From his first feature film, Something Organic (1998), a low-budget film shot in 15 days, to The Beast (2023), which is due to be released in Quebec early next year, in through Saint Laurent (2014), his most expensive film and greatest career success, Bertrand Bonello remains an essential figure in cinema. He is recognized for his formal research, the audacity of his staging and his desire to create in complete freedom.
“For me, it’s unthinkable to tackle a script if I don’t have an idea of direction, of form. What matters is not only the subject, the story, the characters, it is what the form of the film will be. When I start to have the shape of the film in mind, then I can start writing,” confides the director I met the day before his master class.
“I hate the term master class because it puts you in a position where you’re supposed to know things, whereas for me, I really have the impression that the more I advance, the less I know. I prefer the word encounter. »
Nothing predestined Bertrand Bonello to become a filmmaker. A classically trained musician – he also writes the music for his films – he loved cinema “like everyone else”. It was only at the age of 24, while he was a studio musician and accompanied artists on tour, including Carole Laure and Françoise Hardy, that he questioned his future and decided to explore new territory. .
“I threw myself into it and fell in love with cinema and making films,” says the self-taught filmmaker. My daughter is studying film at Concordia and I see the nature of the classes; we learn things technically and theoretically, we learn the history of cinema. Perhaps the fact of not having gone to school did not shape me and gave me the freedom to create. »
It was as a teenager, during the golden age of video clubs, that Bertrand Bonello’s interest in cinema, particularly genre cinema, began. Without questioning the quality of the films he rented, he watched a lot of horror films from the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as those by George Romero, David Cronenberg and Dario Argento.
“Rewatching these films later, I realized that they were great directors and that they had a very first-degree approach to genre cinema. It was a way of portraying their fear of the world through a cinema of fear. I find that genre cinema has two virtues. First, it is made for staging; there are no good genre films without good direction. Then, it allows us to say things quite directly about the state of the world by using biases and metaphors. »
At only 55 years old, Bertrand Bonello is about to receive a Louve d’or for his entire career and to be the subject of a retrospective: “It sure feels a little weird, but as I begin the retrospective, I feel that it is the end of a cycle. Something Organic is a very small film that I shot in Montreal, then I shot all my films in Paris, except Zombi Child where I went to Haiti. I have made very French films, including Saint Laurent and L’Apollonide – brothels in the 19th century are very Parisian. I think I really toured Paris, something French. »
The other element which marks the end of a cycle for the filmmaker is The Beast, an anticipation film mixed with horror told in three parts which stars Léa Seydoux and George MacKay. While he tells the story of an actress wanting to purify her DNA, the filmmaker reflects on artificial intelligence. When he was writing the script, he had no idea that the subject would take up so much space in the news.
“I started writing The Beast four or five years ago, but I stopped to shoot Coma and Zombi Child because the film was very hard to write, very hard to finance. He experienced a lot of scheduling problems because of COVID-19, then there was the death of Gaspard Ulliel, who was to play there. I think that The Beast is a bit of a culmination of many things that I have done. It is a sum, in fact, which closes something. What next?…I don’t know. »