By Jake Howell

Countdown To Cannes: Arnaud Desplechin

Background: French; born Roubaix, France, 1960.

Known for / style: A Christmas Tale (2008), Kings and Queens (2004), My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument (1996); directing adaptations, experimenting with documentary, avant-garde techniques, and Brechtian frameworks; working with Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve, László Szabó and Emmanuelle Devos.

Notable accolades: Though primarily concerned with fiction, Desplechin doc The Beloved landed the “Doc/It” award at Venice 2007. His narratives, meanwhile, found love at the Étoiles d’Or, giving the filmmaker three of their title prizes (Best Director 2008 for A Christmas Tale, Best Director and Best Film for 2004’s Kings and Queen). In 2009, the National Society of Film Critics (of America) nominated A Christmas Tale for Best Screenplay, losing in the end to Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky.

Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), formerly titled “Jimmy Picard,” a drama adapted from the Georges Devereux text Psychothérapie d’un Indien des Plaines: Réalité et rêve. The film depicts a Blackfoot veteran’s return from World War II and his resulting struggle with mental illness. Benicio del Toro plays the title role, while Mathieu Amalric plays Georges Devereux, Jimmy Picard’s psychoanalyst. Elya Baskin stars beside the pair.

Previous Cannes appearances: Desplechin’s first Cannes premiere was in 1991, where La Vie Des Morts played in a sidebar program. Since then, Desplechin has been a regular Palme contender, screening 1992’s La Sentinelle, 1996’s My Sex Life…, 2000’s Esther Kahn, and 2008’s A Christmas Tale in Competition. 2003 saw Desplechin’s debut in Un Certain Regard with In the Company of Men. Though not at the helm, Desplechin’s commentary appeared in 2010 Ingmar Bergman documentary But Film Is My Mistress, which screened in the Cannes Classics program that year.

Could it win the Palme? Make no mistake: Jimmy P. is one of the titles to beat this year, as Amalric and Oscar-winning del Toro should make for an unstoppable combination. Amalric, consistently a Croisette regular, won the Festival’s Best Director prize for 2010’s On Tour. Meanwhile, del Toro won Cannes’ Best Actor prize in 2008 for Steven Soderbergh’s Che, which means he’s taken home acting prizes from the two biggest names in the business. In other words, we know the acting quotient of Desplechin’s latest is top-notch, and his players fit an equal blend of French and American (remember how the jury president of this French institution is American?). Jimmy P. marks Desplechin’s fifth shot at gold. Does the “P” in Jimmy P. stand for “Palme”?

Why you should care: With the talent behind this picture (not to mention the Howard Shore-composed score), it’s hard to not expect big things. Mathieu Amalric is Desplechin’s favorite actor, and the rapport continues to be something to look forward to. With films like The Master paving a path before it, Jimmy P. looks to be an intellectual two-hander led by some masterful performers—so, whether or not Desplechin wins big at Cannes this year, all signs are pointing to further awards (read: Oscar) buzz.

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One Response to “Countdown To Cannes: Arnaud Desplechin”

  1. Alex Griffith says:

    Almaric and Del Toro in a psychiatrist’s office? Can’t wait.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon