With Les 2 Alfred, labeled Cannes 2020, one of the aces of French comedy tackles the uberization of society. Bruno Podalydès deciphers for us his universe, his relationship with his brother Denis and the evolution of his work.
First broadcast on television tonight for The 2 Alfredsthe latest film from Bruno Podalydes. We met the director when it was released in June 2021. Here is his interview, before (re) seeing the film on Canal +.
FIRST: The 2 Alfredsit’s kind of your first political film…
BRUNO PODALYDÈS: (Laughs.) Note “laughs”. Honestly, how do you answer this question? I’m a little tired of hearing that everything is political. And then, I want to tell you that all my films are political, even Snipe!
Except that in The 2 Alfredsyou paint the portrait of a society that is going badly, plagued by uberization and ultra-connectivity.
Yes Yes. People are not aware of the bath in which they are. Employees must meet operational objectives. Management based on benchmarking is very powerful and paves the way for the robotization of people. It’s even winning the school. We no longer measure the intelligence or culture of students, but their ability to meet a measured and measurable objective. If we are not careful, we become machines. If only through the use of language made up of acronyms or the application of protocols. And, conversely, we are working to make machines more human, like the Siri app which I don’t want to use. We are even talking about putting robots, which we are trying to endow with emotions, in nursing homes because we are short of staff.
What is your relationship to new technologies?
I’m wary of resistance to change – I’m not one of those who shy away from an innovation – however I’m not a yes-yes-yes who jumps for joy at the arrival of 5G. I have always noted in a notebook each technological arrival. I try to measure what it will bring us and what it will take away from us. It’s a comedy scriptwriter’s reflex: each time a new technology arrives, it generates its share of burlesque situations.
For example ?
I felt with the MP3 that the music was going to be popularized but that we were going to lose quality. In general, digital has made us change our point of view. If we watch a film on an iPhone, we will mainly retain the information from the shots (he turns his head to the right, he enters a bistro, he comes out and gets into his car) whereas if we see the same scene at the cinema, we will feel the change in acoustics between the exterior and the interior of the car which will translate into a physical sensation for the spectator. The relationship to the cinema film allows many more interactions.
The 2 Alfreds is not anchored in reality, you never quote Uber or Apple. Do you not take the risk of remaining in the fable?
I like it, on the contrary! I think people are quite capable of bringing the film back to their own lives. The jump is not huge to do! If I give names, I block the imagination on a brand, a place. The town of Croisseuil does not exist. I even wanted to redesign the phone’s interface so as not to be dependent on Apple’s. In addition, the possession of such or such brand induces a social connotation. I also did it so that the film would not age too quickly…
After Snipe!period film and adaptation of a classic comic book, were you looking to do something more modern?
By using Bécassine as a material, I precisely wanted to do something very modern, a tribute to kindness. I had brought the film back to today’s questions about the relationship with children. I was not at all concerned with recreating a bygone era. Moreover, my film is absolutely not connected historically. Conversely, as you said, new technologies can be the pretext for a Perrault-style tale. It is this crossing that stimulates me, rather than remaining totally in the past or totally in modernity.
The 2 Alfreds: Bruno Podalydès at his best [critique]
How did you experience the release of Snipe! and the outcry against you?
Very bad ! On two counts, firstly because I wanted to make a film for children and I have the impression that they didn’t let me address them by sticking an author’s label on me. I saw Snipe! like a turning point in my career, quite far from what I had done before, with a female heroine. I set the bar quite high in certain emotions. The exit was polluted by completely outdated considerations on the Breton identity. It didn’t come from the Bretons, but from some extremists who didn’t even want to argue with me and based themselves on the trailer. They even stopped people from entering the cinemas! It’s common now to condemn without having seen… That impresses me a lot. The media also allowed reactions from social networks to receive an echo. I imagine they thought it earthy that a film as innocent as Snipe! may be subject to censorship. Finally, it is one of the films of which I am most proud.
It’s a truly bizarre situation for you who are perceived as a “nice” author. You are rarely an assassin…
I could be much tougher, but I would feel like I’m on the side of those who are right. And you know the proverb: “Where one is right, nothing grows. “I really care about the freedom of the viewer. I agree with Truffaut when he says that a film should not be a settling of accounts.
There is never a “bad guy” in your films. Even the authoritarian executive character played by Sandrine Kiberlain rocks… Why?
I believe, like Walt Disney, that when people are mean, they have a needle in their lower back. In the film, we discover that Sandrine is in the hot seat compared to all the young people who arrive. She lives with the constant anxiety of reaching a goal. If she doesn’t embrace the new language and machine understanding, she’s going to blow up. There are a lot of senior executives who are pushed out like that. As a result, it must give the change with a permanent authority and requirement.
Do you yourself feel this anguish of being pushed towards the exit?
(Laughs.) The more it goes, the more I realize that the number of entries, a measurable objective par excellence, is meaningful. There is indeed a contamination of the Excel table in all areas. Afterwards, I evolve in a profession where there is no retirement age.
Your brother, Denis Podalydès, once again plays the hero of your film. How would you describe your working relationship?
She is not as quiet as one might think. Firstly because we now have quite different lives and not quite the same concerns. Politically, we are not always on the same wavelength either. But we are two years apart and we have always played together in a fairly fusional way. We agreed very early on the pleasure of the show. What we do today naturally remains the extension of all that, with the same lightness that children have. Together, we manage to forget the stakes of a film. I have, it is true, a producer, Pascal Caucheteux [Why Not]who knows that this relationship is precious.
Since like an airplane, you offer yourself an increasingly important place as an actor in your films… Did you need to authorize yourself to do so?
Absolutely. When you grow up in the shadow of Denis, of whom I was and still am so in awe, it’s hard to call yourself an actor. I gradually gained self-confidence. I like to embody this salesman character, a bit talkative. I come as a white clown.
Playing with others – Claire Denis, Catherine Corsini, Jeanne Herry – did it help you?
No, it’s much more difficult than acting in my films. I do not decide to redo a take or to choose it. I do it most of the time out of friendship. I don’t even read the scripts. On the other hand, I learn my text with the cord.
Aren’t you afraid that always shooting with the same family of actors will lock your films into a little music?
I don’t want autarky, I like to irrigate the film with new actors, but I don’t like the casting phase in itself, that bothers me. I also appreciate giving roles to this band of actors – Michel Vuillermoz, Isabelle Candelier, Philippe Uchan, Jean-Noël Brouté, Patrick Ligardes, Florence Muller – whom I find very good and under-exploited. They still have enormous potential! They often have small roles but they bring so much to the film. In The 2 Alfredsfor example, Florence Muller arrived with a redone girl character, limited to the Brazil.
Does the health crisis we are going through inspire you?
There are, despite the context, situations conducive to gags. I was struck at the start of the confinement by the videos on the internet, which bloomed with ideas like these people crossing the street in garbage bags. Wearing a mask in itself is very conducive to misunderstandings. What feeds the comedy are the constraints. And there, we are served! At the same time, it’s not a subject that appeals to me. I don’t like to lack perspective and rush to deal with current events, like the Americans. As in addition, we are right in the middle of it, I would be remiss to treat a crisis that really has a dramatic aspect as a joke.
What is the young director of Versailles Left Bankwho saved his film, would say to the filmmaker that you have become today?
I haven’t changed that much. I am still under duress. Today, my problem is no longer the film, but the shooting time, which is becoming more and more limited. The famous “films in the middle” of which Pascale Ferran spoke are more and more complicated to make. Otherwise, I am both less radical and more sensitive to society’s outrageous, insolent, wealth-dismissal.
Snipe! : Meeting with Emeline Bayart, Bruno and Denis Podalydès