"Rene Manzor infuses his work with a rare and passionate vision, which makes him an outstanding director of international cinema. He is extremely adept at translating emotions from the script to the screen, as well as creating a unique atmosphere for his characters to travel through."
Steven SPIELBERG (Los Angeles, February 19, 1992 )
ONCE UPON A TIME...
René Manzor occupies a very exclusive position in the French film industry. He is the secret offspring of a cinematic union between M. Night Shyamalan and David Fincher, between Steven Spielberg and... well, frankly, only American names come to mind ! And this is perhaps what led him to make films all over the world : Canada, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, the United States...
WHAT MAKES RENÉ RUN ?
November 1986. Immediately after the screening of his first feature, « LE PASSAGE », I feel that the film is too original, too powerful and too vital, beneath its outwardly commercial aspect, to avoid being shot down in flames. An unusual poster (for a film with Delon) that is also enigmatic, no backing from the critics... I have to meet this new “alien” of the French film world !
The meeting, fascinating and friendly, more than fulfils my expectations. I discover a hypersensitive young man of 25 who wishes to express, through uncommon stories, simple things such as life, death, the loss of a child, and free will.
« LE PASSAGE » was a big hit. 2,300,000 admissions in France. The audience was able to recognize one of its own. But, in 1986, in France, it wasn’t a good thing to be “commercial”. Three years of silence.
DON’T BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS
1990, René Manzor’s new film « DEADLY GAMES : DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS » opens the Avoriaz International Film Festival. The first and only time that a French film opens this high mass of genre cinema. The film doesn’t even have a French distributor even though its foreign sales break every record at its screening at the Cannes Film Market (three times more than « LE PASSAGE » ! And without Delon !). I am in the theatre. And it happens again ! I am stunned by the style, technical prowess and René’s skill in creating impressive visual worlds.
The film is nothing like the usual horror film. It traumatizes you, haunts you and hypnotizes you because Manzor awakes fears that are buried in our subconscious, both individual and collective. « DEADLY GAMES : DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS » is a vital and traumatizing film.
Like « LE PASSAGE », « DEADLY GAMES : DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS » is an original screenplay by René Manzor. A story with all of the writer-drector’s obsessions. It is the extraordinary and unique duel between a child and a psychopath with the imaginary world as its battleground. Manzor’s movie is dark, very dark. Fascinating and today considered a “cult” reference because of its very darkness. But, in 1990, it wasn’t a good thing to be a “cult” director in France. A ten-year exile in the USA.
TV HIGH ON MANZORPHINE
Nearly all the great American directors from the 1960s to the 1980s started out in television where they learned the ropes. Even worse, they used TV as a genuine “laboratory”, a place where they were free and able to try out everything. Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese or Brian de Palma gave a new lease on life to the TV series.
After « DEADLY GAMES : DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS », René Manzor becomes the darling of American TV producers. Probably because they realize that he is a sort of “Mr Bonus”. For the same price, more visual innovation, more narrative intensity, more sophistication and more originality. Manzor is a workaholic. He works, prepares, studies, imagines, storyboards, and controls things... And, when he steps onto the set, he doesn’t waste any time, even if his imagination is constantly on the alert.
Two episodes in the series ">THE HITCHHICKER » and our French filmmaker gives in to the siren call of Hollywood, script doctoring for the studios, directing TV series, including George LUCAS’ prestigious saga « THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES »...
The Jedi of the silver screen wasn’t wrong. He spotted René Manzor’s inspired technical skills. Among the nine other directors selected were Bille August, Terry Jones, Nicolas Roeg and Mike Newell. You get the idea ?
In « PARIS 1908 », Young Indy meets the young Picasso. In « VERDUN 1916 », he is confronted with the horror of war.
George LUCAS and Steven SPIELBERG were wise enough to “suck the lifeblood” out of René Manzor’s European culture, sensitivity and roots. Just like his incisive, graphic and off-key approach that results in his cinema (or his television) being attached so often to the “fantastic” genre.
"Rene has a greater sense of how to use the sets, actors and continuity of the story than any other director that we have worked with and we know some very famous ones. We wanted each episode to be like a real movie. Rene provides the cinematic quality we required."
George LUCAS & Rick McCALLUM
(L’Écran Fantastique October 1992)
In 1994-95, Manzor writes and directs for TV two TV-movies (but given the quality and scope of the direction, it would be wiser to talk about films made for television !) : « WARRIOR SPIRIT ») and « LEGENDS OF THE NORTH »), two adaptations of the work of James Olivier Curwood and Jack London respectively.
In « WARRIOR SPIRIT », two adolescents, one poor and from the city, the other Native American and uprooted, become friends. Together, they have to confront the Warrior of the Great Spirit who, according to legend, shoots gold bullets to protect the mountains. In « LEGENDS OF THE NORTH », an unscrupulous gold prospector and a naïve antique dealer have to cross the Yukon together looking for Esperanza, a legendary lake studded with gold.
All this begs a question : how did the claustrophobic and contemporary director of « DEADLY GAMES : DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS » end up in the wastes of the Far North with 19th century characters ?
He simply shifted his world to that period, to the wide open spaces where man has to impose himself in the face of the wilderness. Once again, the Manzor touch.
In playing with the myths and legends of the icy wastes, the gold rush and the struggle for life, René Manzor speaks first and foremost about men and relates an initiatory journey. The adventure story becomes a moral tale.
The power of the images, the traumatizing beauty of the lighting and sets, the emotion aroused by the music, the actors’ performances (you really have to see the “making of” for « DEDALES » to understand the extent to which Manzor “conditions” his actors before he even thinks about filming them !)...
All serve a humanist fable.
A return to France, just long enough to shoot a film ! René Manzor admits that he has always followed the films that he was making, wherever in the world that may take him. "In movies, there’s “move”, he likes to remind people. And when the producer of Academy Award nominated « CAMILLE CLAUDEL ») offers him to write and direct « WITCH WAY LOVE », starring Vanessa Paradis, Jean Reno Jeanne Moreau and Gil Bellows, it’s hard to turn him down.
A family movie playing with magic, updating the witchcraft myth, before « HARRY POTTER » did. We can see what attracted René Manzor to « WITCH WAY LOVE » : the Méliès-style fantasy fable side. The film drew 1,000,000 admissions in France and Manzor - and his family - set off back for America.
Once back home, he returns to the “gym”. This is how René Manzor refers to these moments, between two features, when he directs for television. “Less money, less time. You have to stick close to the net. I love it. A much better way of keeping in shape than commercials that only make you fat.” To date, René has directed 44 TV episodes, 7 movies, written 28 produced screenplays and 5 published novels.
In 2000, two European producers come to see him at home in Los Angeles with another project to be written in French and English : « MONSIEUR N ». He will work two years on the screenplay of this "Empire thriller" about Napoleon’s last days on the island of Saint Helena. But, despite putting a lot of himself into « MONSIEUR N », he will decide not to direct it. Because, on completing the script, he is obsessed by a new idea that is running through his mind, that of his most personal and accomplished film so far, « DEDALES ».
All the same, despite the complexity of « DEDALES », he remains available at all times, as screenwriter, for Antoine de Caunes, the director of « MONSIEUR N ». René immediately finds himself very comfortable with this simple role. There too, his American experience plays its part. “The screenplay was magnificent,” De Caunes said in an interview (with Jean-Luc Brunet, monsieurcinema.com). “I’d never read such a well-written screenplay, so well constructed and with such sharp dialogue, since I started out in the cinema. Then I met René... I discovered an extremely subtle and brilliant guy who also happens to be an excellent screenwriter.”
RENÉ AND THE LABYRINTH
René Manzor thrives on encounters because, in everyday life, he is constantly on the alert. It required very little for the screenwriter-filmmaker (we could say... the storyteller) to dive into the labyrinth of « DEDALES ». Again between horror and fantasy.
A simple encounter with a doctor friend who told him about people who end up with “several personalities within the same body”. The next day, he viewed a tape, the day after that he met the patients... When René Manzor is passionate about a subject, he throws himself into it with overriding enthusiasm. On « DEDALES », his quest led him into the patients’ minds and the heart of the condition. And I admit that I wasn’t totally surprised when he confided to me in the course of one of our discussions, “Through the ‘multiples’, I discovered such an original way of viewing the world ! All my choices in writing, directing, lighting, editing, sets, sound and the actors’ performance were dictated by the initial emotion that these patients aroused within me !” Just imagine : individuals, independent of each other, taking possession in turn of a single body. What a challenge ! A double challenge on both a narrative and technical level !"
FROM SCREENWRITER TO NOVELIST
Some writers dream of making movies. René Manzor always dreamed of writing novels. And in 2011, he seized the opportunity to do so. "It’s the most wonderful way to tell a story", he said. "The most direct. There is not the slightest barrier between you and the reader. You don’t need to make budget concessions. The reader is your accomplice. Not a spectator, rather a spect’actor. By lending you his imagination, he co-directs your story with you."
After the success of his literary thriller “RIVAL SOULS”, his second novel “HE WHOSE NAME IS NO MORE” won Best thriller Award at the International Cognac Festival in 2014. The next “IN THE MISTS OF EVIL” was nominated New Voice of Thriller in 2016, his fourth “APOCRYPHAL” obtained Best Thriller Award of the Booksellers in 2019. And his latest “RAW” will be released on March 17, 2021.
René Manzor confirms that, with a camera or a pen, he is and remains above all a storyteller.
by Gilles Gressard