Cork enjoys French connection as Mathieu Amalric returns to Leeside

Mathieu Amalric once spent time in Cork nursing a broken heart, but now the star is back on Leeside to present his new film writes Marjorie Brennan

MATHIEU Amalric has a face that makes you wonder what you’ve seen him in. He has featured in a dizzying range of big-screen roles, from blockbusters to Oscar-nominated arthouse films and prestigious television drama.Yet he is most comfortable behind the camera.

“I’m not an actor,” says the 49-year-old. “I’ve done lots of jobs in movies — editing, food, assistant, all the jobs, to do my films. That’s what I do, and acting I do only when it’s irresistible.”

Thankfully, he has had many irresistible roles and some of his best work will be shown in a retrospective at this year’s Cork French Film Festival, at which he will also present a screening of his latest film, The Blue Room, which he co-wrote, directed and starred-in.

Amalric’s love for cinema is evident in his ferocious work rate. He has racked up eight films in the last two years, including The Grand Budapest Hotel and Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, which will also be shown at the festival. Throw in a role in the acclaimed BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall for good measure.

As someone who sees himself primarily as a filmmaker, how does he end up starring in so many films?

“It’s mostly because friends are shooting films, and they bring me into their world. But I try to keep some time for myself and to do my own stuff. Acting is really being in love with the director. That’s all. It has nothing to do, I’m sorry to say, with love of acting.

“I love crews, I love being on set, and when you’re only the director, it can be lonesome — waiting for money, waiting for responses. But I take acting seriously. I have to work more than the others, I have no technique, so I learn my lines very precisely and I’m on time.”

Such a strong work ethic is not automatically associated with actors, and Amalric could show the notoriously slow Hollywood system a thing or two. He and his partner, Stéphanie Cléau, wrote The Blue Room, which is adapted from a novel by Georges Simenon, in six weeks. Two months later, they were shooting it.

“The thing that was great with that film was that we did it very quickly — boom! We shot it in two periods: two weeks in summer, three weeks in autumn. Simenon would write books in 11 days, and we thought it needed to have that energy, like the old RKO films: dark and passionate. I didn’t know I had that film inside me. But that’s how it had to be done,” Amalric says.

Cléau also plays his mistress in the film, though she has little acting experience.

“She comes from the theatre, but is not an actress. She never thought she would be able to do that, but I think she wanted to find the courage in herself, because it would be helpful directing her own plays. And, also, it was a kind of ‘love joke’, I’m not sure how you’d say it, but we’ve lived together a long time and it was nice to say, ‘You’re my lover and my mistress’.”

Amalric’s passion and commitment are clear in everything he does, and the Cork French Film Festival is no exception. “When I met Julien Planté [guest curator], I could feel the love for cinema. And, also, because I spent time in West Cork, it’s really a place that’s important to me.”

Amalric once spent three months near Bantry. I ask him if it was work or a holiday, but it was neither — he was nursing a broken heart.

“It was a very important moment in my life… when you cry about the end of a love story. It disappeared, so I disappeared in Ireland, and I stayed there three months.”

And did being in west Cork help heal the heartbreak? “A lot! The people, they make you love life again, their warmth, everything. I was very young, it was more than 30 years ago. Wow! I remember I worked in Future Forest; they planted trees. Then, a French friend came with his wife and child. They lived near Bantry for almost two years, so I would come often to see them. I have a very personal connection with Cork.”

Amalric is probably best known to audiences outside France for playing paralysed journalist Jean-Dominque Bauby in Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and villain Dominic Greene in the Bond film, Quantum of Solace.


How did he approach two such different roles?

“Julian Schnabel needed to do that film, so I dived into his obsession. I just try to be. It has to do with childhood; you have fun pretending it’s real. It’s not more complicated than that. It’s nothing to do with suffering. James Bond was another story. It was a big surprise, I loved to work with the stunts, all of that.”

He is full of praise for Bond himself, Daniel Craig, with whom he also starred in Steven Spielberg’s Munich. “He is a wonderful human, an incredible guy. It’s as simple as that. Everybody forgets he did, maybe, 15 years of Shakespeare.”

As for the festival retrospective, Amalric, like most actors, isn’t that comfortable watching films he has worked on.

“That’s not something I like to do. At home, it’s not as if you say, ‘Oh, let’s look at this’. It’s done. I was at a festival and they had the first film I did, called Mange ta Soupe (Eat Your Soup), and I hadn’t seen it in 17 years. I looked at it and I cried, because I remembered things — it had to do with the family, the death of my brother, and to see the efforts of this young man trying to do a comedy with only tragic stuff happening. It was moving.”

Amalric is also giving a filmmaking workshop at the festival. What advice would he give to aspiring filmmakers? “I tell them there is more reason not to do a film than to do a film — you can be so afraid, you say ‘I’m not ready, I have to write more, the producer said to wait, that actor is not available’. It can be a way to protect yourself against the fear of doing something.

“I tell them to pick a date in the calendar and tell all their friends, ‘I’m shooting a film on October 15’. If you tell everyone you’re going to do something on a certain date, you will do it. You just have to do a film, and it will be so bad that you’ll have to do another one. And it continues.”

The Blue Room, the opening gala screening of the Cork French Film Festival, presented by Mathieu Amalric, takes place on Sunday at 7pm, at the Gate Cinema, Cork.

The festival is organised by Alliance Francaise de Cork.


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