Princess is a very 21st century film, despite being based upon Madame La Fayette's 17th century short story about 16th century events, a love affair amidst the Catholic-Protestant wars. I spoke to Tavernier about his choices, his amazing action scenes, the politics of the film, and about that letter from Dante.
Here is some of what he told me:
A Thriller, a Film Noir, a Drama and a Love Story
It had to be a love story, and a film about passion, but I had to do it like a thriller. I had to light it like a film noir, the way I lit the rooms as semi-dark, keeping a lot of tension in the emotions and relationships. I didn't want to make an historical film in the clichéd sense of the word where you have an impression that you are watching a reconstitution. I wanted to be inside the drama. I wanted the camera to be contemporary of the characters and the emotions. It was not shot with a 20th Century point of view, the camera had to be in the emotions just as the characters were.
To Love, To Fight and To Survive
I wanted the shots and camera moves to capture the youth of the characters. They are never resting, they are running most of the time. I wanted to capture their pace in the rhythm of the film. They are not people who are frozen in a period, they are young and they know they may die soon. They want to love, to fight, to survive and they want to do that fast. I had to capture that. They don't have the time to reflect about themselves. I must film them as I would film young people in the suburbs of London today. You must have that feeling of immediacy, these people were not in a museum.
Adapting a 17th Century Story of the 16th Century
In the 16th century nudity, for example, was not a problem, in the 17th century it was becoming a huge problem. I was trying to respect the emotions in the 17th century short story, but in the real context of the 16th century which was much bolder in terms of sex and of life than the 17th.
I didn't have to change the vision of history to make it about today. As far as I know, we are still killing people in the name of God and it is still making the front page of the newspaper every day. I didn't have to look for the present day in the story, it was just there. Remember the definition that Faulkner gave: the past isn't dead, it's not even past. Maybe I chose the story because these ideas were there but I did not have to distort the story, and the way I described the situation of women, I didn't change the story, it was already there. Maybe I saw that all of these elements were there and I could make them alive, but they were already there.
I decided and I told my director of photography that I don't want to use CGI, and I said that if we could, we must find everything on the set, like how Raoul Walsh or Anthony Mann or any great action director was doing, they never using CGI , everything they had to find on the spot. And I said," I don't want to rely one editing." I said "Let's do long takes but I want to understand where the characters are". Are they lost? What distance are they from one another? I wanted to feel the topography. I was raised on films where the choreography was resting on the relationship between time and space. It is important to know if the characters are remote or are surrounded. One of the greatest compliments I had was from the director Joe Dante who wrote to me and said "Your battle is like Chimes of Midnight with longer takes."
A Busy Career
I'm working on two films that I hope to make. I was very, very pleased with the last two films I did, with the French cut of In The Electric Mist, not the one that was released in the United States.I want to go on. I'm full of energy and hope.
Thanks again to Bertrand for talking to me.