An Interview With Eric Rohmer’s Muse, Marie Rivière
“They know it now, after talking a lot”
Marie Rivière is an actress, a filmmaker and a crucial collaborator of Eric Rohmer's. (Fun fact: she also still manages the late auteur's Facebook page.) In 2010, she created her own documentary In The Company of Eric Rohmer, a warm portrait of the filmmaker months before his death, surrounded by a self-made family of his actors and performers. During a stay in Toronto where she introduced several of her films with Rohmer, including screenings of The Aviator's Wife and Le Rayon Vert, Marie took some time with TIFF to discuss what the filmmaker taught her about acting, improvisation and everything in between. You can see Marie Rivière in a small but crucial performance in Rohmer's final film, The Romance of Astrée and Celadon, screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox this Sunday, August 28. It is the conclusion to our Dangerous Liasons: The Films of Eric Rohmer programme, which personally has taught me everything about the beauty and melancholy of a long summer vacation.
Le Rayon Vert is a beautiful movie about summer. What do you think it is about summer that creates these feelings of melancholy and loneliness?
When I am near the sea, especially where there are big waves on the western shore, it reminds me of the shooting of the film. And I do have melancholy because Eric is not here with us anymore.
The film itself I don't like so much to see because I think, "It's still me." But I try to see the vision of Eric and I feel better after.
What do you think Eric Rohmer taught you about acting?
He not only taught me how to speak, but also the face, the gesture, the hands. He was really demanding that we were always moving while speaking. Not only speaking like this (imitates stiff gestures), like a television, but moving. Because for him, the body was the same thing as the words. It was the same expression because feelings are going through the body too. Few filmmakers thought he like did.
When I was in The Aviator's Wife, I gave my text without moving. It was the first time he did two takes. And he asked me: "Move! Why don't you move? Touch your hair! Do something!" And it's true. When you speak, you speak both with your hands and with your language.
Le Rayon Vert was nearly entirely improvised. Was that process scary or did you trust that between you, Eric and the crew, that it would be okay?
I’ve done many other films — not only with Eric but with François Ozon, Alain Resnais. Some filmmakers like improvisation, but when they do it, it's not the same. It can become easily very annoying for the audience. The first time you want to improvise, you talk, you talk, you talk a lot. But even if you stop talking, it's something that you must learn.
Even after improvising with Eric, sometimes it can go nowhere and it's often better to have a script and a text to say. Eric would give us his text a long time before we shot it — one year before, which you don't have most of the time. Then we would arrive for the shooting, which was one take for each scene and it's natural for us.
That seems like putting so much trust in the hands of the actors. If you only do one take, you really need to believe in all of their choices.
Yes, he used to say that he trusted his actors. He used to do say it everywhere. The thing he taught me was to always be positive, optimistic. Always say that the shooting of the film is good. Because if you start saying that things are wrong, that things are going bad, you give that bad feeling to the team. I've been learning after a long time after shooting The Green Ray that he wasn't sure where he was going, but he never showed that to me. I was feeling very comfortable. This is what a filmmaker must do all the time with his actors, to give them trust in themselves, to give them strength.
In your documentary In The Company Of Eric Rohmer you bring all his past actors, his ensemble, back together with the director. It feels like he really created this family around him.
Yes, the name is just “In the company of Eric Rohmer," which means that we are just with him. As we were with him in life. For me, I was going to visit him two times a week, until the end. So really I was in his company all the time, even in my mind. And of course, it’s a kind of family that he created when he started with Perceval Le Gallois. With young actors like Arielle Dombasle, Fabrice Luchini, Pascale Ogier and I, he was like a father to all of us... Oh it's very hard... it's a pity. I still miss him.
How did being in his movies change your life?
I'm not sure I would have done cinema if I had not met him. He is the first filmmaker I met. And he's the one who loved me enough to make four, five films, maybe six with me. What can I ask for? This is love. This is the Green Ray.
I love the ending of The Green Ray so much, it's so powerful. In your opinion, what do you think it means as a symbol, as a metaphor for love?
Well, it’s an optimistic symbol. It’'s based on the novel by Jules Verne where two lovers, if they see the green ray, it is true love that will never end. Of course, it's a fairytale. But he wanted to construct this film as a fairy tale and he did. But the symbol is... truth. Choose your own faith and it is the path. If your faith is to stay, to keep fidelity in what you believe, you will find a way. He was optimistic, he was Catholic, he believed in God. The faith was in his mind.
Why do you think Rohmer made some many movies about love?
Love is complex. He says that we can be attracted by different women in our lives and women can be attracted by different men. But something that makes your love strong and powerful to the end is fidelity. In all his films, this theme is like a thread. He gave fidelity to his actors, to his technicians, and he gave fidelity and his life to his wife.
Love can go the bad way. For instance in Full Moon in Paris, if you decide between two men, two loves, at the end you might find yourself alone. He gave love to me in the Green Ray, but at the end, we don't know what happens with this girl. An Autumn Tale is more cruel to me. He made so many stories about love because how can we live without someone who loves you? How can we live without loving somebody? Oh my god, it's very, very difficult.
You saw Chloe in the Afternoon when you were 20 years old and that film made a big impression on you. It made you write a letter to Rohmer to ask to be in his films.
Yes because Chloe in the Afternoon was exactly the same thing as I just said, it was about fidelity. And maybe you win more if you keep your fidelity to the other. The girl, who is played by Zou Zou, is lost. This girl who is demanding love, who needs love, she stays alone. I think she was afraid of being alone. And maybe Eric was too when he was younger.
Do you think he wrote women well? As more complex characters than other filmmakers?
I don't think so. Maybe we seem more complex, but I think he was too. I think he wanted to show the distance between him and the characters in his films. Because he was very shy, he didn't want to show himself. He was pretty sure it was better to hide behind a woman than behind a man.
Maybe women are more complex than men, maybe they are more awake, I don't know, maybe they are more strong. Maybe that’s what he loves about these characters. That the women are fighting in their heads between several ideas and up until the end, they're talking, they're talking, they're talking a lot as I'm doing, and then, the light comes. And sometimes, it’s not the light and they’re crying, but always something has been revealed to them, something has been rising up which they didn't know before and it appears to them. They know it now, after talking a lot. That’s the way Eric saw his women.