Patrice Chéreau is a major international figure in the field of performing arts. Founder and director of the Theatre des Amandiers in Nanterre, near Paris, he also ran its theatre school, which counted many of his actors among its alumni (Pascal Greggory, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and heart-throb Vincent Perez). He co-headed the Theatre National Populaire in France, while also staging plays at the Piccolo Theatre of Milan and Wagner operas in Bayreuth. Based on a James Hadley Chase novel, his first film, "La Chair de L'Orchidée" (1975) starred Simone Signoret, Charlotte Rampling, Edwige Feuillère. Two of his previous films were shown in Cannes : "L'Homme Blessé" in 1983 and "Queen Margot", with Isabelle Adjani, Vincent Perez and Pascal Greggory, in 1994.
Well-known painter Jean-Baptiste Emmerich insisted on being buried away from Paris, in the city of Limoges, at the center of France. Then he died. So they take the train and gather in Limoges for the funeral. All of them : twin brother ; true friends and phony ones ; the heirs, lawful and unlawful ; the family, natural and unnatural - including, in an extension to the notion of family, a teenage hustler, played by Sylvain Jacques. Making his film debut here, Sylvain Jacques is the spitting image of the late singer Jeff Buckley. A coincidence, perhaps, several songs of Buckley's have been woven into the soundtrack.
PATRICE CHEREAU: I wanted to use musical themes that I knew, that I liked, that I love. Thanks to my producer Charles Gassot, we were able to get them, and that wasn't easy. As far as I'm concerned, I would have put the entire Jeff Buckley album. Jeff Buckley died while the film was being shot. His death had a tremendous impact on us all. The first Jeff Buckley song you hear in the film, which is when the train crosses paths with the station-wagon carrying the coffin, I used for strictly musical reasons ; it was only later I discovered that its title was "The Last Goodbye."
QUESTION: An informal on-the-sport survey indicates that apparently women like this film more than men do. Do you know why?
PATRICE CHEREAU: You have to ask them. I don't know. I am aware of the difference. Women seem to go much deeper into the movie itself with no fear, no inhibition. But I know men who do, too. I am aware of this but I can't explain it.
JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT: I can't explain it, either.
VALERIA BRUNI-TEDESCHI: I don't, either. In order to make sense of this, you need to pull back from the movie. And at this point, I can't, it's too close.
QUESTION (to Vincent Pérez): You play a transsexual named Viviane in the film. Did you hesitate before taking this part? How did you prepare for... becoming someone else?
VINCENT PEREZ: That was the idea, wasn't it? That was the dream that Patrice and I had, our goal. We weren't sure we'd be able to pull it off, though. We were actually quite worried. The fun part of it was that when we started shooting, probably thanks a lot to my co-actors, there was no longer a Vincent. There was only a Vivianne. My name wasn't even on the call-sheets, Viviane's was. I got into the character and then a few days later, something strange happened, total immersion, I just let go. So Viviane began to exist in lieu of Vincent. Mostly because everyone around me believed that was the case.
It's true that Patrice helped me enormously with his technical knowledge - the camera angles, the light, plus the fact that the part was magnificently written. So actually it allowed me to work more on the character itself than the notion of transsexuality. Ultimately, I wanted to play a woman, and I played a woman.
QUESTION: Were you afraid that might shatter your image and alienate your innumerable female fans?
VINCENT PEREZ: I didn't think of my image, or rather I did only insofar as my CHARACTER thinks of his/her image. I wanted to play characters that were completely alien to me, and that took awhile. On the set actually, I became incredibly friendly with women. We would sit and chat and gossip, and I found... acceptance. That made it easier.
QUESTION (to Patrice Chéreau): How did the project come about? Did you want to make a radical departure from your last film, "Queen Margot"?
PATRICE CHEREAU: As the French say, the opportunity makes the thief. Dani?le had told me about that story some time ago, while I was editing Queen Margot. I was immediately interested. Not because it was different from "Queen Margot", but because it was a strong situation. The journey on board a train. The idea that what was supposed to be a terrible day a funeral could also have its joyful moments, and that one should and could switch from the dead to the living. To life.
So once you have that steam engine, you feel that you can hook up all sorts of wagons behind it. It was a wonderful situation to start from. So we started working on it, and 6 months later we had a movie.
I never wondered whether it was going to be different from "Queen Margot" or not. A director always wants his next movie to be different from the previous one. After a historical epic, you want to make a very contemporary movie. Without the template that a historical epic both offers you and imposes upon you. I wanted to explore how people live today, feel today, love today. What's a couple today? What is that contract that people "sign" with each other?
QUESTION (to Dani?le Thompson): When you were approached Patrice with that line, "Those who love me will take the train," did you think there was a film there?
DANIELE THOMPSON: It was an on-the-spot kind of thing. It was during the editing of "Queen Margot", I had had a personal family drama in my own life, I was coming back from a day very similar to the one described in the film. I must be sort of slightly twisted, professionally bent, so to speak, insofar as I experience things but at the same time I begin to imagine what I could do with them, professionally.
And although that particular day was deeply personal and extremely painful, I lived that journey thinking there was a movie there. Something powerful, incredibly strong. The characters, of course, were different from those we created for the film, but at the time, I told Patrice what I had gone through, told him I would like to transform what I'd experienced into a script. I knew he'd be interested in it. The idea that for an entire day we had gone aboard a train to the cemetary in Limoges, and it's always a pain because you... just resent whoever died for dragging you out there for a whole day. In a way, you think you're making a present by going and then you realize that it was actually he or she that made you that present. I therefore realized that one could make a wonderful portrait of a very intriguing family. That people who have separated come back together for that oneday. Some will stay together. Some, on the contrary, will split...
PIERRE TRIVIDIC : It actually starts with the title. "Those who love me can take the train." "Those who love me" means that there are some people who don't. Who are they? You hope that some of those-that-don't-love-me will sneak on board the train. What happens then? So once you start dissecting the title, it almost gives you the storyline.
PATRICE CHEREAU: The film is structured a bit like a puzzle. That structure came to us as soon as we started writing the script. The idea was to lay out all the pieces of the puzzle, but then select only those that we would absolutely need. Basically you don't need all the pieces of the puzzle to get the entire picture. All I needed to know was all those people were under the grip of the man who died. That he, himself, throughout his life, had divided in order to reign. That had affected all his rapports with everyone. That all his relationships were emotional, volatile... Ultimately, what the deceased man's relationships were with those he left behind was less interesting than the rapport among the living. What was happening before our eyes as opposed to the past which would have pulled the whole film into a flashback.
QUESTION: How much Chéreau, and how many Chéreaus are there in this film?
PATRICE CHEREAU: Too much, too many, and I apologize. (Laughs) But there's a lot of the actors, too. Because what I'm interested in and intrigued by is what kind of resonance whatever I might propose had in them. In other words, I offered an idea, they run away with it. I push them as far as I can, without being brutal, into getting themselves as much involved as possible in their passion. So if there's a lot of me, there's also a lot of them in each character. My job as a director is not to tell the actor what I want them to do. It is more to push him in a certain direction, and then grab what they come up with.
JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT: It's never a script that makes me decide to accept a film or not. It's more likely the director. Making this movie was actually more interesting than I could imagine it would be. I would rehearse a scene, I would find it wonderfully written and I would come up with an idea... When you're an actor, actually, you shouldn't come up with too many ideas. For instance, we would start rehearsing, we would play the scene as we imagined it, then Patrice would say, "It's great, but that's not it AT ALL." And he was right, because he had the entire picture in his mind.
QUESTION (to Jean-Louis Trintignant): A few years ago, you publicly announced that you didn't want to make movies anymore. Why did you do this one, then?
JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT: Because Chéreau convinced me. (Laughs)
PATRICE CHEREAU: He said he wanted to make his last movie with me. The interesting loophole is that he didn't say this one was going to be it. (laughs)
JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT : It's true that I don't want to make movies anymore.
QUESTION: Is it because you don't like today's cinema?
JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT: No, I like today's cinema a lot. But I've spent so many decades only making movies. There's so much that I still want to do. Like, live. It's only up to me.