Published on March 23rd, 2015 | by Isabelle Karamooz, Founder of FQM0
Interview with René Manzor, a French film director and screenwriter.
Interview Subject and editor: Isabelle Karamooz
Interviewer: Isabelle Karamooz
Editors: Isabelle Karamooz
Videographers: Pascale Nard
I.K. : Hello René, how would you describe yourself in three words?
R.M. : Hello, author, director, writer.
I.K. : What is your profession? What led you to become a director and a screen writer?
R.M. : Oh wow! It’s a complicated journey, as professions often are. I started with animation. After I got into fine arts, as I actually intended to do painting, but I had a taste for theatre. The theatre brought me back to written texts. I started telling stories in the form of novels, just a little at first. I learned progressively to simplify things to write scenarios, and scenarios led me to making films, and the films today are bringing me back to doing novels.
I.K. : We credit you first of all with “The Passage” and “3615 Code Santa Claus”, which have retained have kept the attention of Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg’s producer. Hollywood is reaching out to you. Can you talk to us about your debut in Los Angeles?
R.M. : Having arrived to stay there for four months, telling myself that I was going to be the “flavor of the month” and that basically in four months I was going to return home, I came to sell a film. It’s the opposite that happened; it’s the film which sold me- for good instead of for four months- I stayed there for ten years. It’s like that, “an accident”; one job leads to another and you realize that you have to move, to find a house, and you adapt. There’s a “move” in movies.
I.K. : On American television, you endorse the realization of a range of episodes in series such as The Voyager, Highlander, Band of Brothers, and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. What reception does that kind of series receive in the United States? Let’s talk more precisely of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
R.M. : A tremendous opportunity to work for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It’s suddenly possible to enter into their myths, their heroes, and then to try to work with them. They give you an electric train and all you have to do is have fun with it. A lot of requirements from them, so a lot of expectations, so a great deal of pressure also, but a great sense of artistic freedom in that they themselves are artists and therefore understand that the best way to benefit from an artist is to let him work, let him do his thing, and after there is always time to redirect things if you find that he’s not in alignment, but certainly the direction is clear.
The character of Indiana Jones already existed in three films and we knew what we were working with. The series was different in that for George Lucas especially, it was more didactic, in fact, it was an educational series for him. He used the character of Indiana Jones to tell the story to the young Americans who didn’t know it very well- I mean the story of the world, not of the United States.
I.K. : Yes, was Indiana Jones a character who would meet historical figures ?
R.M. : Yes, through him you would meet these people, for example, I did for example the Battle of Verdun where Indiana Jones is a harbinger and he transports the orders between the chateau where the generals are and the front lines of the trench warfare. It’s a film about war. About the atrocity of war, the stupidity of war. And then another where he meets Picasso when he’s nine years old. He spends one crazy night with Picasso, Braque and Degas in the Paris from the beginning of last century. That’s about painting, about art- it’s also about how you have to “kill” your master to become a master yourself. I mean Picasso has to “kill” Degas to be able to become Picasso for example. That’s painting- a mentor that you have to confront at a given moment in time if you want to become a master yourself.
I.K. : Was this series well received?
R.M. : Yes, it was very well received. There were four seasons. I did the first season. I didn’t do everything behind the adventure. The interesting thing was, there were only movie directors making orders. It was a requirement of Lucas’, so there wasn’t a single American director on the set. He ultimately just wanted to work with filmmakers from the countries he had been through.
I.K. : Was the cinema always a passion for you? What genre of cinema do you support?
R.M. : Cinema which makes you think and dream. That’s to say, I don’t like movies where they throw around images and you don’t know what you’ve seen. I don’t like films which I call “intéli-chiant”, that’s to say where it is so daunting, so self-absorbed that suddenly, I can’t find my way through. I’m bored. I don’t like to be bored. I don’t like that they take me for a fool , so that I have to stuff myself with popcorn and throw it at the screen as well. I really like both- I like that the dream causes me to think. I’ve always liked combining reflection with entertainment. I cannot go without the one and the other. Whether it be purely entertaining, I’m bored , and if suddenly it’s only thinking, I’m bored. I need them both. It’s a little bit like medicine, it has a sweet side to it, and normally there’s something in it which makes you think. Maybe that’s it.
I.K. : To evoke emotions as well?
R.M. : Yes, emotion is very important. Action, emotion…
I.K. : If you had to issue a critique on the production of films in the United States, what would it be?
R.M. : I mean now, it’s not a criticism, it’s just a statement. It’s headed towards big, industrial, American production like Luna Park. In fact, they make films a little bit like they make attractions in amusement parks. The big productions bring you towards a dream. I mean, to give people a dream, an entertainment.
I.K. : For someone who has such extensive experience in film, in Hollywood, why did you want to write a novel ?
R.M. : For me, it is the most direct way of telling a story. There is no barrier between the storyteller and those to whom it is said. With cinema or on television there are a lot of people between you and the audience. There are many filters before you get to reach the audience.
With a book, no worries. There is the paper, you, and the publisher. If you have a good editor, he lets you tell the story you want to tell, so there is a total freedom that does not exist in film, unless one is his own producer. If you are your own producer, you have that freedom because you pay. But, if you work for someone, you must make a series of concessions to do or not to do certain things that will ultimately affect the quality of the work and the story you want to tell. If you are able to finish with the same story you set out to tell in the beginning, you are very strong.
I.K. : “The Rival Souls,” released in 2012, is immersed in New York in the 80s today – in Brooklyn, in Manhattan and a little bit in Louisiana. Is this the America that you represent yourself?
R.M. : “Rival Souls” is an ideal America. It is America before I went. As a child, I had a recurring dream with sets of places where I had never set foot. In this dream, there was nobody, it was empty sets like ghost towns. Inside, there was the Luna Park in Coney Island, after I learned to recognize it as Coney Island. There was the view from the apartment of one of my characters on the Manhattan Bridge, Washington Street.
There were decorations like that, and all of a sudden, one day I tried to make films without power. I do not know, it did not inspire me. One day my wife said to me: “Why not just tell history? Maybe creating stories for these sets stops you from dreaming about them.
Suddenly the people’s characters sets, you tell a story that connects them and you give a sense of what apparently does not. »
This is where I wrote “The rival souls” in which the settings of the novel are the sets that I saw in this recurring dream; the characters are invented.
After writing the novel, it was a fantastic to go to places where I had never been to see and compare them to my dreams. I found Luna Park in Coney Island and suddenly I recognized it. And this is where? New York… And that? Brooklyn.
So we went to see the scenery, and I had the impression of being projected into my dream. It was an amazing feeling!
There was just a one setting that did not exist which was the Daily. At some point they will eat in a Daily in the neighborhood. In fact, in this area there is not a Daily. Fortunately, I realized that it was absurd to say it’s the same… My wife laughed because when we arrived at the place where the main character lived, there was some improvement work going on; there is no work normally…
The novel has a dreamlike foundation, an unreal basis even if it happens in a very concrete way in the world today.
I.K. : Let’s talk about Jahal, the Native American, the Houma. The spirit that haunts Cassandra… ?
R.M. : This is a character that when the novel begins is at the phantom state, a character who haunts a child from an early age, although, she does not know why she has an imaginary friend. In fact, only her she can see him. Growing up she realizes that this friend becomes increasingly possessive and does not accept that she has other friends, until it goes so far that every time she approaches someone or she has a relationship with someone that character ends up having an accident.
She begins to be terrified by Jahal, eventually finding refuge with a priest (who is the priest of his parish) to speak with since she cannot talk to her parents. She’s afraid we think she is crazy, she goes to confession and talks to the priest, she trying to give him her secret.
The priest cannot find the words, he said that this girl has problems, he thought it is best that she sees a psychiatrist, he completely misunderstands.
At the same time, this priest character is going to witness some things and he will gradually become protective of the girl who since grew up and now will try all his life to protect her from what he believes to be an evil villain, someone who wants to harm her, who does everything to isolate her and keep her to himself.
I.K. : Your new novel, “The One Whose Name is Not,” a supernatural thriller, was released May 26, 2014 to Kero Editions and the ibook to the Sword Editions. Are you already thinking of the third book?
R.M. : Yes, of course. There is something that happens once a book is finished. Of course, we have to promote the book, etc… But, it is already somewhere else, in another universe. I don’t know yet what will happen.
I.K. : Why are death and the supernatural omnipresent in your novels?
R.M. : I do not know. It is a theme that has haunted me since I was little. I find it hard to accept death as an insurmountable barrier, say, especially in the other direction. I agree that we can die, but I have difficulty accepting that we cannot come back. It is a theme that possesses me, that is to say, the idea that love cannot be stronger than death, we can accept the mourning as convalescence which we recover. For me, I cannot accept it. I think that grief is something that ends up accepting but which does not necessarily heal. These injuries produce emotions and behaviors. One has to turn them into something positive, but there is a real work to do.
We always say to mourn but actually it is not to mourn, it is ultimately find a way to survive this ordeal and to accept the unacceptable, which is the separation between people who love each other.
So that to me is a major recurring theme in one way or another because I did not find the answer. In fact my novels I write in response to my questions, that is to say, my unanswered questions. From the moment I have a question unanswered, I ask my characters to respond.
I.K. : What do you want readers keep in mind after reading your books?
R.M.: The emotions they felt. A book for me is an intimate relationship, an intimate conversation between two secret gardens. Secret garden, that is to say, neither player knows mine completely, nor I the other’s; I can only imagine his. The reader interprets through what I write. What I write is to excite his imagination and I am asking him to co-direct the film. I tell him something and he thus shows it is he who portrays the story. It has a small advantage over the film, because when I film, I impose my imagination onto my viewer.
I.K. : The reader must make an effort?
R.M. : No, it is not an effort. On the contrary, it has a greater freedom of space.
I.K. : Tell us about your projects?
R.M. : I have projects that are international. The fact that I had this background half in France half in the United States, and the decade spent in the United States will necessarily alter my desires. The concept of work for me is a completely abstract thing. I have two cultures. My mother is South American, and I have a lot of Hispanic in me. Also, I am not limited by the many countries of Europe.
Right now I am writing a series in English because it’s kind of a working language in Europe, but there are also Russians, Poles, and French people that are involved. This is a series that I write entirely in eight episodes of 52 minutes each and in these formats I finally found the freedom to write. Also there is a certain breadth that one can have in a novel, because when you write a movie it is an hour and a half is enough condensed. In a novel, you can tell things in more depth, and explore the characters intimately. What people like about the series, are the characters, the personality of the man who killed or personality of the victim’s life. In fact, I think people are more interested in what exists underneath the iceberg, not just the small part that is seen above water.
I.K. Thank you René Manzor.
R. M.: Thank you.