The Review/Interview/

Film Can "Exterminate the Dictatorship of Reality"

An interview with director Denis Côté

by
Mar 15, 2016

Montreal auteur filmmaker Denis Côté is, by his own admission, "allergic to conventional filmmaking." His latest, Boris sans Béatrice, is playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox starting this Friday, March 18. It was the only Canadian film in the main competition at the Berlin Film Festival, and it tells the story of successful entrepreneur Boris, who is forced to take a hard look at his achievements and certainties following the sudden appearance of a stranger.


BORIS SANS BÉATRICE IS VISUALLY ARRESTING, BOTH IN TERMS OF THE FRAMING OF VARIOUS SHOTS AND SPECIFICALLY DENIS LAVANT’S BROCADED JACKET. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VISUAL STYLE OF THE FILM AND ITS STORY?

We felt the need to match the visual style of the film with the character’s disciplined lifestyle and mental rigidity. To achieve that, we agreed on a very frontal cinematography, without any shadows or chiaroscuro. It had to look like a glossy magazine cover. The film had to stay away from the usually low budget and humble aesthetics. It had to be be authoritarian or spectacular. Boris can’t hide, he’s always facing camera in a brutal light.

THE MALE PROTAGONIST OF BORIS SANS BÉATRICE IS INCREDIBLY WEALTHY AND PRIVILEGED. IS THE AUDIENCE SUPPOSED TO SYMPATHIZE WITH BORIS? OR, TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY, DID YOU SYMPATHIZE WITH HIM WHEN YOU WERE CREATING THE WORLD OF THE FILM?

That is one important challenge of the film: identification or empathy towards the character. It’s very hard obviously. With James Hyndman, we discussed a lot about the overall evolution of the character. Maybe for a while the viewer feels he’s very far away from him but we had to find some sort of alchemy to make sure he’s not just ‘"one arrogant rich 1% dude."

In the end, despite the social class in which the film takes place, I genuinely think Boris’ character is living something universal. The film is simple, it’s about a person being visited by doubt. I had to sympathize with him instead of making another film where a bourgeois character has to be crushed to pieces. I’m staying at his human level, trying to understand his quest or his battle with the right amount of fun and irony. I’m with him instead of playing a cynical game. Boris is not a dying insect we watch in a glass jar. He’s one of us, like it or not.

DO YOU THINK BRUCE LABRUCE WOULD MAKE A GOOD PRIME MINISTER?

Haha! With all due respect to Bruce, I will have to say no. When you have the chance to have the PM of Canada in one of your films, you better find the right casting for it. Call it a statement, an inside joke or whatever, Bruce was the man, period.

IN YOUR INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN KELLY, YOU ASKED WHY THERE IS NO ENGLISH-CANADIAN WAVE TO EQUAL THE POPULARITY OF QUEBECOIS CINEMA. WHAT’S THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION, IN YOUR OPINION?

That’s one hell of a mystery, honestly. I have a lot of admiration for Kazik Radwanski and... I’d love to name somebody else who is definitely a name to watch but...

It’s very condescending to say that Canadian filmmakers are envious of what’s going on in Quebec but what can I say. We were able to nurture strong authors, international recognition, many box office successes. Please help me understand the Canadian abyss: is it cinephilia? Schools? Curiosity? Where are the strong original voices?

AS A FORMER FILM CRITIC, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU WATCH FILMS? AND ARE YOU ABLE TO WATCH (OR CREATE) YOUR OWN FILMS WITH A CRITIC’S EYE?

There’s no such thing as a filmmaker with a film critic’s eye. You are either a filmmaker with a personal voice or a film critic with knowledge and a sense of perspective. I cannot work as a filmmaker thinking about, or worse, considering the critical response to my work. It’s ridiculous and abstract.

You've got to stay true to yourself and after nine feature films now I sincerely hope I have my own signature. I don’t watch films for entertainment. I watch films that I need to watch to secure or amplify my own vision or work as a filmmaker. So most of the time, fortunately or unfortunately, I will narrow the field of interest of what I want to watch. Film critics need to see everything in order to have a more complete view (and opinion) of what is being produced at a certain point in time or in a country. We have the luxury to be much more close minded. Watching seven times the same Pasolini film will feed me more than watching every comedy or animation film produced by Hollywood in 2016.

COMPLETE THIS SENTENCE: FILM HAS THE POWER TO…

...transcend or exterminate the dictatorship of reality.