Deadly Games : Dial Code Santa Claus
Taken from the dossier produced by Alain Schlockoff, l’Ecran Fantastique, January 1990
After a number of unfulfilled expectations, you begin to think that the French cinema will never make a successful fantasy film. Then, out of the blue, one film revives all those thwarted hopes. The film, not greatly appreciated in Paris but a huge success in the rest of the country, far from perfect but nonetheless interesting and innovative, was The Passage. Alain Delon agreed to support the first film by a director aged 25. And he was right to. For, three years on, the hopes are confirmed. With 3615 Code Pere Noel, René Manzor provides us with a total success, a fantasy thriller worthy of the best American productions.
When did you first get the idea for 3615 Code Pere Noel and what were your motivations or sources of inspiration ?
The thing that astounded me, after The Passage, was the crazy amount of mail that I received, incredible letters from people that the film had a beneficial effect on. People on the verge of suicide and who, after seeing the film by chance in a provincial theatre, had discovered a new taste for life. Letters from parents too, who had lost their children and who, believing in communication with the other world, had stayed in touch with them. I felt like answering all these letters. Instead of doing so in writing, I chose to do it through a new film. This is what inspired me to make 3615 Code Pere Noel.
Tell us about your childhood...
I was fully conscious of my childhood. I wasn’t a cork on a stream, floating accidentally towards adulthood. I knew that what I was experiencing was good and that it wouldn’t last but I wanted it to last as long as possible. When the turning point came, I experienced things in this very way : I was the cocoon child of someone who was a stranger to me and who had fed on me - the adult that I was going to become - and who was devouring a little more of me each day. It was a fight to the death between me and myself. It’s this duel that I relate in 3615 Code Pere Noel and so, necessarily, it takes on a fantastic tone.
That turning point in childhood when the child starts to asks questions about the existence of the imagination, the marvellous and death. I analyse all that but by using "entertainment" because when I go to the cinema I don’t want to be bored. The film can be taken at face value as a stimulating thriller but in fact, beneath the surface, there are ideas much stronger than simple entertainment.
Even so, you are aware that you have given the film a sort of "horror" atmosphere ?
It’s the nightmarish aspect that situations can take on when you’re a child. For me, this is a film about fear, real fear, the fear of the dark that never leaves you, even after you grow up. You simply have to turn off the light for it to come flooding back. You try to be logical but the fear is there, you remember it. As children, we have all seen monsters in the dark on chair where our clothes were. Well, I’ve used that. The film never once scares you with violence or gore. That’s what makes the fear so striking.
Let’s return to the notion of "entertainment". The remarkable thing about 3615 Code Pere Noel, in addition to its theme, is the perfection of its style. The technical progress compared to The Passage is enormous...
I don’t view it as progress. If I had used technical "fireworks" in The Passage, that would have harmed the main message : the story of the love between a father and his son. 3615 Code Pere Noel needed stronger direction to highlight the child’s gaze. In fact, my task was to take the eyes of a child and to place them in each viewer’s sockets ! In The Passage, my role was to be as discreet as possible as a director in order to serve the writer. For me, the former must serve the latter.
Where the château interiors built in a studio to fit the camera movements ?
Absolutely, even to fit the choice of lenses. I also used trompe-l’il constructions from time to time to get across the child’s point of view. When you’re a child, everything seems huge to you. The first feeling that you have when you return to the house where you lived as a child is that everything is so small. The choice of lenses was very important there.
How do you work with your actors ?
I set out with the idea that a character needs a father and a mother. I’m the mother because I carried the character. When I look for an actor or an actress, I look for a father. I need the father’s view of the character, the way in which he is going to tackle it : the actor’s opinion of it is crucial. I’m very directive with actors. I don’t know if that’s good or bad but, in the end, the character has to have a certain aspect. There are lots of variables around this but there isn’t another path. There’s only one.
And the screenplay ?
The screenwriter’s task is a lonely one that begins on the day when I have an idea that I develop as a subject. Once I have a subject, I construct my film before writing it. I work like an alchemist. I build up a very sound structure around this idea. As soon as I know how the story begins, develops and ends, I work on the characters, one by one. I give them a life outside the story. I know where they were born, how they grew up, what problems they have had, the people they have loved, hated or lost. And, at that point, they exist for real. They have desires, problems, disappointments and likes. I then lead them into the story and put them in contact.
Then I start work on the film’s dialogue because, from that point on, they have things to say to each other. Since they exist in their own right, they can develop the story in various ways.
Don’t you ever consider doing other things between films ? Commercials for instance ?
I’m extremely interested in the theatre. I see film so much as a tool that it doesn’t fascinate me at all as a tool. It simply helps me. I think that the stage can bring me something new and help me evolve in my work with actors and they are the ones, after all, who make people cry or laugh. And I don’t think that we directors work enough on that. We tend to focus on the eyes, on the mechanical side of things (24 frames per second) but not enough on the rest. I feel that I lack theatrical experience because the relationship with the actors is something crucial for me.
It paradoxical to hear that from someone who has such mastery of the filmic language... Most contemporary French directors tend to be excessively stylistic or, on the contrary, are incapable of making a film technically comparable to those that are made abroad.
I think there are a lot of people who are capable of uniting the two, directing actors and the technical side, but they are not given the chance. For a long time, I myself was drifting in the limbo of this profession. And, in that limbo, you meet other members of the living dead. You know that they exist. There are a lot of people here in France - actors, directors and screenwriters - and it annoys me to hear people in the French film industry praise other countries. They’re trying to bury our profession.