. I didn't like The Dark Knight for the same reason. I don't see a genre film, I see a man doing a genre film to make a comment about the genre, who tries constantly to prove to the audience that he is, in a way, cleverer than the story he is telling. And that's not the case with Shyamalan, Shyamalan takes all the risk. Sometimes he wins, he makes Signs, Unbreakable, masterpieces, and sometimes he loses, he makes The Happening, but the process, for me, is still much more interesting.

VL: And you mentioned Gaspar Noe?

PL: Yes. Gaspar is something else, he's an artist. He doesn't deal with the genre. He takes some elements from the exploitation genre in some of his films but he's a pure artist, he's one of a kind.

VL: Were there any scenes that you had to cut from the film?

PL: Nothing. There was only one element of the film I cut, it was a sequence at the beginning in the orphanage, in the hospital, we saw Anna's mother and we understood more why Anna was in the hospital. But I didn't like the sequence, it told too much and I cut it out, but I never cut any gore stuff from the film. I was never asked to do that.

VL: Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

PL: No, no, no. I have a very mixed relationship to my own work. I still much prefer other director's films to my own. I love making films and after everything's done I never watch it again, I go to the next one. Pride, being proud of my work, for me, is a ridiculous idea. Pride has nothing to do with art, you know? The important thing is doing and putting your guts and your honesty in what you do. So I can face myself in the mirror after having done that film because I have the feeling that I did the film that I really had to make, but masturbating over my own work is impossible, you know, I – no, I'm too much of a cinephile to do that. You watch Stanley Kubrick's films and you stay very cool about your own work, you know?

VL: What's your next project?

PL: I've been lucky enough to line up four different projects, one in France and three in Hollywood, one of which is the remake of Hellraiser and another one is called Dogs. So I've got numerous projects and we'll see which one happens first.

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