It is in full whirlwind promotional of 120 Beats per Minute Robin Campillo that we have been able to steal a moment to Arnaud Valois.
For the third film, Grand jury prize at the Cannes film festival, and a real slap in the face for writing, he shares the poster with Nahuel Perez Biscayart and embodies Nathan, a new recruit of the association Act Up. Even if it is with this film that the general public can discover his face, Arnaud Valois already has five feature films behind him. In 2006 he played under the direction of Nicole Garcia in According to Charlie, then at Josiane Balasko in Client and André Techiné in the daughter of The RER.
It is an actor in the image of his character in 120 Beats per minute, soft and the feet are well anchored in the earth, which has agreed to be entrusted with a lot of generosity on his return to the cinema, its role and its collaboration with Robin Campillo. Meeting.
NOTE : It is strongly recommended to have seen the movie before you read the interview, this last dealing with accuracy of important moments.
Ten years have nearly elapsed between The daughter of the RER by André Techiné (2009) and the shooting of 120 Beats per minute. How were you approached for this film ? I guess you had another life ?
Yes, in fact, since 2012, I had completely buried the idea of making a feature film. I had at this time twenty-five years, and the game of castings, of the expectation of denial was getting harder to live. I was beginning to feel some sadness and frustration in my life. I didn’t want to get there. I wanted to achieve so I decided to build me elsewhere, and I found fulfillment in my job (editor’s NOTE massage therapist-she is a relaxation therapist). When the casting director contacted me, I came back just in Thailand for my graduation and I started my training as she is a relaxation therapist. She explained to me that she was preparing a movie for Robin Campillo and she immediately asked if I was still an actor, something to which I responded no !
But finally you have hung up…
Yes, it was malignant. When I explained my business, she convinced me to come to trials like this, to entertain me, since I was able to manage my time as I wanted to. She talked to me about the subject, obviously it touched me a lot but I wanted to protect myself from a too great desire to make this film, in case it wouldn’t work. So I accepted but I decided not to read the script… I went to the trials, hands in pockets. No investment, no disappointment if it didn’t work. It’s been five years that I did not play the comedy, I really took it as an opportunity to have a good time, but not more.
It is finally well past.
Yes ! But up to an hour before the hearing, I failed to cancel twenty times. On arriving I had a trac huge and I’m really wondering what I was doing there… But another actor was scheduled to give me a reply, I couldn’t cancel, so I went there and I took a crazy fun.
Everything is played very fast so ?
Yes and no. I was reminded of the next morning, which is quite rare in a process of casting, Robin Campillo wanted to meet me the following week to redo the same scene. I was very intimidated to meet him, even though at the time I hadn’t yet seen Eastern Boy and I didn’t know his work fully. We pass the same scene, it’s going very well. And from there it is gone for twelve weeks of casting. Change of scene, change of partners, Robin wanted to have pairs that work perfectly. The characters were castés, one after the other, trying out different combinations. After meeting Nahuel (partner in the film), I finally decided to read the scenario. I devoured it in an hour and what I feared happened, I had to make this film !
You had finally caught up to the game?
At that moment I began to be afraid. I entrevoyais the risk of getting number two, as it happened to me on a lot of projects and that the role passes to me eventually under the nose. Robin is thinking always and I felt something close in on me, I was going over ten years back in the queue, I was sleeping more, I was very wrong, the process seemed interminable. I stopped everything to preserve myself.
And the next day, Robin asked to see me, he announced to me that it ended there… I agreed except that he did not speak to me, but the casting… I had finally chosen ! I have not been happy immediately, it was necessary that I make, the three and a half months of casting had been nervously exhausting. But after a few minutes I understood the magnitude of what was going to happen.
You incarnes so the character of Nathan. What could you tell us of him ?
Nathan is a young man who has experienced things quite cumbersome in the past, we discover in the film. At the time he decided to join Act Up, one imagines that he has seen action on tv and that it generates in him a sort of click. He wants to take part in the fight, he wants to commit certainly because at this moment, he is finally ready to make peace with his past. He is at an age where he can assume the events in the past, or rather where it is ready to look them in the eyes.
When it comes to Act Up, Nathan is pretty quiet, he stands a little apart from the group. Indeed it is the only member of the association whose serology is negative, which places it right from the start in a different dimension of the other characters that they live day after day, the spread of the virus.
Nathan is a bit introverted at the start but it is a real force in the group, which allows him to expand, to take themselves in hand and this is not a coincidence that he falls in love with Sean who is the figurehead of the group, he is the leader, Nathan, is seduced by its entirety.
Despite illness, Sean is very bright at the time of the meeting, he has in him a true pulse of life.
Yeah, I love the scene in the high school. When Sean embraces Nathan. He did that just to provoke a little girl, for him it is a gesture like that without consequences, but it is at this point that the story truly begins and that Nathan falls in love with him. Even if he was waiting for this kiss for a long time, the way in which it happens the boards completely.
In the film the character of Sean is central, yet in the image it is Nathan, who starts the film with a cross-field subjective. It is to him that the recruiter of the association address and it is on her eyes facing the camera as the story closes. It is passed to the other side of the frame, it is his story to him…
This is the story of all the characters, through the eyes of Nathan. Even if some are more present than others. Nathan is with Sean but it is Sean who captures the attention right from the start.
There is actually a whole palette of characters with very strong personalities around the two main characters. It is a true film group and at the same time, there is constantly a link between the private – the individual and the group, as if it was the juxtaposition of individual stories that fed the collective. The fight of Act Up is an ideological struggle, but it is especially a struggle embodied.
Quite. There is the incarnation in the body, the incarnation in the expressions and the idea that it is a multiplicity of individuals who form the group, and the group has a true identity through the identities of each etc… It is very alive, it is a magma. It is a dispute, it is rabiboche, this layer with the one or with the other… These are people who are together because they’re all going to die, and it is this that gives them their strength. The urgency of the end, which sometimes unites all the world and suddenly a spat doesn’t matter.
The disease has a magnifying glass effect on the urgency to live ?
Exactly, they put all their forces in what they have left to live. They have nothing more to do nothing, in any way, they are not considered around of them there is the contempt for and ignorance of the society in which they are to benches. They have nothing more to lose. There’s this scene in the movie where Sean receives a letter that tells him that he will finally receive his benefits with disabilities so that it is already too late, it is at the end. This scene shows that taken care of, when they were held, were indecently long…
In the film, as to the association, there are characters who arrive, that we accompany and disappear, and then others arrive… It is a flow of permanent life in which one feels that one is passing…
This was the reality of Act Up. People were coming to the association and then one day they saw more and received a death. Or other members only came when the disease became too visual, and died a few months later isolated. It was a day to day thing to see someone two, three, four times and then learn of his death. This is what was meant Robin with the character of Jeremy. It attaches, the person takes the place and then one day, she is no longer there.
There is also the character of Marco. It is a character that mark. He is very young and with him one enters fully into the projection. What is happening to Sean and the others, it is what he will live in for some time. It is very hard… Marco form a pair with her mother, moreover, mothers are very important in the film. They too are part of the battle.
When Nathan announces to the mother of Sean that he is dead, she responds, ” already ?”. It is chilling. Robin does not compromise, he plunges us into the reality of strict abnormal for a mother to lose a son and a reaction that is not expected necessarily. But how to react ?
And then the members of the association arrives, it is the meeting of the biological family and the family that we are.
Yes Act Up it is a family of the heart.
Strangely, there are no fathers. Where are they ?
It is true that there are no fathers….It may be that the cause of the homosexual is also linked to the struggles of women. I find that when the gay rights advance, the right of women ahead… And vice versa. There is always a correlation strong enough between the two.Random dramatic timing, the film arrived at Cannes at the time, or we find the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya.
It reminds us that horror is still at the gates of Europe. In the 90s, it must be remembered that because of the disease, some people wanted the disappearance of the homosexual. This is not so old as this, it should not be forgotten.
To return to the scene of the death of Sean. It is euthanasia. Just before Nathan does it injects a substance Sean says to him ” be careful not to bite you “. This sentence sounds like a passage out of hand : I die but make sure to stay alive. Sean allows Nathan to continue, he releases it…
Surprisingly, no break ever, the question of this scene of euthanasia, yet it is to my sense the most shocking. At Cannes, the French press talked a lot about political commitment, the lives of the sick while international saw rather the film as a love story, but no one had yet addressed the question of euthanasia, this is the first interview where this is discussed.
Perhaps it is because this scene is still blurred. We suppose the euthanasia but it is not certain. There is not a dialogue or a plan that begins this act. We might as well believe that Nathan injects a medicine and that there is an overdose… Or even that Sean dies naturally…This ambivalence is voluntary ?
At the beginning, there had to be a scene with a dealer who brings the product, but eventually Robin did not wanted it, he preferred to leave things like that. He doesn’t want to take the viewer by the hand and tell him “hey I’ll show you what you have to understand,” he leaves open all the possible…
This scene is handled in a special way, it is very fast and it does not fit into the pathos because it was immediately another scene comes back, this is to my sense the most beautiful scene of the film. Sean is dead-but what are the considerations to which daily occupy the minds, we talk about coffee, what is there to eat in the fridge and already the next action activist… Finally, life resumes its rights, instantly, the death is part of it but it is the life that wins…
Yes, it’s true… This is it, life goes on.
There is a notion of reports in the mirror between Nathan and Sean, one dark and the other is revealed.
I asked myself the question of the place of Nathan with Sean. Is the disease of Sean was a prison, is what he felt compelled to help trapped or is it that he really wanted to play nurse… I left all the possibilities open. For Robin, it was rather a deal between them, as if since Nathan was his last story he was to accompany him until the end… But Robin was very open about this issue… I believe that Nathan repair his past. He wants to, this time, be at the rendez-vous.
In the background, the film not only speaks of homosexuality, it speaks of sexuality in a broad sense and love…
The film is ten movies in one. This is a film that speaks of love, of education, of history, it is also a film tape, which speaks of the disease, it is a film that is preventive, social, almost documentary….It is multiple.
The movie comes out in a few weeks… (editor’s NOTE : interview conducted during the month of July) What does one feel at the idea of wearing a message that exceeds basically fiction ? Aids, the struggle of the sick, the weight of the pharmaceutical industry, prevention, what are the questions ultra-contemporary and timeless ?
When I read the scenario, I immediately wondered why we hadn’t done the film earlier. Why he had to wait twenty years after the fact to write a film like that. Not for a moment have I thought about any risk. Maybe also because I was no longer a comedian… But if I had proposed to pass the tests for a comedy or something too light I will not go. This is the theme that pushed me, the side committed. Leave to come to the cinema I wanted to come back with something strong, a film that prints something, and that can carry people. From the reading we could see everything, feel the rhythm, the time that suspends and accelerates…It was very visual and I knew that I was right.
120 BEATS PER MINUTE is truly a film of characters, the dialogues, the visual presence has a brilliant and fascinating. There are these particles of dust, or the Seine, bloody dawn…
And then the apparitions, ghosts of lovers at the discretion of the stories of the characters… Welcome to Robin Campillo. What it does, it’s never been seen in the French cinema.
What memories have you of working with Robin Campillo ?
Robin is a master. He has a vision that is extremely clear on what he wants, everything is very written, there is no improvisation, yet it leaves a lot of freedom to the actors during the shooting. He shoots with multiple cameras to capture everything that can happen naturally. We are very directed, but there is no limit to what can come. Discovering the movie I even wondered at what point some of the images had been shot… Robin arrives to capture the details that we miss.
This direction flirts with the documentary, especially in the scenes of the amphitheatre. What is the place of the actor in this type of approach ?
The actor is nothing without the director. Obviously the actor has a certain power, and it is he who is in the picture, but it’s still the film and the director’s vision. It is he who performs all the preliminary work in the shadows, the most difficult work. And then, it is he that chooses his actor. As for me, I prefer to be led, I’m not an actor who to me thrives on the strength of proposal, I need to put myself at the service of the vision of someone. As an actor it is very fulfilling to know exactly what the director expects, paradoxically it is in this context where I feel the most freedom and the most confidence. I know where it should go, then my mind is totally serene and available.
As soon as your first film in 2006, you got already the steps alongside Nicole Garcia, today the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes. Were you in the same state of mind as the first time ?
You could almost say that 120 BEATS PER MINUTE is my first film, because it is a leading role… This Cannes had nothing to do with the first. I have eleven more years, today I am no longer the same person, I know who I am, I am very fulfilled in what I do, I have not found an activity of consolation, my job in the city is my base. I lived in Cannes this year as something wonderful, incredible, but I’ve tried to look at things a little more wide… I tell myself that if the film was as he came back with this film, with a lot of luck and a lot of luck, so this would be the icing on the cake, but I don retomberai not in the through and the frustrations of before, which are inevitable in this business. Today I am promoting the movie and I respond with great pleasure to the interviews. I get that people have thought of the film, their analyses, which allow you to push the reflection, it is very rewarding and I take it all as a gift.
What is it like to know that during the festival, Xavier Dolan has tweeted to support the movie ?
It’s been already thinking of the sequel ?
We were much questioned at Cannes to know if we were ready for the Césars, the revelations, best actor… I prefer not to ask myself the question. We have already won lots of awards at Cannes and was not expecting it. This adventure is already amazing. There is the return to the cinema with a film carried by grace, such pride to defend this topic, this message to multiple, and the happiness of having worked with Robin Campillo. It is an adventure film, but it is above all an experience of a lifetime extremely strong. Since the shooting, we are all very connected, we’re talking about almost every day… We will be certainly marked for life by this movie, so if the film won other awards, I’ll be happy and I will make party of the festival but I’m not running after it because making this movie, I was already filled.
Finally, I would like to make a proposal of slogan. In the film, there are several scenes of the amphitheatre, during which the group thinks in punchlines, in particular for the gay pride or the display campaigns, these scenes often lend themselves to smile. There is a slogan that came to mind, which I think I could summarize my vision of the film : “We claim the right to enjoy, without dying,” what do you think ?
(Laughs)… Ah yes, that one is not in the film ! It would have been a very good slogan. Congratulations, you have been able to be part of Act Up …
Our review of 120 Beats per Minute