Arnaud Desplechin loves talking film so much he doesn’t only talk about his own films. The French director (of "Kings and Queen" and "A Christmas Tale") is in New York to promote “My Golden Days,” a prequel-of-sorts to his 1996 film “My Sex Life…or How I Got into an Argument,” visiting two of its characters, Paul and Esther (Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Devos, though only Amalric appears), when they were young and first in love (and now played by Quentin Dolmaire and Lou Roy-Lecollinet).
But he just saw “De Palma,” Noah Baumbach and Jake Kasdan’s doc about filmmaker Brian De Palma, and he gushes about the minimalist way it’s been shot and constructed. Soon we’re talking about Woody Allen, and it’s a miracle we quickly steered things back to his own (excellent) new film.
De Palma is someone who’s sometimes written off as trashy, but he has a strong critical fanbase. Are there other filmmakers you think are underrated?
Woody Allen. For years, decades he was underestimated. Film buffs are often half-and-half with him. But what he achieved with 12 films in 12 years between the ’80s and ’90s was just amazing — films like “Another Woman,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Zelig.” Some American critics are reluctant to like him — they think he’s too New York, too Caucasian, too whatever. Now we can see people really taking him seriously. Ten years ago I felt lonely when I was discussing Woody Allen with American critics.
Even some of his films from the last 20 years are very interesting.
I love “Deconstructing Harry.” “Magic in the Moonlight” is a good film. “Blue Jasmine” — I know American critics loved it because of the performances, which are stunning. But I saw it again on TV a few weeks and [shrugs]. “Magic in the Moonlight” was better.
Even Woody Allen is hard on Woody Allen. He openly disparages his own work.
There is a trend that I love in cinema, where people who are passionate about it say the same thing, which is silly, which is: It was so much better before. The cinema was silent, and soon as sound and dialogue came in, people said cinema was dead. Then came [Ingmar] Bergman, and Bergman said, “What I do is nothing compared to [Victor] Sjostrom or [Carl Theodor] Dreyer.” Then you come to Woody Allen and he says, “What I’m doing is nothing compared to Bergman.” It’s always about complaining that things are the same — but actually, cinema is always different. I love that people always complain that cinema is always done, and then it finds a way to reinvent itself with each generation.
Onto “My Golden Years”: What first inspired you to return to the characters in “My Sex Life,” specifically in their youth?
The genesis of it was this idea of doing a prequel. “My Sex Life” begins with the narrator saying Paul and Esther have been together for 11 years and they’ve never really meshed. I wanted to know what was the beginning of that story, and explore this mystery about why they don’t match and yet are a perfect match.
I also wanted to dig up this character of Paul. I remember I talked to Mathieu [Amalric] about it during the funeral of Alain Resnais. Mathieu was one of the actors carrying the coffin. It wasn’t a gloomy day; it was a glorious day, because Alain had just made a great film [“The Life of Riley”], and Mathieu was so proud to have done films with him. I asked him if he would come back to Paul. Twenty years ago we had invented a sort of hero and we didn’t realize it. I know he’s not a hero like Superman or Batman, but he is a superhero in his own way. Plus, the idea of doing a prequel was fun. The word “prequel” gave me energy in the writing process.