Comments at the 2007 Berlinale
The following has been dictated from a live English translator.
FIRST QUESTION: This film in a way is the end of a cycle because we had Out 1 sort of as an inspiration for The Story of the Thirteen by Balzac. Now he's here again this time with a story out of the cycle which is is very close to the original. Mr. Rivette, could you tell us a little about your passion for Balzac and maybe also about Balzac -- what sort of an impact Balzac has had on your career?
JACQUES RIVETTE: Well that's not one question, it's at least three or four. I'll try not to answer them all at once but perhaps one after the other. In the case of this film, Ne touchez pas la hache, I hadn't prepared at all to adapt Balzac's novella as close as I had done in other cases but be it Out or La Belle Noiseuse; Balzac has always been very important for me. It was a little bit of a pretext for this film but here it's a different story because I did not start with the idea of having a new adaptation of Balzac -- sorry this answer is getting quite long but it's a bit difficult to get it otherwise -- after the film (The Story of) Marie and Julien I felt like doing a film which would have a contemporary story. We had Next Year in Paris, then I wanted to have Guillaume in the film as a partner to Jeanne. This was a contemporary film, rather close to Out and so we started with Martine Marignac and we're wondering how to shoot this film and I thought that this project, I realized nobody was interested in the project. No French or foreign television channels -- nobody, absolutely nobody was interested in financing the film and I thought, 'OK if nobody wants to do this story, OK, I'll do something else.' But there was one thing that I was very interested in and that was having this film for Jeanne and Guillaume and I really regretted the fact I couldn't see them acting together in a rather dramatic story. So with Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent we tried to find a different scenario, where we could have these two actors interacting and working together, and so we spent two weeks reading universal literature to find a good project here for these two actors. We had Henry James for a long time but he absolutely refused to take part in our project so in the end it was Balzac. (1) So, within three nights we wrote a new story, he rather wrote the story La Duchesse de Langeais and we used it and it wasn't really our original plan but that's just what happened. So we have this Balzac cycle because that's just the way it worked... pieces coming to us...
Maybe I haven't expressed myself clearly. When I was preparing a different film I was persuaded, I was convinced that Jeanne needed an actor acting with her as strong and imaginative as herself, and therefore I needed to have Jeanne and Guilluame together and that's what I felt like doing. When we talked about Paris Next Year, which was my other project, then again I can only say that it was Balzac that manifested himself to us. I thought I should keep to the text because I think it's an excellent piece of art. I've forgotten the beginning of my answer. Balzac arrived here in this project very late -- at a very late stage because I already decided I had a film with Jeanne and Guillaume and afterwards then, of course, we worked on Balzac's text with Pascal and Christine. When writing the screenplay we thought, 'What should we keep in, what should we have outside, what titles would we have in between.' And so on -- and, there you are. We just tried to stay as closely as possible to Balzac's story, and to his way of telling the story. And I needn't explain how different it is to write or to shoot a film, that's clear. But what we did try to do with Pascal and Christine, and also with Jeanne and Guilluame, was to try and find the elements that give Balzac's writing such strength. Sometimes he has very long and complex phrases, but they are very full of ideas, and we wanted to keep this supple way of writing, and also this continuous way of writing that sometimes, of course, is also very violent because sometimes there's no other way of expressing oneself. So we tried to keep to Balzac as best we could with our own means.
FIFTH QUESTION: You talk about keeping close to Balzac's text. Now why did you choose the title? Was that because of this worrying aspect of love?
RIVETTE: No, no, that was to keep close to Balzac because when he wrote this story, which he published first in a magazine and then in a volume, that was the original title. So I reused the original title. It was Ne touchez pas la hache. Balzac only decided on a different title much much later in his career when he started republishing La Comedie humaine and these other stories where he links one text with another, and of course we weren't doing La Comedie humaine, we didn't have the time. We had just this one part, a very precise part, which is a story in itself and Balzac gave the title, Ne touchez pas la hache, when it was on its own. So that's what we decided to use, the original title.
1. An interesting comment between the first and second paragraphs of this transcription is Jacques Rivette's statement: 'We shoot films when they're ready to be with us.' A continuation of a philosophy he's has developed since making the documentary Jean Renoir, le Patron. (For a good starting point on the fleshing out of some of these ideas, refer to the interview Time Overflowing on our site.) One senses a relaxed attitude when Rivette says this, as if it's been said so many times before, but when Bulle Ogier was asked about working with Rivette on his earlier films and working with him now she stated: 'He was very exact, very ready to help with the photography, with the actors and even helping the words, the diction; which I'm sure is different from what it was with with L'amour fou and Celine et Julie. It was quite different at the time.' Not contradictory statements but interesting side by side. Ogier followed her statement with: 'I don't know whether I've made a mistake here, you should ask Jacques.' Which reminded me of her in Claire Denis's documentary on Rivette, Jacques Rivette, Le veilleur, where she said that she could tell us some things about Jacques but it would be indiscreet to talk of them aloud. (RW)
Comments are from a press conference at the 2007 Berlinale, where Ne touchez pas la hache premiered in February.