From Music to Cinema, an Interview with Director Denis Dercourt

February 18, 2014 | By Romain Rancurel
Denis Dercourt

On the occasion of the 14th edition of Film Comment Selects at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Denis Dercourt will be in New York to present his latest film, The Flesh of My Flesh. We were fortunate enough to ask director Denis Dercourt a few questions.

Romain Rancurel : You began your career as a professional musician. What made you change paths and go into cinema?

Denis Dercourt : Even as a child I would make short films on 8mm and write stories.

But, above all, what I really wanted to do was be a musician (my father’s side of the family worked in cinema and cinema was much less appealing to me than music!) I would have liked to be a composer, but I wasn’t talented enough. I decided I would be an orchestral and chamber musician. 

However, playing others’ music wasn’t enough for me, I needed a more « creative » outlet. Filmmaking seemed to be the easiest choice: I could build on the narrative techniques I had learnt from my writing.  I was fortunate to start making feature-length films fairly quickly, and to find financial support for my projects.

RR: How has being a musician influenced the way you direct films?

DD: I definitely use musical and compositional techniques in my writing and direction. That’s especially true when I work with « thriller » elements (I mean thriller in the « psychological » sense, as we prefer in Europe, which requires a greater involvement from the spectator). It’s not really about the « plot » - I write according to the rules of harmony (the cadenza, with its tensions and resolutions) and counterpoint (there are always several overlapping tensions in my films; the trick is to not have them all appear at once).

RR: In The Flesh of My Flesh, you did a bit of everything. You served as the director but also as the writer, the director of photography, the editor and the sound engineer. After directing your seventh feature film, would you say you have become a sort of a perfectionist?

DD: It was my decision to do everything myself on this film. Each time I was offered help with various tasks, I thought there would be more to lose than to gain for the film. I think that has certainly intensified my tendency towards “perfectionism.” It might come from my musical training, I’m most comfortable when I’m in control of every aspect of my films. Fortunately, in spite of this, there’s always something that gets by me…

RR: For this film, you have taken your inspiration from a real-life event and from George’s Franju’s Eyes Without a Face. What other influences were decisive in the making of this psychological horror film?

DD: I come from a particular musical and literary background that is very influenced by folk tales (what the Germans call Märchen). I think my films are the continuation of a particular European tradition: that of the Brothers Grimm and of Maurice Ravel for example – to name a few. It revolves around childhood, a time filled with both wonder and cruelty.

RR: In a previous interview, you quoted Nicolas Bourriaud and his concept of “Relational Aesthetic”. Do you believe that, even in cinema, “it is the spectators who make the pictures” as Marcel Duchamp famously said?

DD: Yes, I strongly believe this. A film needs to be « activated » by the spectator. In any case, I don’t like movies where I have « nothing to do » but to watch. I like to « work » with a film, so that it becomes a sort of co-production between the filmmaker and me, the spectator. As a director, I try to make films where the spectator has a prominent role. Of course, one must work form the assumption that the spectator is responsible and intelligent.

Born October 1, 1964 in Paris, Writer-director Denis Dercourt was made famous by The Page Turner in 2006 which was selected for Cannes. He followed that first success by delivering another great work of art in 2009, Tomorrow at Dawn, which was also selected for Cannes. Living in Berlin for the past few years, Denis Dercourt released two movies in two months during the course of 2013, Flesh of my Flesh and A Pact.

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