Alain Cavalier, author of the film Thérèse to be screened at CinéMazarin: “I was very busy when I shot it”

At 91 years old, Alain Cavalier never turns down an invitation to come and talk about his film Thérèse. A masterpiece, released in theaters in 1986 and which won numerous awards, including the Jury Prize at Cannes and Best Film at the César ceremony in 1987.

The famous filmmaker answered our questions before his arrival this Friday, May 6, at CinéMazarin, in Nevers, as part of the screening of this biopic about the little saint, in a restored version.

An event at the initiative of Acne (Association of Nevers moviegoers) in collaboration with the cinema.

How did you get to Santa Teresa?

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I’d say it’s pretty simple… I spent seven years of my youth in a religious boarding school. There were two stars, Joan of Arc and Teresa. Teresa was proclaimed a saint shortly after her death, at the beginning of the 20th century. Jesus was the absolute love of the Carmelites… They entered the convent out of love and married him. All this shook my childhood. My comic book hero was also Jesus Christ. In the seventies, the Carmel of Lisieux published a book that brings together very detailed documents on Teresa’s daily life. So I said to myself, maybe one day I could return, as a filmmaker, to a convent… Of course, I must add my love for this person, his career, his story… Little by little, the desire to make a movie. I had to find someone exceptional to play the character.

Precisely, was it difficult to find the actress, Catherine Mouchet, to play Thérèse?

I searched, I searched, I searched… And then, at the Conservatory of Dramatic Art in Paris, during an audition, I saw a young student, sitting on the floor, reciting a text by Bernanos about the death of Mouchette, a little girl who commits suicide by drowning. I was in the second row. Water was flowing from a balloon that he was holding in his hands towards the spectators… I found this scene extraordinarily disturbing. With her look, her text, this little staging, I told myself, I could only make this movie with her.

Gradually the idea came to me, also thanks to certain paintings by Manet, of making a film on a neutral background, but very elaborate, realistic. Therefore, we see no tree, no wall, no door…

Did this film impose an enormous amount of work on you, upstream, to be as close as possible to the truth of Thérèse’s life?

You know, I only filmed a small part of Thérèse’s life. I spent some time in a small library inside the Carmel of Lisieux. There were many books about her. One day a Carmelite came in and said to me: “Do you think you are going to make a film about Teresa of Lisieux? The prioress would be ready to receive you. Thanks to her I was able to visit these places where Thérèse had lived. There were small cells, 3 meters by 3, corridors… It was scary. She pushed her way through my head. Gradually the idea came to me, also thanks to certain paintings by Manet, of making a film on a neutral background, but very elaborate, realistic. Thus, we see no tree, no wall, no door… A few symbolic objects tell us which room we are in. For example, in the refectory or in a bedroom.

A perfect English version.

How was this film received when it was released?

Here we enter the realm of the miraculous! We made this film thinking that we would have, at most, 20,000 spectators, people who were a little enlightened. The film was selected and chosen at Cannes. And there he experienced immense enthusiasm. So he made more than a million and a half entries. It has such a perfect English version that it has been seen in every country in the world. And it still works…

Could you tell us about the restored version?

It was a film with copies of films. And now those copies are digital. Film prints wear out very quickly. The digital prints are absolutely magnificent, updated, adapted to the new projection devices.

I found it a bit too bright. I darkened it. Gives you muscle!

So you haven’t changed it at all?

When you make a film, you can’t go back to this kind of effervescence and heat of filming afterwards. You have to leave it with its original charm. So, no, I didn’t touch the movie. Only in terms of lighting there is a small amount of maneuvering. I found it a bit too bright. I darkened it. Gives you muscle!

Do you think this film can touch the Nivernais sensitive to the life of Bernadette Soubirous resting in Nevers?

Sure ! It is also an extraordinary story. They are two young girls, kidnapped, one by the Virgin Mary and the other by Christ. I made this film because of Thérèse’s tremendous attention to her human suffering. That is what touched me the most. She also died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis. I saw my aunt come out of this illness in excruciating pain. When I made this film, I was very inhabited.

Practice. Thérèse is a French drama by Alain Cavalier, with Catherine Mouchet, Aurore Prieto, Clémence Massart and Jean Pelegri, 90 min. It was shot in 1985, was released in theaters on September 24, 1986 and its restored version on October 6, 2021.
Single price for its screening in Nevers: €5.5. Reservations possible online.

Interview with Geraldine Phulpin

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