INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDRE AJA (DIRECTOR OF "FURIA"):
Furia, debut feature by 20-year-old Alexandre Aja
"In the kind of films I like, the audience is caught up in a whirlwind"
At the tender age of 20, Alexandre Aja has just finished directing his first feature film,
Furia. This "showbiz brat" (son of Alexandre Arcady) was born to shoot, so to speak: his
short film Over the Rainbow was selected for the 1997 Cannes Festival and toured
festivals throughout the world. Now Furia, his debut feature, is already in the cutting
room. Simultaneously, Alexandre Aja is studying for a philosophy degree at the
Unifrance: Why did you choose a science fiction story for your
debut feature? As a
genre, fantasy films are not very common in French cinema....
Alexandre Aja: I see Furia as a psychological film, even though
it takes place in a
science fiction setting. It’s about the apocalypse, the hell experienced by each of the
characters, the fury of the world that surrounds us. I love fantasy and sci-fi. I think they’re
an excellent way of expressing yourself. Right now, as it happens, I’m writing a story
about the Minotaur legend. I’m drawn to fantasy; it swims against the tide of "reality
films" you see everywhere in France these days. In my opinion, choosing overly realistic
subjects that don’t make people dream amounts to clipping your wings. To make the
audience think, you have do the exact opposite: show them something different. In the
kind of films I like, the audience is caught up in a whirlwind that totally lifts them out of
their day-to-day lives. They’re films that make you feel things: when you come out of the
movie, you want to talk about it. And strangely enough, you can actually identify with
what you see in it more than in films that just set out to show something.
Unifrance : How did you pick your subject?
Alexandre Aja : While I was shooting my short, I came across a
called "Graffiti" by Julio Cortazar, a great Argentinian writer. This story, from which Furia
is loosely adapted, was about the love between two young people who live under a
fictional dictatorial regime and meet at night, when they go out to paint graffiti. I was
hooked on this powerful love story, the rifts it expresses, these characters who were the
same age as me and had the same dream and the desire, like me, to get something
Unifrance : You’re tackling the feature after only one short.
directors often spend more time "cutting their teeth." You seem to have wanted
to speed things up...
A.Aja : I filmed my short together with my best friend, Grégory
Levasseur. We’ve known
each other since our first year in high school. We discovered that we both wanted to
make movies, so we wrote the short together. I was seventeen when I landed the CNC
grant; It was a point of honor for me to do the film without my father’s help. The success
of Over the Rainbow took us totally by surprise. It traveled all over the world with
Unifrance, it got into the official selection at Cannes, and during the Festival we were
asked if we wanted to do a feature. So we buckled down to write the script.
Unifrance : How do you work?
A.Aja : At first it’s the story that drives me to write. For a
long time I work on the plot,
the treatment and the narrative. Then, once that is done, I start writing the dialogue.
Grégory and I always write together: we talk about it, we jot down a few lines and then
take it from there. Another important thing for me is a simple rule: why are we making
this film? With Furia, I am interested in the deep story: it’s about breaking free, fighting
against repression, finding love and fighting for it, before you go as far as killing in order
to love. Before the shoot, I work with each actor. I try to dissect each character.
Afterward, I try to bring the actors to where I want to go. They too bring me something
extra, which gives the characters a kind of magic. The hard work is done in
pre-production; everyone does their homework. The shoot itself is really only
Unifrance : Emancipation, the search for love: you seem to
be very concerned by
the themes you deal with...
A.Aja : I try to put myself in the characters’ shoes; of course, identification plays a part.
Unifrance : How did you choose your actors, Stanislas Merhar
A.Aja : While I was writing the screenplay, I started to think
about a twenty-year-old
actor who could play the male character. I couldn’t really find the profile: I liked Stanislas
Merhar, but I pictured the character as more Latin. And then he was the first to discover
the screenplay, which we had written quietly on our own. When he read it, he told me, "I
love it, I want to do it." Plus, he has that withdrawn side, with all that poetry... After I’d
met him, I knew it had to be him. The next month, he got the César Award and told
"Libération" that he wanted to do my film: it was excellent! As for Marion Cotillard, she
has been in several made-for-TV movies, in which she’s sensational. All of these actors
have the quality of being able to really disappear behind their characters and actually
become the people in the story. Next, the script won the Best Screenplay Award at the
Paris Festival. France Télévision coproduced us, Canal Plus came in, and everything
took off really fast, as it did with the short. We were up and running and the gods were
with us. We’d filmed the short in one week; we shot the feature in only six. It was tough,
we had no money, no time... Every minute counted. It was very hard, intense work. At
the end of it all, I’m very satisfied. I hope to be able to release the film in June.
Unifrance: For your first film, you were lucky enough to work
with some seasoned
A.Aja : That’s right. It brought me into contact with a lot of
good people. I asked Gerry
Fisher to be cinematographer. I have a huge admiration for him. He’s been in the
business for fifty years! He’s worked in Hollywood, he was a camera operator on The
Bridge on the River Kwai and director of photography on all of Joseph Losey’s films, not
to mention Highlander. The music brought me into contact with another great guy: I’d
loved Queen’s original soundtrack for Highlander and especially the work of Brian May,
the legendary guitarist, who is also a composer. He agreed to write some fantastic
music for my film.
Unifrance : How do you see French cinema?
A.Aja : I don’t feel particularly involved in French cinema: I’m
interested in cinema in
general. There are a lot of things I like in French cinema, and others I don’t like at all.
There’s a movement I don’t subscribe to because it contributes nothing: these people
who show life the way it is, and launch into dissertations about love affairs they’ve had or
would like to have. I guess if it makes them happy, fine. My generation is a generation of
wimps. Maybe it’s because previous generations had something to say, but these days
we lack imagination. I find that a dimension of life is lacking, there is a lack of great
themes, the desire to provide a mythical dimension that goes beyond everyday love
stories… French cinema is lacking in what we find in the cinema of directors like Oliver
Stone. My cult films aren’t French, they’re American. Apocalypse Now , The Shining,
Taxi Driver , and Touch of Evil are the films I consider the most perfect and
accomplished. I love directors like Coppola, Scorsese, and Brian De Palma, but also
Sergio Leone, Kusturica, Polanski, Cronenberg…
Unifrance : Do you have more projects in the works?
A.Aja : I’d like to go on making films that are quite big, not
easy to put together, but
some of them could be in English... Ten years from now, I’d like to have achieved some
of the dreams I have now. I hope I’ll have been able to make more films ... but who
knows? Maybe I’ll still be a philosophy student!
In a land devastated by a recent war, a society where freedom
is a thing of the past and
people who write on walls are arrested, tortured and killed, Theo, age 20, ventures out
into the streets each night to paint graffiti. One night he meets Elia, a girl who paints,
like him, to escape from this world of repression. Their wall art embraces them in a
strange and passionate love affair.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Technical adviser: Alexandre Arcady
Executive producer: Robert Benmussa
Screenplay: Gregory Levasseur
DP: Gerry Fisher
Editing: Yves Deschamps, Agathe-Charbonnel
Sound: Dominique Levert
Interview by Christine Gendre and Magali Montet