Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Klapisch's Unusual Political Comedy

Find My Piece of the Pie on Video
Klapisch's Unusual Political Comedy

(from 6/12/11)
One of the most interesting films at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival was My Piece of the Pie. And unusual. Director Cedric Klapisch (L'auberge Espagnole) teamed two of Frances most popular stars, Karin Viard and Gilles Lellouche, to play a single mother who loses her job and the arrogant businessman who closed down her factory and, not knowing her leftist background, hires her as his maid. As time goes on she seems to teach him her humanistic, working-class values and he starts paying less attention to work and more to her and his young, neglected son. We remember Pretty Woman--she'll break through his armor and reform him, right? Klapisch's film goes under the guise of being a conventional fluffy French romantic comedy for about 95 of its 109 minutes running time, and then all hell breaks loose, it becomes political, and it defies genre categorization. I got to spend a few minutes with Klapisch at the festival and we talked about his enjoyable and surprising movie.
Danny Peary: I was reading through the production notes, and there seemed to be a sense of urgency for you to make this movie, because of the political and economic climate. Is that true?
Cedric Klapisch: It's true, because I realized that what is happening in my movie is really happening. Probably the biggest crisis is yet to come, it hasn't happened yet. I think it's something that we should talk about and it's more important. Everyone said, Ok, there was a crisis and now its over. And after one year, it was over, but for me the biggest crisis was after the financial crisis, and it was the social crisis. I think that it's really strong right now in Europe. Not only in France, but obviously in Greece and Ireland, and in different countries where it does stop the activity, and it does create misery and drama.
DP: I think what happened here, and probably there too, was that we had the crisis and we expected everybody to suffer, and it turned out that rich people were making more money than before. Is that what you were seeing?
CK: Yeah. What happened in 1929 was a crisis for everyone. The rich didn't get richer three years later. And it did create literature and films in the '30s. Steinbeck and other writers and filmmakers talked about the results of the economic collapse. I think it's the same thing now, and we can talk about what happened, probably more effectively than in the '30s.
DP: Probably, because if you think about it there wasn't much social commentary in the films of the thirties and forties except from Warner Bros.
CK: Right, not much. And the Frank Capra movies also.
DP: Well, movies of the time did have a lot of shop girls. I don't think they had too many factory girls, but they and a lot of shop girls and girls who didn't have jobs, and even before 1929's The Crowd. There were a few films, but in general it was the status quo. I also read that you felt you didn't know enough about the crisis, so you started learning about the financial stuff.
CK: Yeah, because I really didn't understand what was happening, I felt that since I knew nothing I should just let the pros deal with that. But I think that were all responsible for what's happening. So I felt responsible, and I felt like I had to study and understand what was happening.
DP: Did you learn because you were making this movie?
CK: I did.
DP: Did your previous films have social commentary and working-class values?
CK: Not as much. My first feature film, translated Little Nothings, was about a department store and about all the people who work in that department store, and it was a kind of social commentary about the new techniques of management in those kinds of companies, and how people get together. But that was in the '90s, and it was completely in the background.
DP: You're a fan of Ken Loach. There's always politics in his films. Is his style at all like yours?
CK: No, I mentioned Capra because I feel closer to Capra. In his films, he's socially concerned, but he wants to create an entertaining movie, and very often he made comedies. I feel closer to that and to Chaplin's The Great Dictator and Modern Times. Those are movies that are about social problems, but you can laugh, you can have fun. It's a combination of making the audience be aware of things and entertaining them.
That's more of what I was looking for in his movie.
DP: When I was taking notes on this movie, I wrote down the title Pretty Woman. Then I read an interview with you where you call this film the anti-Pretty Woman.
CK: In a sense, yeah. Although I love that movie, I don't want to imply it's really bad and I wanted to do the opposite. We all want movies to look like that. But I think that now we have to have more reality that. I think that Pretty Woman is about fantasy, Cinderella and fairy tales. I think that now we have to explore reality, in a sense.
DP: Another of the films that inspired you is Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, which became Sweet Charity.
CK: Yeah. I think that in Italy, in the '60s, there were films that you didn't know whether they were very sad or very funny. It's funny because it's sad and it's sad because it's funny. I really like that, and there aren't many movies that are like that. I think in England they also make movies like that, where the emotion is very close to the comedy. And it's really something I'm looking for. It's only in England and in Italy that people mix the two things, because it's not a very French thing, and it's not a very American thing, either, in a sense.
DP: In your movie you start out with comic conventions--the maid's going to change the unfeeling rich guy, they're going to end up together, he's going to take care of his kid and be a great father and then it's like you left the room for a few minutes and somebody else came in and the movie got that twist ending. I read that you had even a harder ending at one point. Talk about that ending.
CK: The thing is if you look at modern times, rich people win and poor people lose. So I didn't want to lie about that reality. When you have people who are from different social backgrounds, when you say, Ok, theyre getting close together, but it's a lie if you say they're really going to get along very well, and everything is going to be gold and there's no conflict. I just wanted to be true and show that he's aggressive, seductive, and he's not going to change. He can change a bit but not completely. So he stays the way he was, and he stays someone who plays with the other's feelings, who's not really sincere, and who doesn't realize the consequences.
DP: Well, she overhears him when he's on the balcony, and he's the same louse he was, as it turns out.
CK: Even though he changed a little.
DP: I think he changed at least to his son. But he turned out to be a disappointment with her. But there's a reason you did this--ou could have had them end up together.
CK: Of course. It's really me talking about modern times. We are in really cynical times. I think that people are so cynical, they're happy to be cynical, and I needed to make this movie about that. This protagonist is someone you both admire and hate. I just wanted to talk about that. I wanted the audience to both like and dislike him.
Like the in the Hitchcock movies where someone commits crimes and is horrible, but you like him somehow.
DP: Theres a TV show here, called Undercover Boss, where a CEO of a company will take on a disguise-- like The Prince and the Pauper--and go work with his employees. All of the sudden he's one of the guys and interacting with all the common people. I guess the thought process behind that is: if the CEO really got to know the worker, they would join together. Which is Metropolis, kind of, and The Devil and Miss Jones. But in your film, you're saying that they'd never bond.
CK: Not that they'd never bond, but it's just that no one wants it to work today, and I think that the separation has never been so big between the rich people who have the power, and the people who don't have the power. I think that the separation is too big right now. It's crazy to see that after the crisis, Obama really wanted to inject morality into finances, and it's impossible to do it. For me, there is a will to change things, but that will is too cynical, and the market is too cynical, and capitalism is too strong. You can't fight the race for profit. Even if everyone sees that it creates problems, as with subprimes, or the way Greece was destroyed by a few hedge funds. It's totally unbearable but we cant stop that. For me, that's awful.
DP: The few films you were talking about: Modern Times, Nights of Cabiria, and also The Grapes of Wrath--they all end optimistically, in a way, life goes on. Chaplin and Masina will always smile through the tears and continue. In your films, the workers unite at the end.
CK: Tha'ts related to Cabiria for me, because I think that the ending of Cabiria is more dramatic, and tragic. She loses everything. The ending is really sad. At the end, the smile that she has is beautiful, because it's the smile of hope that it's going to be better, that something is going to change. So it's the same idea.
DP: That's the same as Chaplin. At the end of the novel The Grapes of Wrath, a guy's starving and he is offered milk from the breast of Tom Joad's sister, and that's a sign that life goes on and will continue. So Karin Viard's character--why did she try to commit suicide before the movie begins?
CK: It's just that she doesnt know how to deal with the situation. It's related to something that happened in France. The company France Telefon, the company that is like AT&T here. They had 25 suicides. There were a lot of suicides, because of the weakness of the market. People didnt know how to deal with that. It was strange that the social situation created suicides. So I wanted to use that because it was a big issue in France.
DP: So you think she would do it?
CK: I think a lot of people would. You cant really judge despair.
DP: She took that job as the maid in order to get money to help her family--that's why I don't know if she would abandon her family. So what is the final message of your film?
CK: It's just that there are different ways of being rich than having money.
DP: Well, that's Capra too, It's a Wonderful Life.CK: Right, yeah, I really like that ending. People can be together, and that's one richness. And in my movie he ends up alone, because very often wealth brings loneliness. Citizen Kane it says that, and I think its true. the more power you have, the more money you have, the less likely you are to have human connections.
DP: I'm glad you and I connected. Thank you.

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