Michel Hazanavicius (Cut!): “I like to explore and try new things, I don’t calculate”

Michel Hazanavicius delivers a shrewd remake of Do not cut!, by the Japanese Shin’Ichirô Ueda, where the shooting of a zombie film turns into a nightmare but even more into an inspired tribute to cinema.

If Michel Hazanavicius has always taken care to surprise, daring for example a silent film, The Artistafter the OSS 117before immediately signing a war drama, The Search, his filmography nevertheless presents various lines of force. An obvious penchant for pastiche in particular, combined with a slightly less pronounced taste for films revolving around cinema: The Artistagain, and its inspired homage to the golden age preceding the advent of talkies, or The Redoubtable, featuring, circa 1967, a Jean-Luc Godard full of contradictions. These two tendencies are now united in Cut!a movie set comedy, where the filming ofa zombie film broke under the guidance of a director with vaguely psychopathic tendencies (Romain Duris, perfect) quickly went into a spin, the nightmare however changing, almost imperceptibly, into a vibrant tribute to the 7th art and its craftsmanship. A tour de force of comedy having had the gift of cheering up the Cannes festival, which it opened – the opportunity for a relaxed meeting with the filmmaker. “ I think I’m more interested in how we say things than what exactly we sayobserves the latter. Take, for example, a love affair: there is nothing really new in the fact that one person loves another, who does not love him in return but loves a third. This story, even declined with men or with women only, does not present anything really new in itself, it’s how you tell it that makes all the difference to me. And that’s what I call cinema. Filmmaking is how you are going to tell a story that everyone knows in a way that makes your film unique, special and personal. This is why I like to shed light on the cinematographic device and on the way of telling stories.

Behind the scenes of a disaster movie

At the beginning of Cut!we find Kamera o tomeru na!, a 2017 Japanese film shot in a few days with derisory means – 3 million yen, or just over 21,000 euros – by Shin’Ichirô Ueda, an opus that quickly won a cult reputation. “This movie is a miracleappreciates Michel Hazanavicius. Not only because of its budget but also because of its quality. It’s a very clever film, based on an excellent story.” The director of Forgotten Prince was working on a similar script when producer Vincent Maraval offered him to shoot a remake, an invitation that acted as a trigger. “ I had a linear and very basic story, namely a day in the life of a director who started out as he got one foot out of his car, and observed: “This is where the problems start: we have 18 shots to shoot today, let’s do it properly. It’s about staying focused, not like the previous days, because we absolutely have to finish tonight since it’s our last day on set. And, of course, everything went wrong. It was quite close to Cut! , but with a much worse structure. I love the twist imposed by the third act of the film. As a spectator, we tend to judge what we see, and say: “It’s bad, it’s crap”. But when we discover what happened outside the frame, and we understand, we regret this wickedness, to experience kindness. I found this brilliant idea.

Michel Hazanavicius © gettyimages

The nightmarish shooting he stages in the first part of the film, Michel Hazanavicius has, inevitably, fed him with his personal experience, and the countless incidents that can punctuate the life of a film set. While taking care to amplify them for the needs of the dramaturgy and to preserve their generic character. “ It’s a bit as if, in order to provoke the laughter of the spectators, we had caused a catastrophic alignment of the planetssmiles the filmmaker. So many little things can happen. For example, I had a young actor who only had one line, two syllables, but he had a pronunciation defect, and couldn’t say the second: instead of “It sucks”, he kept saying “C’est nioul”. So, we would start over, I would ask him to say “C’est lame”, we would set everything up with the extras, etc., but, invariably, it went “c is nioul”. After four takes, I decided to move on, but I was intrigued, and I wanted us to take only the sound, but that didn’t change anything. At the end, I asked him the question again: “Can’t you say ‘That sucks’? And he answered me: “No, I can’t, all the words ending in “l”, I have to say them like that. As a director, we keep having to deal with silly little things -like when a cloud suddenly appears in a completely blue sky, and you can’t do anything but wait. It’s always like that…

False nanar and true virtuosity

In short, cinema as a school of patience, a quality that Rémi, the director of Z!the film within the film. Nothing of a self-portraitassures Michel Hazanavicius, “even if there are certain elements that I recognize: the fact of always running, which corresponds to the experience of a director. We spend our time chasing after time, so this sense of urgency is very present. And then, I like the fact that he’s a little tired, that he’s neglected his ambitions a little to indulge in his comfort zone, doing little things. Moment when his daughter comes to put pressure on him, to remind him that he can aspire to more integrity and ambition. Even for a passable zombie movie, you can fight. It’s a conflict we always have to wrestle with: accepting reality -goes for”it’s nioul ”, OK – or fight to get what you want.

One of the challenges of Cut! certainly resided in his first scene, that of the shooting, 32 minutes of a virtuoso sequence shot. An exercise that is all the more bewildering, no doubt, as the film within the film looks like, for once, a pure nanar, with actors playing preposterous situations badly. “ I’m not obsessed with the sequence shot, but I like to shoot itexplains the director. For this one, I storyboarded the whole scene and the 240 shots that compose it. It was necessary to choreograph everything, repeat this choreography in space, and the timing with the actors. But the main difficulty was indeed having to make a bad film, not mine, but that of the character played by Romain Duris, who crashes. And so, in particular, we needed a shot that was far too long, where nothing happened, because this emptiness and this atrocious rhythm were the price to pay for the epiphany of the third act. It was very strange to observe, without being able to improve anything, since everything had to remain as it was.“An unnatural gesture -“ we always tend to want to improve what we do, essential, however, for the film to work. And Cut! is in this respect an undeniable success, which manages to brilliantly go beyond its framework of schoolboy comedy to prove to be an exercise in precision saluting the genius of cinemaeven if it was tinkered with.

Michel Hazanavicius, he should continue to surprise, since his next feature film will see him turn to animation to Most Precious of Commodities, a film on the Holocaust inspired by a tale by Jean-Claude Grumberg, a project he has been toying with for some time now. “I like to explore and try new things, I don’t calculate. I don’t want to always make the same film. After The Forgotten Prince , I started working on this animated film from this superb story, a classic tale set during the Holocaust. The story is magnificent, but the subject quite heavy, and the project was interrupted by the pandemic. It was necessary to find an additional budget abroad, the producers wanted to stop the production six months before finishing it. I told them we would wait nine months, and I shot Cut! in the meantime. I was very happy to be able to immerse myself in a comedy: we were all like kids at the end of the school year, all excited at the prospect of the holidays. Since the structure of the film is clever, we were able to allow ourselves some regressive, silly and stupid jokes, without it being a problem: there is a balance. The film can be subtle and touching at times, hyper-stupid at others. This experience was liberating.

Cut!

Equally at ease in pastiche as in homage to the cinema, Michel Hazanavicius was obviously the ideal director to fulfill his Cut!, remake of Don’t cut!, a meta zombie film by Japanese filmmaker Shin’Ichirô Ueda in 2017. It all begins on the set, badly started, of an ostensibly broke zombie film, where Higurashi (Romain Duris), a psychopathic director , never ceases to agonize over an actor (Finnegan Oldfield) who plays atrociously badly. However, this is only the beginning, everything ringing false on the set – the actors, the technicians, the framing, the dialogues… -, things definitely going into a spin with the arrival of authentic living dead… Moment where the narration offers a month-long flashback, returning to the genesis of the disaster film, before reinvesting the filming, in the form of a making of illuminating the disaster with a masterful reverse shot of the first part.

From the mise en abyme combined with this articulation in three stages, Michel Hazanavicius draws much better than the parody of nanar one time sensed. Relying on a shrewd script and an air of nothing virtuoso staging -the opening sequence shot is a pure delight-, carried by actors (with Bérénice Bejo or Grégory Gadebois among others among others) – playing greedily, Cut! goes beyond his schoolboy bait to venture into more sensitive terrain. And this hilarious fake zombie film to turn out to be a vibrant declaration of love for cinema and its craftsmanship.

By Michel Hazanavicius. With Romain Duris, Berenice Bejo, Finnegan Oldfield. 1:50 a.m. Departure: 06/29. 8

From Z (like Z) to Cut!

Announced at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival under the title Z (like Z)the new film by Michel Hazanavicius was to change a few days later to finally be called Cut!. In question, the war in Ukraine, and the symbolic charge taken by the letter Z, which has become the symbol of support for the Russian armies, the director acceding to the request of Ukrainian filmmakers. “ I made a film about the Russian army in Chechnya ( The SearchEd) and I don’t think anyone can, honestly, suspect me of pro-Russian sympathy because of a “Z”, it’s a coincidence, he told us about it. When we shot the film, the question of the “Z” did not arise, but today, it is no longer possible. You have to be very careful, because even if nobody here in Cannes is going to suspect us, the propaganda in Russia is so powerful and crazy that you never know what they’re going to say. The most important thing was the Ukrainian point of view: for them it was really difficult to accept that the biggest festival in the world opened with this letter. To decline their request would have shown indifference, and I did not want to remain indifferent.

Michel Hazanavicius (Cut!): “I like to explore and try new things, I don’t calculate”