“This isn’t a film that deals with death and desire”: An interview with Christophe Honoré, director of Sorry Angel (Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite)
Set in the early 1990s, Christophe Honoré’s Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite is a wordy, consciously literary AIDs drama, an almost bitter, atomised counterpart to Robin Campillo’s Jury Prize-winning 120 BPM. With extended philosophising and soliloquies, this is a well-judged and affecting film with two excellent performances at its centre – Pierre Deladonchamps as the prematurely aged tragic author and Vincent Lacoste as the too-clever-for-his-own-good ingénue.
We interviewed Christophe Honoré after the Cannes premiere of the film. We talked about his personal experiences and influences, hospital scenes and cinematic depictions of desire and death.
Hello. How did you draw on your influences and experiences for the film?
Cinema allows you to bring the spirits of the dead back to life. The film gave me a space to repay the debts to those who allowed and inspired me to become who I am. When I was in my 20s in Rennes as young cinema student, I dreamed of becoming a film director without having the least belief that it might happen. Every week I would fall in love with someone new: a film director, a photographer or a writer. It might be Derek Jarman or Robert Mapplethorpe. There was also a sense of fatality about this because inevitably these people that I fell in love with – six months later I would find out that they had died of AIDs. They were all gay artists, and I was a gay man dreaming of fulfilling their roles and taking my place alongside them. It was a cruel absence to me because when I was in my mid-20s and writing my first novel and making my first films, I would have loved nothing more than to show these people – my predecessors – my work and for them to tap me on the back and say, “Nice to have you among us, kid”. But they were all long gone. This film allowed me to express that cruel absence by calling them forth and having them present. One of the authors who inspired me a great deal was the Italian writer [Pier Vittorio] Tondelli, which is the name I give to Pierre Deladonchamps’s character, Jacques. I feel the ability of transmission, the passing of the torch from one generation to another.
How did it feel to direct such a personal story?
As a director you are always asking yourself: why are you making films, why do you feel this necessity to continue even after 15 years? Some directors feel like they have an important message that they need to pass on to humanity. Other people think they are smarter than everyone else so they have to explain things to them. But I think for French directors we often have a different role. We see films as artistic and personal expression, to make films in the first person, to talk about matters in a very delicate, nuanced way. And doing that opens you up to a state of vulnerability – you’re exposing yourself in a public space. You can imagine for me, having drawn on personal experiences, to suddenly have them projected in this huge Theatre Lumière with thousands of strangers around me. It left me feeling very vulnerable. But when you’re a director and have written a script and given it to actors who are supposed to embody the characters, that allows you to establish a certain distance, to camouflage yourself. It protects you in some way. At the same time I hope that the deep emotions that I felt when writing the script and making the film are felt by the audience as well.
Can you explain your interest in the topic of AIDs, given its two powerful cinematic elements: desire and death?
Nothing interests me about AIDs, but I understand completely. I used AIDs as a metaphor, but it’s not a metaphor of Eros and Thanatos, desire and death. My second feature [Ma Mère], which is based on the novel by Georges Bataille, is about Eros and Thanatos. But this is a story that cannot be applied to AIDs. Given this film’s subject matter, the scenes in the hospital you would expect to be very moving are touched on briefly – they aren’t dealt with a heavy sense of solemnity. In contrast, I shot these scenes with a sense of silliness. There’s a striptease and Arthur [Lacoste’s character] says he has to get naked to fight Jacques’s [Deladonchamp’s character] fever. I wanted to get rid of the feeling that you have take off your shoes and kneel down in a solemn way for the subject. On the contrary, the film goes to great lengths and exerts great efforts to keep up a sense of joy and happiness, as if these were able to maintain life, to keep a smile on the spectators. This isn’t a film that deals with death and desire.
Being so personal for you, can you explain the part of the title, Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite [Please, love and run fast]?
Yes, when I cruised in the middle of the night, it was a manifestation of a love story and how I wanted to run fast, if necessary. With the script, we can hear “run fast” in two ways: for Arthur this love story gives him energy to live with more speed; for Jacques it’s more the ability to escape the days of cruelty, a gift of a smiling young man. One is speed with a lot of hope; the other is speed with a lot of terror.
Photo: Loic Venance / Getty Images
Sorry Angel (Plaire, Aimer et Courir Vite) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.