Robin Campillo: “The AIDS epidemic took me away from the cinema”

Meet the director of 120 beats per minute.

While Culturebox has just repost Between the wallswhich he co-wrote, it is Arte’s turn to devote its evening to Robin Campillo. In 2017, the director achieved great success thanks to his drama 120 beats per minutewhich will therefore be offered to the public at 8:55 p.m., followed by a documentary entitled Once upon a time… 120 beats per minute (see also on Arte.TV, as part of the Cannes Festival cycle organized by the channel). To wait, we are republishing our interview with the French filmmaker, originally published in issue 478 of First (July-August 2017).

Parsimonious director best known as a collaborator of Laurent Cantet, creator “by proxy” of the series Ghosts, Robin Campillo is the eternal marginal of French cinema. The Cannes triumph of 120 beats per minute, and his three Césars (best film, best editing and best screenplay), suddenly put him in the spotlight, at the center of attention, now watched, celebrated, desired. But does he really want it?

120 beats per minute is the tempo of house music, the preferred soundtrack of Act Up activists in the 90s and, indirectly, of Robin Campillo’s film which romances their journey. A particularly high rhythm (musical, heart rate). Three films in two decades, this is the pace at which Robin Campillo, illustrious unknown of French cinema, started late in his career and favored the truant paths. A particularly slow (cinematic) rhythm. Like what, we can like to live fast and work slowly. And to find yourself like this, at 54, back from a Cannes Festival which carried you in triumph (Grand Prix, standing ovation, festival-goers in tears, “Palme du cœur” awarded by the unanimous press, the president of the jury Pedro Almodovar upset in a press conference), waiting for the release of his film with the apprehension of a beginner (” Maybe we should have gone out just after Cannes? But it’s ok, August, it’s not that far away… “). Robin Campillo is worried, impatient, laughing (“ My previous film, Eastern Boys, got good reviews but nobody went to see it. This one might make entries. At last ! “), is happy to no longer be on the Croisette (“ after a while i struggle with all this exposure ”) and quickly rediscovered his outsider reflexes, never as comfortable as on the second step of the podium. ” Be a hair’s breadth from the Palme d’Or? I live it well. It protects me, finally, a price which is not nothing but which is not the supreme price either “.

The taste of Others
We would have given it to him, we, the Palme d’Or. Campillo may only have three lines on his CV in the “director” box (Ghosts in 2004, Eastern Boys in 2013, 120 BPM today), that does not prevent seeing his latest film as a sort of magnum opus, a great summary work. Its historical scope and its emotional power invite it, of course, but one can also instinctively detect in it a kind of digest themes of its author, a gateway to his world, a perfect key to understanding what guides his life and orients his practice of cinema. Because with Campillo, yes, there are things to understand, mysteries to clear up and keys to find. The exceptionally parsimonious pace at which he turns is an enigma, a real one, as is his manifest lack of ego, which led him to spend much of his career in the shadow of Laurent Cantet, for whom he wrote and /or mounted Human ressources, The timetable, Between the walls (his first “almost” Palme d’or, in 2008), To the south, and we move on. But many of the answers to the questions we ask ourselves are actually already in 120 BPM : the taste of others, the choice of plural rather than individual epics, the professional life that is put on hold when other winds carry you. Having entered Act Up in 1992, Campillo had taken a liking to group work ten years earlier, on the benches of film school: ” When I was young, I had this scholastic and somewhat old-fashioned idea of ​​the demiurgic artist, I thought that films came out of the minds of directors as they were. An extremely individualistic attitude. But on arriving at Idhec (ancestor of the Femis), I discover that creation is also linked to friendship, to the collective, to others in general. One of the big interests of this school is that we made our own films and that we were also technicians on other people’s films. So there was the idea that being a filmmaker meant working for cinema, at different levels. And this thing was perpetuated later with Laurent. Afterwards, sincerely, at one time, it may have annoyed me that people said to me: “what does it feel like to be an editor and move on to directing? “To be a screenwriter and move on to directing?” For me, cinema is a subject and I work on this subject. I’ve always had a director’s vision, even when I was editing. »
Considering cinema as a collective practice does not however explain the huge time gap between Campillo’s exit from Idhec, in the mid-1980s, and his very first mention in the credits of a film, The Sanguinaireswhich he rode for Laurent Cantet in 1997. The explanation is that the AIDS epidemic took me away from the cinema. I enter Act Up, a rather joyful activism, hyper liberating, where a handful of people attacked the invisibility of homosexuality, for example. I love Rohmer and Godard, but there’s not a lot of homosexuality in their films or those of their New Wave contemporaries… It seemed like this disease was a problem in cinema. Putting a condom in a love scene could kill the scene. There I said to myself – well, I didn’t say it to myself right away because as you will have understood I am very slow: to treat the epidemic well, we are going to have to summon very impure things that do not fit into this cinema of the old order. Many of these questions of the time are also found in 120 beats per minute. »

120 beats per minute: The palm of the heart [critique]

Ambiguous career
It will therefore require the friendly impulse of Cantet (” He helped me get back on my feet “) so that Robin Campillo gives up his food jobs and confronts the cinema (” I thought it was too late, that I missed the window “). Their first script signed together, The timetable, is a variation on the Romand affair, the story of a man who prefers to lie to those around him and invent an existence as a well-employed employee in all respects rather than getting up in the morning to go to work. Thinking about it today, it looks a lot like a self-portrait of Campillo as an idleness activist. Nope ? ” It’s definitely Laurent’s film that I’m closest to. I have an upset relationship at work, I am a child of the 70s, I thought younger that it was not worth working before 35 years old. In my films, I like to show people outside of work. One of my favorite movies is men on sunday. The title alone says it all… But this concern is still linked to the history of AIDS. Because when the tritherapies appeared, the question arose of the return to work of the sick. Except that for these people who had stopped their careers, fought in associations, done something else with their lives and had become precarious, it was complicated to go back to work in, say, a polling institute, to take an example that found in 120 BPM. I found that disturbing. »
From this “thwarted relationship” to work will be born an ethic of filmmaker refusing to shoot films in the chain, a refusal, for once very New Wave, to become a “professional of the profession”. ” I like having an ambiguous career. Because I can’t sit behind my computer and say to myself, “so, what am I going to say today? What’s the subject ? I need the subject to overwhelm me. To make cinema, you have to be haunted by something other than cinema. Carried by something. On AIDS, I spent two years writing a film, Drugly Days, and when I finished the script, I didn’t want to shoot it anymore. It tired me in advance to put it on stage. I felt the forcing of the script. And don’t force it… There are already a lot of films coming out in France “.

The ghost
The most striking example of Campillo’s “ambiguous” career and his shifting place on the chessboard of French cinema is undoubtedly Ghosts, his first film, a critical success in 2004, whose poetic-fantastic concept (the dead return among the living to resume their former life) will serve as the basis for a Canal series welcomed to cheers in 2012. The press s everyone is watching, Stephen King tweets his enthusiasm, the Americans make no less than two remakes of it, Fabrice Gobert (the director of the series) becomes the new hope of young French cinema. And Campillo remains forgotten in history. ” Not so forgottenhe relativizes. On the contrary, I think it served my career. Because people always remembered that it was inspired by my film. And suddenly I was congratulated for my concept. Forgetting that there had been Romero before me! And that the dead come out of their graves since the dawn of time! (Laughs) I didn’t want to be involved in the show, because I couldn’t figure out how to break down a fable into episodes, but it’s very rewarding to imagine being behind something that so many people seize. And suddenly, everything accelerates… The series makes headlines when Campillo, after ten years of reflection, releases his second feature, the impressive Eastern Boys, less padlocked than the first, which will, despite its failure in theaters, become a kind of “darling” in the middle of French art and essay. ” Many directors have discovered it thanks to the Césars box set (a DVD box sent by the Academy to the profession, where all the nominated films are compiled). I think they were seduced by the lyricism of the film, its excessive side, the scenes that go on forever. As a result, some wanted to work with me. » Rebecca Zlotowski (Planetarium), Alice Winocour (Maryland), Pascale Breton (Armorican Suite) in turn come knocking on Robin Campillo’s door to call on his services, transforming him into a luxury script-doctor. As a suddenly very busy man… Today, while 120 beats per minute is looming in theaters, everyone is already asking him what his next film will be. ” It is normal for the question to arise. A producer asks a director what he is working on. Or that one wonders if I will return to editing. I don’t know, maybe I’ll bring out this sci-fi scenario that I had put aside. The problem is that when I write, I very quickly want to listen to music, draw, play video games… I have to let the film come to me. “Still not a cinema professional, then?“Oh! Still not ! But you know, The timetable is a film that I find very sad. And I’m at least happy to be out of that, from this idea that work must necessarily be experienced as a curse. »

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