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Mia Hansen-Løve on Abbas Kiarostami, Her Obsession With ‘Heat,’ and the Meaning of ‘Things to Come’

Written by on November 30, 2016 

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The theater scene is so interesting. I almost feel like half of this interview could just be devoted to that.

[Laughs] I don’t know about that.

Maybe I’m just crazy enough.

Me, too. Maybe I’m just crazy not to speak about it for an hour.

Certified Copy doesn’t seem like a movie you just pluck out of nowhere, especially since that’s a movie about a woman with an intellectual background.

You know… my mother used to identify with Isabelle Huppert in the films. Like, she always said that she was the actress that she would identify with. I think a lot of intellectuals, because Isabelle inhabits both femininity in a smart way — she’s beautiful, she’s feminine — but she’s also very intelligent, so she represents some kind of ideal, I think, for the kind of person my mother has been. Also, she represents some modernity. For many reasons, my mother always identified with her, so she would see films where Isabelle was. So I guess, unconsciously — because, in that case, it was unconscious — for me, it made sense that Isabelle would see a film with a character that she would identify, too, as well! But it cannot be herself, obviously, because that would also destroy the film! You know? So it had to be another actress that she can identify.

But Isabelle, as an actress, cannot identify to any other French actress, because she’s too famous, so it would be only her rival. So I guess there was something a little perverse, to me, to have her watch Juliette Binoche. But, at the same time, it made sense — it made sense from the point of view of the character that she would watch a woman that would be the kind of woman she would identify! Do you know what I mean? [Laughs] So there is that, maybe, but also, in the more simple way, the fact that the film was released at that date. I’m very specific — as you know, because we talked about Modiano, about the dates — and it’s very important, for me, that it’s true about the film: when it was released, that it was possible that she would watch that film at that time period. I guess I checked all the films that were released at that time, and I wanted her to see the kind of film that she would see.

I think Kiarostami, for that kind of figure — a philosophy teacher in Paris who has left ideas but not too much left, you know? — that’s typically the kind of film she would watch at that place. Exactly. It just seemed right to me. Actually, that’s not my favorite film of Kiarostami at all. I’m a big admirer of Kiarostami, and I haven’t seen all of his films — not at all — but I saw that film, and that’s not my favorite. But it just made sense that she would see that one. And it’s also a sad film about a couple, of course. I’m actually offering a… oh, I shouldn’t say that. [Covers face with napkin] Sorry. I’m still in the process, so I am not allowed to talk about it.

By the time this is published, it might already be settled. Anyway, the cutting back and forth between them is almost like the French-actress version of Pacino and De Niro in Heat. I don’t know if you’re aware how, for a long time, they were these two ships passing in the night —

You know that Heat is, like, one of my favorite films, yeah? I told you?

I don’t think you did, no.

Oh, yeah. I’m telling you. It’s like, I’m obsessed with Heat. I don’t even want to talk about it now, because I’ve been talking too much about it. It’s like Modiano; it’s my other Modiano. Heat, and especially… well, not especially that scene, but, of course, that scene where De Niro and Al Pacino meet with the coffee is very essential in the film.

This is like your version of that.

That’s my version of Heat. Like, all of my films are my versions of Heat, I think. [Laughs] No, because Heat is actually a film about melancholy, about action, and it’s action vs. melancholy and self-destruction — action becoming self-destruction. It’s a couple. It’s a lot of things. It’s a father and kid’s relationship. A lot of the themes of Heat, actually, are themes of my films, except in a very different way, in a very different world. But I’m sure that if I see it again today, maybe I will find it a little bit more kitsch or something — but I’m sure that I would still love it as much.

When did you last see it?

Long ago, but not that long ago. I saw it many times, so I think it would be okay to watch it again.

I’m wondering if this movie is consciously set in 2010?

I don’t know if it’s 2010 or 2011; 2010, maybe. It has to do with the political situation at that time.

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I’m so ignorant of these things that I thought the strike sequences were just something you scripted for dramatic and thematic purpose.

No. No, no, no. Part of what inspired me.. there were strikes — well, okay, there is always strikes in France, but they were very violent strikes — I think, in 2010, and I wanted to use that in the film because I wanted the political situation to be very palpable and part of the world, and kind of put disorder in the film, somehow. I thought I had to use something real, and people in France know the situations. It’s a very recent history, so it had to be true, so I had to make the film belong to a specific time. For some reasons, I didn’t imagine the film being set under the presidency of Hollande; it had to be under Sarkozy. A very tough… still, now it’s very depressing in France, but in a different way. Under Sarkozy there was really, like, a tension. It was a different tension and a different mood, and it influenced my film.

As you know, because I’m sure I told you that before, I like to have the films set in very precise, specific time periods and underline that, just as the places. So once I decide when the film is set and where, I’m very keen on putting that in the film, somehow, so people know — just as they have to know what books in that film they are reading, which papers, and where they are going. I don’t like to do, as in so many films, where everything is, like, any mountain, any paper, where you don’t see anything precise because people think it wouldn’t be universal if the world where the characters live in was depicted in a too-specific way, so there’s this idea that, except if it’s a film about a historical event or something — if it’s about feelings and a couple — it has to be very stereotyped. I always, in my own films, fight against this idea.

Things to Come’s final scene strikes me as happy, but Eden’s ending, for instance, stayed with me so long because I really wasn’t sure where you’d left that character. Do you think about this distinction when writing?

I never tell myself, “I want the ending to be happy,” you know? I want it to be just true. So the question, for me, is, “What is right?” I want it to be right. Whether it would be positive, negative, depressing, or uplifting… it just has to be right. But it’s true that, when I wrote this film, I was kind of afraid of where it was going. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what the way out could be for the character, and I was afraid there would be, like, a wall at the end of the tunnel. You know what I mean? And it would be a dead end. I didn’t want a dead end.

I was looking for the way out, and, somehow, this ending… in a very simple way, because nothing special happens. It’s not like she meets somebody. There is a baby, but of course there is a baby: I mean, she has two kids. There could not be a baby, but there is a baby. Maybe that’s not enough to make it a happy ending, but, if there is a happy ending, I think it has to do more with what happens. I think it has to do with the way I look at her, and the mood of the film. It’s really her mood that changes, and the perspective I have on the film actually comes from the perspective that she has on her own life and the way we feel she moves in her own life: a peaceful mood. So there is some kind of peace at the end — which doesn’t mean that life is over and nothing more will happen and that she’s about to die. It’s just about peace.

Things to Come begins its U.S. release on Friday, December 2.

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