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THE QUEEN KRISTEN
The appearance of Bella Swan from Twilight in the credits of the new film by Olivier Assayas with Juliette Binoche had a lot of people intrigued. After the screening at Cannes, the verdict was very clear: KRISTEN STEWART steals the show. Hollywood's sweetheart, whose private life tabloids are drooling over, blossoms in a very nuanced way, in this small gem of Independant European Cinema. For Vogue, Olivier Assayas explores his encounter with a young actress possessing a supernatural and universal aura. Down the road, a mystery, "The real Kristen"...
I just filmed a movie with her, but I can't say that I know Kristen Stewart, it might be due to her personality, and also mine, and this also refers, without a doubt, to deeper sympathies, more intimate, a little hard to formulate, those who brought me to her and those who brought her to me. Other people know her career better than I do. As for me, it's a longer process, more hazy and which probably originates from her appearance in a Sean Penn film, filmed by Eric Gautier and adapted from a text by Jon Krakauer: It was the figure of a (very) young girl that I had kept with me, beyond the real qualities of Into The Wild.
Therefore, it was hard to imagine that we would ever cross paths with one another, even if, in the world of cinema as in real life, I believe in nothing else other than short circuits. This one owes everything to Kristen Stewart and to the boldness, the spirit of rebellion that define her. Is that what makes her a big actress? It's not the question, it's possible, but it's not essential: It's above all what makes her alive, what makes her pierce the screen with this intensity, this violence as well, which destroys everything that might be tepid, fake, played around the zone where she radiates.
It's even more disturbing considering she doesn't come from some random suburbs, or from the marginality, she is from Los Angeles, the heart of the industry, not at all its aristocracy, more from its conservative middle-class. And yet, she's determined by the split, a freedom of movement almost wild and which owes nothing to some predictable point of reference, whether it is moral or aesthetically pleasing. Being a right-minded person, she owes nothing to anyone. Bella Swan in "Twilight", a silhouette in "On The Road", or carrying the weight of "Snow White & the Huntsman" on her shoulders, she is always entirely there, without any distance, without any nuance, without judgment, in this obviousness that is her own and makes her go through the world of cinema in these diagonals inspired by an animal intuition. She has an alter-ego, just like every other actress, but it might be more extreme with her. There's her intimacy, protected by a tough shell. and which was developped in the best well-kept secret, the one hidden in plain sight, because she grew up on sets. And then there is other that she becomes the moment the camera starts rolling, to whom she gives her full power, this naked truth that we have to wonder how she acquired, where it comes from and the exact nature of the awareness she could have of it.
Charles Gillibert, who produced "Sils Maria", was with Nathanaël Karmitz, the producer of "On The Road", it's thanks to him that I met Kristen for the first time. One night at Silencia, not the best place to meet someone. We met again much later after talking to each other on Skype and having decided that we would work together; it was in much more abstract circumstances again, a Chanel fashion show at the Grand Palais, the models were evolving in ruins inspired by Enki Bilal drawings, she was represented, to say the least. We went to the show together, trying as hard as we could to have some sort of a natural conversation. The day after, we had lunch in the restaurant of an hotel - a fetishist fan stole the keys of my bike, thinking they belonged to Kristen. The most essential was in the implicit; and the explicit tried as a whole to not damage what was not being said. She was pleased, I believe, to have the chance to venture into unknown territory, which she had probably fantasised about but wasn't familiar with, the territory of independant European Cinema. And to be brought face to face with an actress whose freedom of tone had inspired her, Juliette Binoche. As for me, I felt strangely unsteady, as if she knew better than me why we were here. As if things were much clearer for her. which is her strength by the way, everything is much more evident for her, she kept that ability that children have to look at the world with lasers on. For me, nothing was simple. By the way, I think that it's only when I'm on set, looking, not at the actors but at the characters that they're playing who are halfway between themselves and me, that I can finally assemble the pieces of the puzzle. I'm not saying that until now, I've had zero confidence in my intuition, on the contrary, I believe in it almost to the point of irresponsability, only I know that in the world of cinema, it's not the isolated elements that cound but their alchemy. I knew that Kristen had it in her to stimulate and even push Juliette, I didn't know if she could be pushed back by Juliette, if she would know how to put herself in danger, if she would be able to visit new areas in herself which could open doors of a cinema still unexplored by her.
There is something mysterious in the relationship that we build - unconsciously - with the presences that haunt films. The filming of "Sils Maria" had already progressed and the silhouette of the "Twilight" star was already fading, reduced to a precious surnaturel aura, when I remembered seeing Kristen a while ago in "Panic Room", not the best film of a huge director of our time, David Fincher - She was playing Jodie Foster's daughter. I had forgotten. I was thinking more about "The Runaways". A bopic that wasn't very well done around the band created by Kim Fowley and where Joan Jett came from. Kristen was playing her - For whom I've always had a little crush, since Cherry Bomb, in fact, (Am I the only one who cared about her when she played in an unknown film by Paul Schrader, "Light of Day"?) She made her come to life with this truth, which is also one of a time that was unknown to her, and that I thought was gripping. As many white stones which paved the way of my way, not towards Kristen, but towards this part of herself which is always searching, by inhabiting some zones, at once the most exposed and the least visible of cinema today.
I've always admired the fearlessness of actresses. And in particular when they talk about adventures and confront the unknown. Juliette Binoche who goes out of her way to meet Abbas Kiarostami, Isabelle Huppert, who follows Brillante Mendoza in the Philippines in the heart of the jungle. Or again Maggie Cheung, when she came to Paris to film, far from her Hong-Kong bearings, the film of a French author, whose notoriety was still confidential, myself. I've often thought about them when I was observing Kristen while filming "Sils Maria", I hadn't made things easy for her, the set was situated in some of the regions the most secluded in Europe, Leipzig, then Engadine and finally South-Tyrol. She was alone most of the time - the tabloids were talking a lot about a recent breakup - an assistant for every company, of course, smiley and devoted. It isn't the only geographical remoteness - difficult to come back to L.A. for the week-end, nonetheless - rather the situation of vulnerability that she was putting herself in. It goes without saying that the logistics of the shooting could not provide her with the comfort that she was used to having - In the mountains, we can even say that it was frugal. I don't want to say that she was used to a cocoon and that she would have missed it, I think she even hates the idea of a cocoon. But her habits of work and concentration were determined by points of references that she couldn't have here. She doesn't speak French, which, despite our efforts, was the second most spoken language on set, and she was immersed in a strange environment as well as foreign: We never rehearsed - no reading beforehand either - and the takes themselves were always shifting, they were never stable, always open to improvisation, to be put into question even when they seemed the most strong. Even the feelings were flexibke. A scene written to be dramatic was turning into something more light, even funny, another one built around a pivotal point was suddenly put back into the game. In this way, a scene where Kristen had to throw herself into the water was destabilized when Juliette suddenly decided to dive first into the icy water. In short, we kept reinventing the film as we were filming, free when it came to the script, as well as the style, or the story: It was unthinkable in the system that Kristen was used to.
This may have been the result of Juliette Binoche's personality, to the respect she was inspiring in Kristen; she was seeing a model in Juliette. Not in the sense of the model of an actress, but more like a model of independance, of sovereignty, in relation to the laws of cinema. Juliette had constructed her career with no care for the rules, by exposing herself without hesitation, without holding back, by venturing towards unknown territories, to the risk of losing herself. Deep down, Kristen knew, instinctively, that only freedom counts and what she was looking for in Juliette was the root of it, she came because she wanted to be pushed, because she wanted to put herself in a position of danger. Because beyond her own virtuosity - the control of herself and of all the nuances of her acting that she had learned by leaving her life in the world of cinema since she was a child - she knew that there was another dimension, the one of abandonment, where spontaneity, the language of recklessness are taking precedence. Sometimes, actors are motivated by the cinephilie, by the mirror of an artistic prestige or intellectualy associated to Independant Cinema - And I don't only mean that in a negative way, those alliances can sometimes be mutually benefical - but there's not an ounce of calculation. What moves her, it's bravery, the determination and the secret of a young actress who discovers the strength and the complexity of her art, who feels connected to the zones where she will be able to experiment, bring things to life; and even the status that she has in the industry, the sudden nonstandard mediatic notoriety that she acquired and that she endures more than she benefits from it, would put her in a position, would keep her prisonner to be more exact, in a restrictive setting, reductive and with a suffocating result.
I was talking about the secret, I believe the mystery of what Kristen possesses that is indecipherable, and the unformulated certainties that I had perceived during our first encounter, are exactly that: what she's becoming, herself, clandestinely, by going through side roads. Applying this tactile law that governs Hollywood - to be free, but to never confess a truth which does not followed the established rules of the industry. Step by step, she's learning how to be a singular person, thoughtful, a distinguished figure in the American cinema, she's inventing a place for herself - it's not about proving anything anymore, but to accomplish herself in the only way that counts, in life and in art, one and the other inseparable. In short, to do everything that was until now forbidden.