Cannes 2021 – Robuste: “Depardieu is extraordinary when he feels staged” [interview]

Meet the director Constance Meyer, who turns the star in her film presented at Critics’ Week.

Presented at Critics’ Week, Robust features Georges (Gérard Depardieu), an aging and bitter movie star, whose bodyguard / nanny and only companion must be absent for several weeks. Her replacement, Aïssa (Déborah Lukumuena), discovers a disillusioned man, with whom she will forge a unique bond. Meeting with the director Constance Meyer.

A bit risky to run Gérard Depardieu in his first film, right?
Constance Meyer
: I knew the animal since I had already worked with it on short films. So the idea of ​​running it came quite naturally: I was writing a script that had nothing to do with it – a thriller – and then I started dreaming. I had watched Deborah Lukumuena a lot in her films and her image remained with me, I wanted to film it. Robust was also born from a desire to bring these two actors together, to film their bodies … They inspire me.

What fascinates you so much about portraying different bodies on screen?

I find them beautiful. And I like to film the material, these massive bodies. But nothing intellectual about it, it’s purely desire and attraction. What fascinates me both about Gérard and Deborah, and which I believe comes through in the film, is that they have a robust body but also extremely graceful. They look very, very strong, but they also have weaknesses that they let show through. A lot of tenderness and violence a little mixed. Contradictions which have generated in me a desire for cinema.

There was the risk of falling into pathos or melodrama, which you carefully avoid …

This is a real job. A requirement of writing which begins in the scenario and continues with the realization and especially with the assembly. This is where I remove anything that can make the scenes stretch a little too much, make them pass to the other side. I like the ellipse, cut quite frankly. That the actors have little to say, but that every word resonates. It’s important to give value to the words you say. If it’s not louder than what you see on the screen, you might as well say nothing.

It is surely the best role of Depardieu for years. How do you direct an actor of this caliber, known to be difficult on a set?

Directing Gérard is the most beautiful thing one could wish for a director. They say he doesn’t like being directed, but that’s not true: Gérard wants to be directed precisely because he’s a real actor, someone who likes to be watched with a frame, a staging. And when he feels staged, he’s extraordinary. He needs indications, but very simple little things, mainly on the rhythm. He’s an absolute genius at the game and the way things are said. There is never any rush, everything falls right, it’s music. So you just have to listen. It is an incredible pleasure to see it exist like that in front of a camera.

Robust is also a meta reflection on Gérard Depardieu. Was that the subject of the film?

Let’s say I’ve watched him for several years, and it’s obviously inspired by what I’ve seen of him. Which required him to really give me his confidence, because it could have been voyeuristic. We talked about it, he saw how I was going to approach it and from that point on, he wasn’t playing himself at all. He saw the movie before we came to Cannes, and he talks about the character saying, ” It’s funny, he’s a guy who is completely alone, he’s a bit of a dumbass but he livens up the people around him. For him, it’s totally someone else!

But did you enjoy playing with the image he can give?

Yes, a lot, but it’s almost secondary. And it came naturally because I like his somewhat temperamental side. It’s interesting to see a man who can reject his own art. And who can say: ” No it’s shit “.

There is his famous line in the film: ” Cinema makes you stupid “.

Here ! He is in a rather violent rejection and all of a sudden, we realize that it’s the only thing he likes. Me, that’s what touches me a lot about Gérard. He is a man who has a thousand lives, who is interested in everything: literature, poetry, music, people from different cultures … And so the cinema pisses him off. But surely more the world of cinema than anything else. Because when you see him play, you realize that it’s fundamental in his life.

How did you know that Deborah was going to be able to stand up to him without being devoured?

I set up a meeting long before the shoot and I just had to see them together – to observe how they looked and listened to each other – to understand that it was going to work. It was a vibratory thing, there wasn’t even a question. We did a little reading and Gérard left a lot of room for Deborah, who remained anchored and managed to exist in front of him. She is really amazing because she has a very solid playing base and a great charisma.

Robuste does not yet have a release date.

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