Conversation with Gilles Bourdos & Richard Bausch

 

On October 8th, 2018, I sat down with French film director Gilles Bourdos (Renoir, 2012; Afterwards, 2008; Inquiétudes, 2004), and Richard Bausch, author of eleven novels and eight short story collections, to discuss Mr. Bourdos film Endangered Species (2017)—a mosaic based on six unrelated short stories written by Mr. Bausch (Fatality, Wedlock, Are You Happy For Me?, Not Quite Final, My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun, and 1900). We discussed their approach to art and the collaboration process undergone to create the film Endangered Species.

Kevin Brown, Editor in Chief of ANASTAMOS Interdisciplinary Graduate Journal

 

INTERVIEWER

Gilles, when and how did you come across Richard Bausch’s stories?

BOURDOS

I just read a couple of books in French from this guy and I fell in love. It was really a coup de foudre (love at first sight) as we say in French. And in the beginning, there was a short story, Fatality, and I found this story so powerful, and I said, maybe we can make something with it. But you have to know something—short stories in France—we don’t have a huge market like in America. So, most of the time when you read short stories in France, it’s inside a book with many short stories. We don’t read short stories in a magazine for example, because they don’t publish these kinds of things. So the important thing for me was, I read Fatality . . . and Fatality is a very dark and powerful story. But I also read different kinds of stories in this book and some were very funny. So, I said to myself, maybe we can use all this material. I didn’t know how in the beginning, but I had a feeling, that we can maybe mix my sensation as a reader, you know? That’s the reason I love adaptation. To make some adaptation from some original material, because for the first time, at the beginning I can be a viewer, or the reader and have some original emotion. And all my work during the past two-three years is to try to comeback many times to this original sensation I have, this original emotion I have about the original material. So that was the beginning of the story.

INTERVIEWER

What do you look for in a story as a filmmaker? What struck you about Fatality?

BOURDOS

As a filmmaker, it is all about the situation: the situation, the situation, and the situation. And I don’t really like stories with very vague and (inaudible) concepts. I like it when it is precise, when it’s with flesh and blood, and when there is a situation, a clear situation, an original situation, a complex situation. Richard is a genius for that. It is a blessing for a filmmaker, this specific talent, to find an original situation; and most of the time the situation, the different situation, the dramatic situation with Richard is already complex with two or three different entries. So it makes things live, fast, with flesh and blood, and very interesting. So, it’s all about the situation; not really about the characters, because characters for me are very flexible. It must be surprising for Richard, for example; we took two characters from two different short stories—no link between these two stories—a guy named John and Jim and we made one character with two characters. But the situation, there are so many things we can mix, it’s flexible. The material could be flexible. If you have strong situation as a director, you can play with it. What do you think about that Richard?

BAUSCH

The thing that most amazed me, you have to know, was when my agent told me that this French director wanted to do six of my stories, and were they mine, and I said yes, and etc. And we had to sign the option, that’s pretty common, it happens a lot and I forgot about it, and then you know, he [Bausch’s agent] emailed me and said this French director that optioned the stories in May is going to make the film; they’re actually going to purchase and make the film. So then—I love to tell this story—I said what’s the guy’s name again, and he said Gilles Bourdos. So I took it down, and I went to Google. About a year earlier Lisa [Richard’s wife] and I had seen Renoir (2012) and loved it. In fact, I had watched it three times since, and showed it to friends. So I ran into the kitchen when I found out it was Gilles Bourdos, who made Renoir, and I said, and I’m quoting, “It’s the fucking guy that did Renoir!” I just couldn’t believe it—excuse the French. So then, we went to the private screening in February of 17’, and the thing I noticed was, there’s a character in a story called Wedlock, who reveals himself to be his true nature on honeymoon night, and it’s from her point of view and she realizes she’s made a horrible mistake, and the guy in Fatality, which was written years apart . . . I leaned over to Lisa when I saw how this was working and said this is genius, “My God, it’s the same guy”. And the two characters are so similar in their way. This one’s going to be abusive and this one is already abusive.

It’s as if a great novelist looked at those stories, which were written—some of them—several years apart, and said you know you could put a thread through this and make one story. You could make a novel out of this. And that’s what happened.  Every little touch, every little thing that Gilles did, having to do with the characters in the situation just struck through me. I’m like, “God that’s brilliant.” When the movie ended, I went up to the back where Gilles had been, and I walked up to him and I said—we both know the cliché—I’ve got to tell you “the movie is better than the book”. And we laughed and went and had a meal.

INTERVIEWER

What was your initial reaction to Mr. Bourdos choice, regarding the six stories he chose to depict in the film?

BAUSCH

I asked myself, “How is he going to make a film out of these stories; they’re so different. They don’t seem thematically connected.” But he saw it, and he did it, and it’s amazing. I mean, it’s truly amazing. And the humor in it—there’s a place where the young man’s mother has gone crazy, and he’s in the home with her and he’s got a check that she’s supposed to endorse, and she endorses it, with a phrase saying, “Please”, you know, “[expletive] this young man”. And I wondered, how is he going to get that in there with all that? This is way before the actual scenes involving the mother and the boy. And instead what happens is—it’s much funnier—is that she’s talking to him on the phone, and we hear her voice off-stage, and then it flashes to her, and she’s walking up and down calmly in front of a burning automobile with firemen trying to put out the fire. And god I laughed, and thought, “That’s so brilliant”. And then in the end she says, yeah I just torched his car, so nonchalant about the burning automobile. When you get to see the film, you’ll see these touches like that, where you know it just works beautifully.

INTERVIEWER

Of the six stories you chose Gilles, were there others you considered for the film? Tell us about your selection process.

BOURDOS

In the beginning, I tried to add two more stories, but it was a little bit challenging at the end. The thing is to create a mosaic. When you do a mosaic, you take some material, and the first thing to do with a classic mosaic is to break the material with a hammer. So, you have all these pieces on the ground and you recreate a new form with all these pieces; that’s the work we did with my screenwriter. In the beginning, we tried to break the maximum material to try to see what was going on. It was a pretty fun thing to do, because you try to understand deeply what the stories are about. And you try to forget the context, the historical context. The movie was shot in France, but most of the stories occur in Virginia, United States. I’ve never been to Virginia. I don’t have any ideas about Virginia. But what’s very strong about Richard’s works is it’s universal. It’s all about dysfunctional families; all the stories are about dysfunctional families. The thing I like about working in this way is it’s like doing a composition, a mosaic, like Picasso did. I’m not Picasso of course, but for example, if you look at a Picasso painting, you can see a bull, a little bird, and a chair in the same composition. Nothing to do with each other. But you feel there is a tension between this different motif. And the red is red, the blue is blue, the yellow is yellow. And the confrontation of this different motif gives you a sense of tension. There is a link. An invisible link. And to put a red and a blue, it is still red and still blue, but if you are looking at the red and blue at the same moment you are having a different feeling. It is not the red, it is not the blue, it is something else. So, when I played with the short stories—one is very funny and the other one is dark—and when you play with that, you create a certain feeling. That is very interesting to do. But it is not easy from a business point of you because when you start with this kind of stuff, you don’t have a pitch. It isn’t easy to pitch it, you know? Because it is a mosaic; it is a composite. Now we are living in a world where everything must be in ten words, five sentences. It’s about that, that, that, that, that. And if you don’t have this kind of stuff, the marketing people are rude. I don’t want to say, “It’s a movie about . . .” It’s more complex. I like that. Because as a viewer I’m bored. Most of the time, I’m bored. I’ll have profound lassitude of what I am watching. It’s always the same stories. They don’t create anything new, you know?

INTERVIEWER

When you are writing a story Richard, how do you respond to this question: “What is it about?” Do you already have a synopsis in mind, like A + B = C?

BAUSCH

Well, right now I am writing a novel called Glorious about a bunch of people trying to put on King Lear—and that’s what I say. When they ask, “What’s its theme?” I have no idea. I’m messing around with it; I’ll see where it takes me. I know that the McGuffin in it is, to use Hitchcock’s term, is that this visiting director wants to make Cordelia deaf and mute, so she has to sign all her lines and the fool has to say them. The guy playing the fool has to learn both parts and they’re all trying to figure out how in the world he’s going to fix it, because there are places in the play where the fool and Cordelia are not together. And they are trying to wrestle with, but they are people with troubles and sorrows they are dealing with too. But I don’t know more than that about it ever really. When people ask me what my work is about, I just use a phrase that John Irving used to use and it just works fine, “Drunkenness, madness, lunacy, and sorrow”. Just go on from there. I’ve been writing about love my whole life. All I write about is love, but you can’t say that because people say, “Well, in what way?” If it isn’t something people are struggling toward then it doesn’t interest me.

INTERVIEWER

Concerning the title, Endangered Species, what exactly are you referring to Gilles?

BOURDOS

There are many different answers, but one of them could be the woman [Josephine] in the movie.

BAUSCH

There is a novella called Rare and Endangered Species that I did. It’s about a woman who commits suicide and how that suicide reverberates through an entire people that don’t even know her—are affected by it, because of the fact of it. But the first time I ever thought of it as a title was in 1975. I was just out of Iowa [Iowa Writers’ Workshop] trying to write a story about a woman in a hospital bed with a very negative woman next to her. That didn’t go anywhere and I left it, but the title stayed and I ended up using it for that. But there was a novella called Requisite Kindness that was really the centerpiece of Rare and Endangered Species, and I took that out and made a separate long story out of it about a rounder man who spent his whole life chasing women; a womanizer who has to—because of a situation involving a really bad snowstorm—help his mother die. He has to bathe her, he has to do all that stuff for her. And he’s confronted with it in all the ways he has seen women as objects. And here’s his mother who is becoming an object and he has to find some way to tend her, and to try to put down all the bad things he’s done. His son is there, who’s become like a carbon copy of him, and his son arrives the next day and he can’t bear to look at his son, because he’s done the same kind of things.

INTERVIEWER

A question for both of you: The stories found on the page and in the film have a lot do with relationships that are falling apart. Do you think domestic relationships are an endangered species from the start? Are traditional familial values endanger of extinction?

BAUSCH

I don’t think those values are going away. I just went to a wedding, my daughter Maggie who’s just turned 30; they’ve been together nine years and they put together an incredibly traditional marriage ceremony, and people from five or six different families were there. I don’t think it’s going to go away. I think it’s changing and probably changing for the better in the sense that the people understand now, understand better that there are different.

One of the guests at the wedding, a young man named Sean, who, the last time I knew him was a young woman named Sarah. She had been through the operation, and she’s sitting there at a table with her father and mother and they’re having a fine time celebrating my daughter. It is shifting and changing, but I don’t think it’s negative. I think it’s a positive thing really; these new permutations of family love. The nuclear family was a myth anyway. And I know there’s an entire segment of our culture, the political culture that wants to go back to 1855, but I don’t think they are going to succeed, and I have to think that.

INTERVIEWER

Question for Gilles: How does the process of watching a film and reading a book differ? Is that even a question worth considering, regarding the pleasure one obtains in watching vs. reading?

BOURDOS

I never think about it. I think about the quality. It’s about the quality. In my work, I don’t use the poetry for example directly. But I do use the sensation the poetry gave me as a reader. These are the kinds of things I can use. What I said about Picasso for example. When I’m looking at a composition of Picasso, he gives me a sensation, and I when I work I think, how can I use this sensation in my work? Everything feeds, you know?

BAUSCH

If you look at Renoir, every frame in that picture is like a Renoir painting; every frame in that movie is a painting by Renoir, beautifully Renoir.

BOURDOS

But there is no imitation of a painting.

BAUSCH

No, it’s as if you’re looking at a motion of Renoir’s way of seeing the world. You get this deep sense of seeing where the paintings come from because of the way you’re seeing it. It’s the colors, and the way the light, and everything. It’s amazing. There wasn’t any artificial light. It was like we got the light, let’s shoot.

BOURDOS

It’s exactly that. It’s the way you work. The impressionists worked outside. It makes a huge difference with the classic painters working in a studio. There was a new technique for the painting world. They are able to go outside and paint all the motif—to be on the location, on the spot, to catch the light. To catch the sensation of the wind in the trees. If you see that as a filmmaker, you work exactly in the same ways. For example, I don’t use a storyboard. I don’t have any preparation. I try to follow the spirit of the painting, and for that, what I always say: looking is everything, filming is nothing. So first you have to look, as a movie director you have to see what’s going on around you. I am also sometimes a teacher, a professor for filmmaking, and I see young directors coming with a storyboard; they follow all the sketches perfectly, but they are missing a lot of things because sometimes you go on location for three weeks, months, before the shooting day and it’s sunny and great and you have a specifically feeling and suddenly the day you are shooting it rains. Everything changes. You have to adapt. That’s what makes cinema interesting to me. That’s the reason I don’t like working in the studio too much, because I love to play with the elements—to keep things alive.

INTERVIEWER

And you approached the filming of Endangered Species this way? The same as Renoir?

BOURDOS

Same way. But with different material; with different spirit.

INTERVIEWER

Have you ever considered a career as a novelist, Gilles?

BOURDOS

No, no, it’s a terrible job. Facing the white page—that’s the worst work ever. [Laughter] You have to have a mountain of courage to face the white page. That’s a crazy thing for me.

BAUSCH

I do a lot of rewriting because I don’t want to look at the white page. I’ll be rewriting something, and as I’m getting to the edge where there is now a white page, and I’m going to have to start again, take it forward again, there’s always a feeling of anxiety. It is a scary thing. But the scarier thing is, is to not finish. You want to get it done. Before, During, After (2014) took five years. If somebody says to you, “This is gonna take you five years” you think, well maybe I’ll do something else. I’ve had them come fast. A piece came really fast, only four months, but that’s a short novel—170 pages.

INTERVIEWER

The stories portrayed in the film are heavy with dialogue. Gilles, do you use Bausch’s dialogue verbatim in the film? How much of your own dialogue do you contribute to the larger piece?

BOURDOS

It’s difficult to know for sure, because I forget. The dialogue from Richard is fantastic so most of the time we follow that, but sometimes since we play with the situation the dialogue must change too; and with cinema, it’s sometimes a little bit different. But I have to say the dialogue from Richard is very effective for stage, for filming, because it is very concrete. He has a great sense of rhythm, like a musician. He is a musician too, so he knows rhythm, he knows the sound.

BAUSCH

I’m a very small musician. [Laughter]

INTERVIEWER

Richard, when writing a scene, do you ever envision how your words might appear on film?

BAUSCH

No, but I want to create something like a film in the reader’s mind. In other words, when I describe an image I want the reader to see it as if they are looking at it on a screen. I want that playing on the inside of their skull. That’s why you are aiming at absolute precision in the images that you use, and finding a way to make it visible. One example for instance, somebody pointed this out, is describing how rain hits a puddle. I wrote after that, “so it looked as though the stones were jumping beneath the surface.” That happens all the time when I’m writing, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and I have to try again, and then I’ll realize I don’t really need it, and I can cut it all together. I once spent five days rendering a hawk in a tree, and when it lifted off that tree the whole tree shook with it. And man, I was so proud of that. One New Year’s Eve, I read that passage to a group of friends who had asked me to read something and I realized when I finished it that it didn’t have a damn thing to do with the story I was writing—that it was purely about what I can do with an English sentence, so I cut it. That happens too; you’re just trying to make it so that the reader isn’t aware of you. The reader is there and looking at it like a film, and when the events happen you want the reader’s blood to jump with it, as if they are actually witnessing it.

INTERVIEWER

Final question for Gilles: Can you tell us about any projects you are currently working on?

BOURDOS

I’m currently working on an adaptation of the life of Charlotte Salomon. She was a young, Jewish artist in Berlin in 1938. She moved to France in 1940’s trying to escape the Nazis. And she made an amazing piece of art. And I’m trying to make an adaptation of this moment in her life. It’s a very interesting project.

INTERVIEWER

Where can our readers/viewers/listeners view Endangered Species?

BOURDOS

Hopefully soon in America, but it’s a very complex situation now, because more and more the U.S market is closed to foreign movies. It’s a real issue. It’s beginning to be very difficult. I spend a lot of time in New York, and even in New York it’s very difficult now if you want to see movies from Europe, China—from different parts of the world with subtitles. It’s very difficult. I don’t know why it’s changing in America. It’s very strange. Most of the world is open unless there’s some difference. For example, Los Angeles, Hollywood wants to destroy everything—diversity; and Hollywood needs diversity too—it’s a big mistake. A great filmmaker from Hollywood knows that; someone like Paul Thomas Anderson for example. I known he is really fond of Marcel Ophuls, a French-German director. Martin Scorsese, Coppola, in the seventies they needed the French New Wave to recreate a new wave in America too. The world needs diversity. But with the globalization, with Netflix, with Amazon all this stuff you know, the market controls everything. And the market always kills the diversity; that is the problem. You think you are living in an open world, but the world isn’t open unless there is diversity. I’m really concerned about that.

BAUSCH

We went and saw Endangered Species at a French Film Festival at Kennedy Center, and it was a packed house and people loved it. I mean, these are people off the street who wanted to see some good movies. But there is a problem. Robert Port who directed Peace might have trouble; he’s already worried about it, just trying to distribute it because it’s an indie film. It’s not out of the Hollywood thing.

INTERVIEWER

As a reminder to our audience, Peace is a novel you wrote, published in 2008, that has been adapted into a film.

BAUSCH

Yes, we are going to go see it tonight and Gilles is going to meet the director of that film. And I’ll be in the presence of two directors that have adapted my stories into films.

BOURDOS

Bausch babies. [Laughter]

INTERVIEWER

Thank you both for coming. It has been an honor.

BOURDOS

Thank you.

BAUSCH

It’s been a pleasure.

No Comments

Leave a Reply