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Interview: Michaël Cohen

For some, lockdown brought on a level of uncertainty that stunted creativity. However for French writer/director (and actor) Michaël Cohen, the sense of urgency that came with the pandemic led to the creation of not one – but many projects. We fired a few questions his way on what it was like writing, directing, and acting in the midst of multiple lockdowns.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to? Beaucoup de musiques différentes.

French classics – Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel, Barbara, Léo Ferré. But also rock classics like The Doors, Rolling Stones, Beatles as well as a lot of film music such as Ennio Morricone, Phillipe Sarde, Michel Legrand, Georges Delerue.

Des classiques français. Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel, Barbara, Léo Ferré. Des classiques anglo-saxons, Les Doors, Rolling Stones, Beatles et beaucoup de musiques de films, Ennio Morricone, Phillipe Sarde, Michel Legrand, Georges Delerue.

Did music affect you cinematically at all? I mean, did the music you listened to affect how you saw film or how you told stories in any way?

It’s impossible to separate them. Music influences our life in general. Our love stories, our friendships, our joys, our sorrows – it has influenced creation since the dawn of time. It could be a memory as strong as the images in a movie. For example, the music of Morricone from Once Upon a Time in America is inseparable from the emotion and shock I felt the first time I saw it.

La musique influence notre vie en général. Nos histoires d’amour, nos amitiés, nos joies, nos chagrins. Et bien sûr, influence la création depuis la nuit des temps. Elle est parfois un souvenir aussi fort que les images d’un film. Par exemple, la musique de Morricone d’il était une fois en Amérique est indissociable de l’émotion et du choc que j’ai ressenti la première fois que je l’ai vu.

KESTA KESTA by Dani ft JoeyStarr was the first music video you directed, correct? How did directing a music video differ from directing a film?

Yes, this is the first time that I have made a music video. But I wrote and directed it like a movie.

Oui, c’est la première fois que je réalise un clip. Mais je l’ai écrit et réalisé comme un film.

Can you tell us about the concept behind the video?

I wanted to pay homage to the Parisian nightlife, through two icons of French music. It’s a long sequence shot in which Dani and Joey Starr move together through different situations, different times, and different moods.

J’ai voulu rendre un hommage à la nuit parisienne, à travers à deux icônes de la chanson française. C’est un long plan séquence dans lequel Dani et Joey Starr évoluent dans des situations différentes, des époques différentes, des humeurs différentes.

What is so special about this song? 

KESTA KESTA is both a rock and tender song. The voices of these two artists blend and respond beautifully. The song talks as much about them as about us. Dani makes us want to dance, sing and even talk to each other …

C’est une chanson rock et tendre. Les voix de ces deux artistes se mélangent et se répondent magnifiquement. Elle parle autant d’eux que de nous. Elle nous donne envie de danser, de chanter et même de se parler…

How do you think age affects art? How do we change as artists over time? How do you see your own art changing over time?

I have the feeling that an artist talks about the same themes all her or his life. But over time, his way of doing it becomes more precise, more refined, more impactful. Over time, we get rid of the artifices and we indulge a lot more.

J’ai le sentiment qu’un artiste parle toute sa vie du même thème. Mais avec le temps, sa façon de le faire devient plus précise, plus épuré, plus percutante. Avec le temps, on se débarrasse des artifices, on se livre beaucoup plus.

You are an actor, writer, and director. Which comes first? Why?

I started out with a desire to be an actor almost as an instinct for survival. And then very quickly, writing and directing took precedent. I always saw myself as a witness and I had the innate need to to relate the things I absorbed that were around me.

J’ai commencé par un désir d’être acteur, comme une évidence, comme un instinct de survie, et puis très vite, l’écriture et la mise en scène se sont imposées. J’avais besoin de raconter les choses que j’absorbai autour de moi, je me suis toujours considéré comme un témoin.

What is your preferred vehicle of expression? Music Videos, Film Shorts, or Feature Films?

I like anything that tells a story. Anything that causes emotion. The vehicle comes second.

J’aime tout ce qui raconte une histoire. Tout ce qui provoque une émotion.

You managed to shoot several films in lockdown. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

The period we have just experienced has changed our lives, our perception of the world and of ourselves, and our relationship to others. It is important to bear witness to these upheavals. I am in the process of making a film written during the first confinement. A love story that is born during this global chaos. I also played in a film directed by Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr, produced by Edelweiss Productions (with Executive Producer Victoria Lacoste who also produced the music video Kesta Kesta). The film is called “Les Indociles” and tells the story of people trapped in a hotel during confinement and whose destinies are intertwined.

La période que l’on vient de vivre a bouleversé nos vies, notre perception du monde, de nous même, et notre rapport aux autres. C’est important de témoigner sur ces bouleversements. Je suis en train de réaliser un film écrit pendant le premier confinement. Une histoire d’amour qui nait pendant ce chaos mondial. J’ai également joué dans un film réalisé par Pascal Arnold et jean-marc Barr produit par edelweiss Production (Victoria Lacoste qui a également produit le clip Kesta Kesta). Le film s’appelle « Les indociles » et raconte l’histoire de personnes coincés dans un hotel pendant le confinement et dont les destins vont s’entremêlés.

What is the biggest challenge you faced creatively during lockdown?

The greatest difficulty was shooting under the permanent threat of the virus which could interrupt filming at any moment. It’s complicated to make a film keeping a distance, especially for the actors … But we have adapted, we will always adapt. Creation has always been able to adapt to the world.

La plus grande difficulté était de tourner malgré la menace permanente du virus qui pouvait à tout moment interrompre les tournages. C’est compliqué de faire un film en gardant des distances, surtout pour les acteurs… Mais on s’est adapté, on s’adaptera toujours, la création a toujours su s’adapter au monde

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am finishing directing my film “We Are at War” (also produced by Edelweiss Productions).

Je termine de réaliser mon film « Nous sommes en guerre » (également produit par Edelweiss production).

Where will we be able to find it?

We don’t know yet… Maybe in the cinema, maybe on a platform. We decided to just jump in and do things right away, as though it were an emergency. This urgency was necessary to bear witness as closely as possible to what is going on in our lives.

Peut-être au cinéma, peut-être sur une plateforme. On a décidé de faire les choses sans attendre, comme une urgence. Cette urgence est nécessaire pour témoigner au plus près de nos vies.

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