Though I’ve already written in these pages about the retrospective, ‘Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas,’ happening at TIFF this summer, I recently had the chance to speak with Brad Deane, the Senior Manager of TIFF Cinematheque, who is also a part of the programming team for the festival. It was readily apparent that he was a big fan of Assayas’s movies, and he spoke candidly about why the French director of the post May ’68 French tradition remains and will remain relevant in our conversations regarding film, modern culture, and life as we know it.
Hoon: How did you first come across Assayas’s films?
Brad Deane: I think it was at the festival when ‘Clean’ was playing at the Gala. I first heard of him when I was in university in Florida but back then I didn’t have much access to the films. I watched a few of them but it wasn’t until later on that I got to see more and more of his films. There are also a lot of earlier ones that were hard to see. Doing the retrospective is when I was first able to see them. Every time I watched the films I wanted to do a retrospective more and more as I saw these themes running through the works.
H: I’ve been always curious as to see what it’d be like to watch, virtually one after the other, a series of movies by a single director. Do you think a retrospective like this one brings certain elements of the movies to light?
B: Definitely. I think Olivier sees his works that way too. Stylistically they are very different. There’s ‘Demon Lover’ then ‘Clean’ and then he goes back to ‘Boarding Gate.’ But I still do see themes running through the whole body of works. And I know from talking to him that he sees them in that way, he sees them as parts of a larger project. He’s just approaching it from different angles.
H: Are there particular things you want the audiences to see in Assayas’s films?
B: I’m always reluctant to point out because you’re always going to come away with your own thing. The films are great because they are so rich and there are many different things to look at. But I do think that strong female performances throughout his body of works are really amazing. He’s been doing that since the beginning — it’s effortless, I don’t think he’s consciously trying to do it. Some of the themes about modern culture and how modernization and technology are affecting us are fascinating: As we move ahead, what are losing from the past and what are we gaining? And I don’t think he’s making any kind of moral judgments on these subjects either.
H: And I think that’s what was so interesting about watching ‘Summer Hours’ and ‘Personal Shopper’ — he addresses these issues not in a moralistic way but as part and parcel of personal stories.
B: I think he’s someone who doesn’t like to make moral decisions. And the way he approaches things from a political perspective is really fascinating because he grew up in a post May ’68 culture. While maybe some of the views could be considered toward the left, he’s always aware and critical and trying to see what we are gaining and losing. In some ways, he’s so tricky to pin down: you can’t really say he’s this or that. I find that really interesting because it’s engaging — he keeps pulling you in and asking questions. He’s someone who’s very curious about every subject he wants to tackle. And you as an audience member feel that curiosity in the films.
H: Assayas is now recognized as an auteur, yet sometime it is difficult to pin down Assayas into a single genre or a style of film. How would you describe his movies to someone who’s never seen one?
B: It’s tricky. I think ‘Cold Water’ on, there’s definitely a certain visible style of movement on screen with him. The films take place at a brisk pace, almost at the pace of life. If you don’t catch something, you can miss it, though you don’t often do since he’s so strategic about how he lays everything out for the audience. But the films move at that pace and I think that’s how he deemphasizes any moral judgments or anything like that.
H: Do you have a personal favorite Assayas’s movie?
B: If I have to narrow it down to a few — and this is difficult because I really love his films — ‘Cold Water’, an absolute masterpiece, ‘Summer Hours’, ‘Carlos’…It’s hard to say with the newer ones but I absolutely loved ‘Personal Shopper’. It moves me every time I see it. I remember seeing it at Cannes and walking out of the cinema and feeling completely lost and dazed.
H: Tell us more about what you think of Personal Shopper.
B: For me it’s about the idea of loss. Why are we here and what’s beyond here. And at the emotional level, losing someone close to you and how you deal with that. It captures that in such a beautiful and complicated way.
H: What I found interesting in Personal Shopper is that it’s an amalgam of genres, some of which he’s explored in his previous films — thriller, murder mystery, etc.
B: That’s something I love about his work. He’s interested in big Hollywood type of films — we could talk about James Bond movies —, but then he also loves arthouse movies like Bergman and Hou Hsiao-hsien. He loves the high culture, he loves art, he loves trash, Hollywood…to him it’s all the same. There’s no judgment on which one’s better than the other. They all satisfy different needs.
‘Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas’ runs through August 20th. You can catch a double feature of Assayas’s ‘Personal Shopper’, starring Kristen Stewart, followed by Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic, ‘Blow Up.’ On closing day, you can watch Assayas’s ‘HHH — Portrait de Hou Hsiao-hsien‘ followed by ‘A Time to Live and a Time to Die‘ by Hou Hsiao-hsien. You can get more information and purchase tickets here. Stay on the look out for more information on TIFF’s various retrospectives happening before the festival this year, including ‘Ida Lupino: Independent Woman,’ a close look at the actor, screenwriter, director, and producer in Hollywood in the ’50s.