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Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005

Focusing on body language

In France Patrice Chereau is known as much for his stage productions as for his movies -- at 61 years old, he has written 12 plays, directed six operas, and his filmography includes such big-budget extravaganzas as "La Reine Margot" and the recent, much-talked about "Intimacy." Chereau says he values all three outlets for his prolific talents, but that film allows him a certain freedom in depicting the human body.

News photo
Director Patrice Chreau while in Tokyo to promote "Son frere"

Certainly the body was a central concern in his recent works; "Intimacy" showed a middle-aged couple plunging headlong into an affair, their no-longer beautiful bodies highlighted in the grip of desire. With "Son frere," sex is not an issue, but the body remains the centerpiece and Chereau's camera lingers over details like skin on an extended arm, the contours of a back, palms and eyelashes and fingernails. Chereau, on a promotional visit to Tokyo, talks of his fascination with the body and how he expressed it.

Do you think the human body is beautiful?

Absolutely. Even when they're not young, not beautiful, not slim, not healthy. The body in all its forms is one of the most beautiful things on earth. And I assure you, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I understand you ordered Bruno Todeschini to lose 12 kg.

Yes. But I was, of course, concerned about his health. I told him to lose that amount of weight over a four-month period and then to gain it back during the course of shooting the film. So we shot the last scenes first. That way, Bruno [was] able to eat and gain weight gradually so that he looked relatively well in the end, when we shot the beginning scenes of a still semi-healthy Thomas.

Are you a demanding director?

Yes I am. I push my actors out to the very edge of the precipice. I did that with "Intimacy" and of course with "Son frere." At the same time, I'm always aware of how much the actors are willing to give -- I never ask for more than they are prepared to deliver. And they are almost always ready to deliver a whole lot. I have a lot of love for the actors I work with, and they know it.

Is "Son frere" meant to be a statement about modern medicine, even perhaps an indictment?

Most definitely no. What I wanted to draw was the figure of a man who just gave up trying to get better. I wanted to draw that gradual collapse of the will, and the body. I believe that the hospital is a place one goes to recover. I believe it, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to shoot the film in a real hospital. "Son frere" is the story of a man who no longer wants to live, and how his body looks in the process.

In spite of everything Luc has done for him, Thomas gives up. Was love not enough?

No it wasn't . . . I find that love rarely changes people as drastically as the movies would have us believe. And it's not my style to be passionate, to be verbose, to be overly emotional. That would be fake. Real people are much more matter of fact.

Can you tell us about the shaving of Thomas' body? In many ways it's mindful of Michelangelo's "Pieta."

Ah yes, a lot of people have said that to me, but I didn't really intend it like that. Although that scene was the most crucial in the film. You can say I wanted to make "Son frere" mainly because I wanted to shoot that scene. It was just very important for me. As for "Pieta," during the time I spent in the hospital I looked at many patients lying on their beds, and they all looked like Pietas to me. There's nothing like a hospital to show the body in quite that way.

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