“A compendium of prodigious cinema” for filmmaker Mikael Buch

“A compendium of prodigious cinema” for filmmaker Mikael Buch

Broadcast this evening on Arte, this crazy love story is, according to the French director, a masterpiece that has been ignored since its release in 2004. The ardent defender of Johnathan Glazer’s film even pleads that it is there of the best role of the Australian-American actress. Meet.

As part of its cycle devoted to Nicole Kidman, Arte is showing one of the American star’s lesser-known films, Birth. Rejected, in 2004, by the public as well as by critics, including Telerama, Jonathan Glazer’s second feature, disappeared without a trace. Or almost. Because, ten years later, the director knew how to impose the recognition of his singular talent with under the skin (2013).

Over time, an interest arose, retrospectively, in Birthday, which became a curiosity. Its real revival, very recent, the film owes to passionate moviegoers. French filmmaker Mikael Buch (Let My People Go, Simon and Theodore) is one of those. He who had introduced us, right here, to the cult of the American director Elaine May, now shares with us his passion for Birthday. This drama which tells a crazy love story is a masterpiece, he tells us. And he has all the arguments to prove it.

Birthday is a film whose release, in 2004, went very badly, but which was gradually rehabilitated, in particular by Anglo-Saxon critics. For you, it was straight away a masterpiece?
I didn’t see it when it was released because it really had very few echoes. At the time, the Cinema notebooks didn’t even devote a review to it. When I discovered it, on video, I was flabbergasted by the beauty of this film and flabbergasted by its non-recognition. I never stopped seeing him again, with the feeling that I had to defend him, to repair this injustice. Others like me have felt the same. There is, among moviegoers, a club of defenders of Birthday ! It’s a film that we receive as a gift, and of which I have often given the DVD as a gift. To make it discover is always a joy, because it is a true miracle of cinema.

Why ?
It is an absolutely unique film, based on the meeting of exceptional talents, brought together as if by magic. There is, first of all, a rare director, Jonathan Glazer, for whom this is the second feature film and who is in full control of the staging. Glazer writes the screenplay with Jean-Claude Carrière, who delivers his best and most surprising inspiration, and he directs Nicole Kidman, who is still in the post-Eyes Wide Shut, prodigious period of his career. There is also the director of photography Harris Savides, who is then in the process of completely renewing American cinema with Gus Van Sant and David Fincher, and the composer Alexandre Desplat, who signs one of these most beautiful soundtracks. This incredible team will deliver with Birthday a compendium of prodigious cinema. The film has, all at once, a precision worthy of Kubrick, a subversion at the height of Buñuel and a psychological depth that directly recalls Bergman.

“Birth” tells how a 10-year-old child comes to upset the life of a New Yorker by presenting himself as the reincarnation of her husband lost ten years earlier.

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Where exactly do you recognize these three masters in the film?
We find Kubrick in the very gesture that represents Birthday : it’s a prototype, a radical object, Glazer makes each film a unique artistic adventure, and it’s the same ambition that guided Kubrick. Buñuel is very present in the screenplay, through Jean-Claude Carrière, who had shared and created so much with him. Birthday tells how a 10-year-old child comes to upset the bourgeois world of a New Yorker, Anna, by presenting himself to her as the reincarnation of the husband she lost ten years earlier. We particularly think of two films by Buñuel, The Exterminating Angel and The discreet charm of the bourgeoisiewhich showed suffocating bourgeois worlds whose conventions were shattered.

Birthday rediscover this subversive energy, which is never caricatural because it refers, as always with Jean-Claude Carrière, whom I admired so much, to a metaphysics, to the complexity of the human condition and the universal order. As for Bergman, he is very present in an essential aspect of Birthday : it’s a film about the face of a woman and an actress, Nicole Kidman. There is, in particular, this breathtaking moment in a scene at the Opera, when the camera narrows on Nicole Kidman until the close-up and does not move, lets happen everything that can happen in a look, in expressions. This is where we understand that the character of Anna, who refused what the child was saying, finally saw her husband in him. Birthday is a great film of belief in the actress and in the woman. The bond with Bergman is very strong.

“’Birth’ is a great film about the illusions that we cling to in order not to grieve.”

It’s a very beautiful role for Nicole Kidman but the way the film was rejected has certainly affected her?
The film was so badly received that it will remain, and she will say it, the most unloved of her filmography. While it is his most beautiful role! With Anna, she finds the character of a desperate lover. The film tells of crazy love and says that love is stronger than time, stronger than death, stronger than social rules. In short, love is totally subversive, as in Max my love, of Oshima, for which Jean-Claude Carrière had written the screenplay. But in Birthday, love is also absolutely pure. Because the child is not pubescent and sexuality is excluded. Anna and the boy discuss it themselves. Which is tremendously daring.

Mikael Buch:

Mikael Buch: “‘Birth’ was so badly received that it will stay, and [Nicole Kidman] will say, the most unloved of his filmography. While it is his most beautiful role! »

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Was it this audacity that initially caused the film to be rejected?
Telling a forbidden love story in today’s world is a challenge, because all forms of love seem to be accepted. But Glazer and Carrière managed to shock, especially in the United States where the film was deemed amoral. The beauty of what Birthday story has not been understood: it is the meeting of two characters who want to escape their destiny. Anna wants to break away from her bourgeois world, where she has to marry a man she fails to love as much as the one she lost. The child wants to escape childhood and the modest background from which he comes. He enters the world of Anna, who immediately looks at him as an adult because he speaks like an adult. For them, suddenly, everything becomes possible again. Birthday is a great film about the illusions to which one clings in order not to mourn or to escape from one’s life. Accepting death is not possible, accepting to be only a child either. But the film has a dark, realistic dimension, all the characters are filmed from the angle of tragedy. And it is upsetting.

Can a film so poorly received and so misunderstood be reborn?
Films that were unfairly rejected, including Rules of the Game is the most famous example, cross in spite of all the time. For a filmmaker, this is something encouraging. Films resist everything. Birthday was badly treated, booed, ignored, but it’s a living film. For me, it has a timeless force. I know that if I see him again in fifteen years, he will be just as breathtaking. It’s a film that will forever remain completely new and completely classic.

r birthday, Wednesday June 8 on Arte, at 8:55 p.m.

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