Les Âmes rivales is your first novel, but you’ve written (and directed) a number of movies. How did the transition from the camera to literature come about ?
RM : As far back as I can remember, I’ve always written. In a sense, a film is the result of a series of writings ; the script is only the first part. The shooting, directing, editing and mixing of a film are all a series of "rewrites" that are put off until later at the moment of the script’s conception. Whereas with a novel, nothing can be put off. Everything has to be said. The plot and dialogues are only tip of the iceberg ; the characters’ frames of mind and innermost thoughts are revealed to the reader. When you write for the camera, you have to be objective. When you write a novel, subjectivity wins out.
Exactly. And so what pushed you to write Les Âmes rivales as a novel rather than a film ?
RM : Ever since I was a small child, I’ve had the same recurring dream, with an abandoned amusement park along a boardwalk, a Victorian manor eaten away by climbing vines, and a suspension bridge in the snow. For years I wondered what these settings devoid of human life, these snatches of stories wanted from me. But try as I might to ignore them by creating other images with the camera, the dream was still there. And whenever fatigue kicked in, it would resurface. It is my wife who finally freed me from my obsession by convincing me that the story was perhaps meant to be written without a camera, with words as my only ally. And two years later, here’s the book !
At the onset of the project, did you seek to position yourself in any specific literary movement or genre ?
RM : No. I simply continued exploring my favorite themes. "MYSTERY" has always been my favorite word. Death, a beyond you can come back from, and defiance of the inexplicable are themes that are present in almost all of my work. And this novel is no exception. But what interests me most about literature is that it allows you to explore the story’s characters and their emotions in greater depth, and examine their reactions in the face of an intrigue that baffles them, as well as the choices they will have to make, even if it means standing in the way of their own destinies. Les Âmes rivales is supernatural thriller, but more importantly, it is the story of an impossible love that questions whether or not sentiments have an afterlife. Two men have battled for the love of the same woman since the dawn of time. One of them is a ghost. Does part of us survive after death ? And if yes, what does this part become ? Does it retain a memory of the feelings it had, or does it have to start all over from scratch ?
Let’s go back to your "past life" in the cinema. Your first film, The Passage, was a great success in France. Were you expecting that ?
RM : The success of The Passage took many people by surprise : a first film with Alain Delon, where a 25-year-old kid gets the chance to prove himself, it sounds like a fairytale... And yet it took me six years of pounding the pavement to get this first film made. I finished writing it when I was 19, and from 19 to 25, I knocked on doors, went to see people, harassed them, and lay siege to production companies. It was like an assault course... So no, I didn’t expect this success, but I firmly believed in the story’s legitimacy.
After that you left for the United States, where you worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. How did you land there ?
RM : It all started with my second film, “Père Noel.” I had written a dark story about a child’s encounter with a psychopathological Santa Claus, and thanks to the success of The Passage, I was able to make it. The film became a cult movie ; it won many awards and was sold all over the world, except in France. I couldn’t get it released in my own country... The closed circle of French cinema wouldn’t open its doors to me. However, Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg’s producer, spotted this off-the-wall film. She invited me to Hollywood, where I was asked to do the remake. The American dream has never been my dream. I simply wanted to work, and in France, I didn’t have this possibility. In the United States, it was the very opposite. I had proposals, work, and I encountered enthusiasm. I stayed there for ten years. During that time, I made movies for television and the cinema, and I continued writing a great deal, for myself and others.
Do you have any writing "masters," or in any case people who have influenced you ?
RM : Of course. British novelists such as Daphné du Maurier, French ones such as Pierre Boulle and Barjavel, and Americans such as Cornell Woolrich, Theodore Sturgeon and my very favorite, Pat Conroy. Generally speaking, these writers combine supernatural mystery and well-thought-out plots with characters who ooze humanity, all in a definitely literary style.
Is this novel a turning point for you ? Will you try to manage the two activities, filmmaker and writer, at once ?
RM : I would like to. Some writers dream of making movies. I always dreamed of writing novels. It’s the most wonderful way to tell a story. The most direct. There is not the slightest barrier between you and the reader. You don’t need to make the slightest concession. The reader is your accomplice. Not a spectator, rather a spect’actor. By lending you his imagination, he co-directs your story with you.