With Les Amandiers, the filmmaker plunges back into this school directed by Patrice Chéreau who trained her in the profession of actress. The ideal opportunity to discuss his creative process, in front of and behind the camera, and the way in which we free ourselves or not from such a mentor.

This interview originally appeared in number 534 of Première, still available on newsstands and on our online store.

PREMIERE: At the end of the summer, a short sequence taken from the documentary Once upon a time there were 19 actors, which François Manceaux devoted to the Amandiers school, caused a stir on social networks. You are young and when people ask you what you expect from a director, you answer “that he loves me and broken “. Would you say the same today?
“Let him break me”, I would no longer say. Life has since passed and I really don’t need that! As for “that he loves me”, I would say more “that he welcomes me”. In any case, that’s what I try to do with my actors. And it is a great happiness for me. Because I don’t do it much in “real” life. I am too inattentive to others, too self-centered. But when I direct, I turn into a great sage. I have the feeling of being in an adult position whereas as an actress, I feel more like a child or a teenager; someone who wants to be loved while the adult loves. I prefer this place of protector. Basically, for me, it’s more fun to be an adult than to be a child.

When you act in your own films, do you become schizophrenic?
I asked myself this question before my first film, It’s easier for a camel. And I went to ask Patrice Chéreau for advice on how to combine the two. He said something to me that has been with me ever since: “Above all, don’t split yourself up. It’s the same person who plays and directs. Unite. Exactly the opposite of what I would have done spontaneously! Since then, there has never been a boundary between the character I play and the director who directs the others. This possibility of erasing the boundaries between life and work is undoubtedly the most precious thing that the Almond School has taught us. To make the work very real and not just technical. To mix his own emotions and those of his character.

Les Amandiers: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi brilliantly revisits her Chéreau years [critique]

We know that this mixture can be dangerous. Have you ever been afraid of getting lost?
Of course you can get lost. And I am aware that the Almond Trees school didn’t really give us the tools to manage all that, to help us find each other once the play or the shooting was over. But we were offered something else: the desire and the instruments to lose ourselves, in order to gift this imbalance, this fragility, to our characters.

How do you manage to get back on your feet?
For my part – and this is why I made a point in Les Amandiers to evoke Lee Strasberg through a trip to New York – it was by working, after the school at Les Amandiers, with great American coaches of the Method like Susan Batson. It was with them that I found the instruments to no longer put myself in danger, except on stage. I learned – and understood – that you should never damage the instrument that is your body. The Method opened up horizons for me, but only as a complement to this life and work experience that I had known with Chéreau.

Have you ever had the feeling of being overwhelmed by the face of Chéreau? Once you got out of school, didn’t it at times take up more space than you wanted it to?

During school, I was really the student trying to do my best. And it’s true that, subsequently, I had a hard time getting rid of that relationship. The fact that I’ve never yet dared to stage theater probably comes from the fact that I’m still overwhelmed by it in this area. But a turning point took place on the set of Those who love me will take the train where I still used to see it. One day, he took me aside to say to me: “You are no longer my student. This sentence allowed me to change my relationship with Chéreau. He gave me an enormous gift because he could have remained in the comfortable position of the mentor who guides you, of course, but also crushes you with his power.

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We could recently hear another story from Agnès Jaoui, a student of the Amandiers too, who explained that she had dealt with a guru, someone who needed to divide in order to reign better. Is that something you can hear? Obviously. Everyone has their own perception of those years when everything was constantly in motion. Where, depending on the day, we were more or less loved and suddenly we loved Patrice more or less like Pierre [Romans, metteur en scène qui enseignait aussi aux Amandiers], who was just as important as him. All this created tension, malaise, discomfort… But always within certain limits.

Which ones?

Chéreau did not bully us. He could go into great anger when we did not put ourselves in enough danger in his eyes. But he was neither a sadist nor a pervert. Including in his way of flirting: there has never been any blackmail in the role, for example. He could fall very much in love with a heterosexual man knowing that nothing would ever happen, without that changing anything about the roles he offered him. And I really hope that we feel it in my film.

When you dive into your memories, how do you avoid embellishing things, silencing the less glorious moments?

It’s very simple for me, because when I make films, I want to talk about pain. I struggle much more to find the moments of happiness! (Laughs.)

Including in your way of telling a man who meant so much to you. It does not affect your creation by censoring you, consciously or not?
I will be honest. Yes, it was difficult for me to criticize the character of Chéreau. In the first draft of the script, he was very well mannered, very serious. Except that Chéreau himself would have hated having his name attached to a smooth character because he hated them. What he liked in the human being, it was his dark side. So I felt obligated to honor him… not to honor him! It’s strange because I feel very present since his disappearance. Recently, Marthe Keller told me a sentence that I find extremely accurate: “Patrice is the most alive of all our dead. Yet, I have lost so many loved ones. My brother is dead, my father is dead… But Patrice is something else. He is one of the ghosts that inhabit the film, along with those of Pierre Romans, Luc Bondy, Bernard-Marie Koltès, Michel Piccoli and all the students who are no longer there. Drugs and AIDS wreaked havoc during those years. We were aware that we were close to death on a daily basis. I wanted to tell it in Les Amandiers. Show that we had both the unconsciousness of youth and the awareness of this tragedy that mowed down our loved ones.

Creating for you goes through the evocation or the reconstitution of moments that you have gone through, including tragic ones. I think of the scene the burial of the character inspired by the actor Thierry Ravel, who was your companion at the time. How do you live this type of moment? Like a pain? A catharsis?
Writing creates a filter in me, an antidote to nostalgia, when I am very melancholic and nostalgic in life. The other antidote, in the case of Les Amandiers, is the young actors I brought together. Suddenly, it is no longer about the people of thirty years ago but about them. So when I’m in the cemetery, the images of the past don’t come back to me, I’m totally in the present of the scenes. I really see myself as a craftsman who tries to make the most beautiful furniture. And I willingly endorse the words of Woody Allen: “Work is a subterfuge to anxiety. »

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And a place where you also seem to have a lot of fun. In Des Amandiers aux Amandiers, the documentary that Karine Silla Perez and Stéphane Milon devoted to the adventure of your film, we see you play all the scenes in front of your actors. Is it still part of your creative process? No, it’s not systematic. If I did so much on the Amandiers set, it’s probably because I don’t play myself and I direct young actors. It’s my way of taking them by the hand. Talking to them during the scenes, it’s like I slip inside them. But I don’t work the same way with everyone. I was whispering a lot more in Nadia’s ears [Tereszkiewicz] than in those of Sofiane [Bennacer] with whom I quickly felt that I should not be too intrusive. That it wasn’t going to help or do him any good. Some on the set have also asked me why I seemed to direct it less than the others. But I didn’t direct it any less, I directed it differently. By welcoming it with open arms. Whereas Nadia, it was necessary to welcome her but also to shake her up.

You also express in the same documentary the need and the pleasure of manhandling your actors… Abuse but not abuse! And again, not everyone and not in the same way for everyone. Sometimes it’s even the opposite. Louis [Garrel, qui interprète Patrice Chéreau] for example, I understood that I had to let him manhandle me. That it was his pleasure and my way of directing him. I let him laugh at me in front of everyone. For thus, he gave me things more precious than what had been written.

Have you ever been bullied as an actress?
No never. Once, I could feel unloved. I also made a film out of it in 2007, Actresses.

How do you think you would react if that were the case?
I don’t think I would like… (Silence.) Although I’m probably masochistic enough to want to and end up liking it! (Laughs.) But then, it has to be with a genius. I would have liked to be directed by Pialat. And I don’t mind shooting with Kechiche, who has a reputation for being tough. One thing is certain: I could only put myself in pain in an imaginary world that inspires me.

The Almond Trees. Of Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. With Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Sofia Bennacer, Louis Garrel… Duration 2h06. Released November 16, 2022

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