Only two years after Mademoiselle de Joncquières, nominated six times for the César 2019 (and awarded for his costumes), Emmanuel Mouret is back with his new feature film as director and screenwriter. The things we say, the things we do is not so much a story of love as of feelings, in the present tense, and in which he brilliantly alternates lightness and gravity, long speeches and impassioned impulses, in stories that cross, worn by Camélia Jordana, Niels Schneider, Émilie Dequenne and Vincent Macaigne.
AlloCiné: There is a particularly interesting dialogue in this film, in which a character specifies that he is not telling a story of love but of feelings. Isn’t that a good summary of your films after all?
Emmanuel Mouret : Yes, it’s true. I prefer to talk about stories of feelings and desires than stories of love. Quite simply because I don’t really know what love is, and it’s a very vague word. And then the term “love story” has, for my taste, a little too syrupy side (laughs) A blue flower side. When we talk about feelings and desires, we perhaps perceive more, at the same time, the funny side and the cruelty.
Without going so far as to talk about film-sum, we find here many elements of your previous feature films: the intertwined stories as in “A kiss please”, a choral side admittedly less pronounced than in “L ‘ Art of loving “, of manipulation as in” Mademoiselle de Joncquières “, of melancholy …
I would not say that it is a film-sum, or even an outcome, because that would mean that it is my last. And there’s no real math in writing from project to project. I never know what will be next, because I always work on several at the same time. These are more the situations on which I started, because initially there are two: first that of the character played by Camélia, which is found with that of Niels Schneider, and this idea that two people tell each other their intimacy, and that this story creates a link between them. I liked the idea, and I liked the stories within the stories. Then there is this other part, which for me is more like a kind of sentimental thriller. Or a funny revenge, with a woman who almost echoes Mademoiselle de Joncquières, who makes us find ourselves between the sentimental fresco and the sentimental thriller. But when a scenario starts, it’s very difficult for me to see where it will end up.
How do you write a scenario like this, with all these nested stories? Story by story before determining the junction points? Or segment by segment?
It is a work of back and forth. There are already a certain number of situations that we like and that we want to put together. Most of the work concerns the structure, the composition. Like a watchmaking job, where it is sometimes necessary to manufacture a part so that one story goes with another. It is planning, mechanical work, which is very long and requires a lot of time. Then when this mechanism is found, the drafting work begins, which is much faster.
I still need to admire my characters
What guided the choice of this title, which refers in particular to the contradictions of the characters?
It already has a programmatic side, to stimulate the viewer’s gaze and encourage them to observe better. And in this title which, from the outset, promises a difference between what we say and what we do, there is one of the great pleasures of cinema which is an art of the time, one in which a movie takes place. And the cinema is there for the stories. Even fables and tales. To measure the gap between commitments, promises, things we pretend to be, and what time will reveal. For me, it’s also a title that is not at all moralizing, but full of tenderness. Because I believe that there is something quite reassuring, quite comforting to observe this constitutive weakness of the human being in other people, because one cannot always live up to his words. It is also something which shapes man, and which pushes us to be more indulgent towards others and towards oneself.
Isn’t that also a good way to evoke the work of a director and screenwriter like you, with the gap between the script and the changes it goes through during filming?
Yes quite. The great anguish, on the first films, is precisely to do what we said. The experience and the great pleasure in making a film may be to let yourself be surprised by what happens. And to do with what happens. To discover the film we are making.
You spoke of tenderness about this title, and you can find it in the way you look at your characters, because none of them have the wrong role in the story.
It’s a principle for me: I always need to admire my characters. Even if it is someone terrible, like Madame de la Pommeraye in Mademoiselle de Joncquières, or the villains in Hitchcock, you need something that you can admire in them. Which can sometimes mean softness, fragility, exuberance. But I don’t like being above a character, because that makes me uncomfortable as a viewer. And what interests me as well is showing people trying to do well. They both try to be true to the people they love, to their roles as social, caring and caring people, but they also try to be true to their desires, to their appetites. There is a conflict of fidelity, and for me this is what makes the knot of each of them. What’s dramatic is that the characters try to do well, but that doesn’t stop the cruelty.
“The Things We Say, The Things We Do” is the first of your feature films in which you do not appear at all. Is it because there is a bit of you in every character?
Yes but it still is. I write my characters, and in particular my female characters, by putting myself in their place and by deporting the action where it interests me to take it. But I put myself in the shoes of each of the characters, which gives me great intimacy with them.
In addition to a very pronounced literary aspect, as in each of your films, it is also a question of philosophy and in particular the notion of mimetic desire. [selon laquelle l’imitation explique bon nombre de phénomènes humains]. Did you choose this as another way to develop your thinking?
No, and I wouldn’t even speak of a literary aspect. There is a taste for the romantic, of course, for characters who argue, who have wit. And I think it’s that spirit and the fact that they’re trying to formulate their thought, to define themselves through it, that can give that impression. But it also escapes me perhaps because I cannot be a spectator of my own films. And what interested me in bringing in a philosopher was to consider him as a character in the film. I like stories in which we are close to the characters before suddenly taking the distance. And the philosopher helps us to do it, and to think of the story with hindsight. But he is not necessarily there to express what I think even if, in his way of speaking about Man and love, his words make history resonate. Of love, we can only have ideas. I’m wondering while making this film, I’m not here to present my ideas because I just have trouble getting any (laughs)
Despite the first part of the title, the film relies a lot on the unspoken. Do you need to make a lot of adjustments in writing, filming or editing to achieve the balance that we see?
This is also the talent of the actors. Their great talent. In the things that we say, there is everything that we do not say to ourselves. And we see actors saying things to protect themselves, to protect the other. It is therefore they who must give it to think. But I like the idea that the location of the cinema is what you don’t see, what is out of the picture, what is hidden behind the eyes of the actors, what is in an ellipse. And this is where the viewer will be able to project their own intimacy, create links and make the story its own story. A lot of things are not knowingly shown, so that each spectator can do his job, his journey. Hence my taste for the sequence shot with a lot of movement in space, so as not to be like in TV movies, in close-up on the face of the actor, who says, over-said and where the gaze adds even more . No, I want the viewer to be looking for what the character thinks and feels, whether they are active.
And question yourself as you question yourself.
Absolutely. Because the characters, we write them, but I do not claim to know everything, to know everything. And what is funny, at the end of the screening of a film, is when the spectators come to tell us about it and everyone has their idea. And sometimes very different ideas (laughs) But everyone has put their own experience, their privacy in it, and made their film. It is said that, for a film, there are as many films as there are spectators, because each one marries in a different way with him.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on September 10, 2020
“The things we say, the things we do” can be seen in theaters since September 16: