Aline Arlettaz: Where were you when lockdown started? What projects were you working on?
Alexis Manenti: I was in Paris, and I'm lucky because none of my projects have been stopped, apart from my rise to fame (laughs). No sooner had I got my César in my pocket than they locked me up with it. I thought I was going to be a star, that I was going to sign autographs on café terraces and make selfies. But no, none of that happened (laughs). I'm at home alone watching my César. In fact, my César, I gave it to my mother, who proudly put it on the living room table. Joking aside, this award also brought all the promotional activities related to Les Misérablesto a close. I told myself that I was really going to get back to work and above all have time to accomplish work.
What did you do during the lockdown period?
I took the opportunity to rest a bit because we had traveled a lot, and I managed to finish the editing of Adami, a short film that we'd shot with Damien Bonnard. It wasn't easy to do it remotely with the editor in Brittany and us in Paris, doing everything by phone and video-conference. The editing stage is the most delicate and it was complicated to agree on everything, but the experience was very interesting. In the end, we managed to do it, even if unfortunately it will be postponed until Cannes 2021. I also wrote a short film with an actor friend, Olivier Barthélémy, and then I started working with Ladj Ly on a idea for a series.
Did you watch any films or series?
To be honest, my mind was quite preoccupied with what was going on, and with the future of our planet. I watched films by Bertrand Blier, who is a filmmaker and screenwriter I adore. I watched Too Beautiful for You, Menage, and Buffet froid again, and it was a huge pleasure. Above all, I realize that back when he was making films, there was a lot more artistic freedom. Added to which, we recognize that today these kinds of films would have trouble getting made and this makes us aware that things have changed in terms of freedom of expression and production.
It's almost a year to the day that you walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Have you thought of that moment lately?
Yes, and I began to feel a little melancholic and nostalgic. I called Ladj Ly, and I got almost everyone on the film crew to remember that incredible moment. It's strange, because it seems like it was only yesterday and, in fact, everything already seems far away with what we've just experienced. It's as if we don't have the same notion of time at all. Then after Cannes, when I traveled outside France, it was very enriching to understand how cinema works in other countries and also to see the reactions to our film, which is very political.
Were there countries where the public's reactions moved you?
Each time, I was very moved to present the film. It's while traveling that you realise how lucky you are in France to have such easy access to movie theaters, and an economic situation that means that young people can still go to them. Because when you travel, you realize that there are places where that possibility doesn't exist. Arthouse cinema abroad has become a luxury, and many can't afford to pay to go and see a film. As a result, culture has been slightly confiscated by certain powers.
During lockdown, we continued seeing you, since Damien Chazelle's The Eddy series was broadcast on Netflix. Was it a good experience working with him?
Yes, it was great to work both for him and on a Netflix series, which was a whole new experience for me. It was a major production and it was very rewarding to shoot with a foreign, Oscar-winning director, to discover his working methods, and to also act with foreign actors like André Holland.
Do you think film shoots will rapidly get underway again?
I'm a big believer in this, and I feel it's going to happen a lot faster than we think. Anyway, we're going to have to live like this for a while longer. But cinema has always resisted, whether it be wars, or crises of any kind, and it has always been able to renew and reinvent itself at the same time. And maybe it's time to create other things: to make smaller, more intimate films, with other themes. I spoke with my friend Romain Gavras, who told me that it's quite difficult to write or conceive films today, knowing that everything that's going on out there right now is already a film!
Platforms nevertheless offered a lot of things during lockdown. Don't you think that the risk today is that people will be more reluctant to return to movie theaters?
I've always believed in the importance of the movie theater and that people wouldn't give up going to see a film in a theater, because it's a unique experience. And the fact that people have watched films during lockdown proves that they need cinema to escape. For example, I think it's great that there are Truffaut movies on Netflix, because what counts first is the platforms' content, before looking at how films are delivered.
What's on the slate for you now?
Right now, I'm reading screenplays and waiting to see what happens. I was supposed to shoot my first short film in Belgrade in June, and there the project is in hiatus because of Covid-19.
What worries you right now?
What worries me a little is the every-man-for-himself aspect of the current situation, and perhaps the community withdrawal or the social divisions that this has created and may still create.
What's your state of mind today?
I'm more hopeful, even if I have some concerns... but I'm hopeful. Besides, cinema is not a cautious art, it's an art where there's always been risk!