What persuaded you to choose the form of the documentary ?
Indeed, I never particularly had thought to come to the documentary one day. I have neither felt the capacity nor the craving. It’s a system of wheelwork I don’t know. Certain persons do it very well but for me the word movie does not go without the word actor. But in an interview that I had given to a magazine, I had said that if I had to realize one day a documentary, it would be necessarily a portrait of someone, and in that era, I had quoted Karl Lagerfeld.
It is true that your film goes in opposition to the habitual rules of that genre…?
When I started working on this film, the assistant with which I collaborate regularly I’m working with regularly said to me : « I will help you, to show you a maximum of DVD ». But I didn’t want at all, and besides I have not seen a lot – which is surely an indicator in the film ! - I wanted to arrive virgin on the shooting.
I neither count on manipulating the project nor knowing already in advance what I wanted to obtain from Karl. This was besides a true problem when presenting the project of the film to the television channels. I was told : « What is your point of view ? » while it didn’t want some to have! If I looked for something, it was probably the part of the childhood of Karl and try to approach a certain truth. I also wanted to understand how one could live alone and to this point to count only on oneself. But the film truly wrote itself during the editing. During the shooting I simply wished to film the most possible and especially to remain the more close to him. To see who I was dealing with : I wanted to be free and let him free.
Why Karl Lagerfeld ?
Leave to do a portrait, as much to do it on someone who is at the same time intelligent, funny and mysterious. And then I admired him all the time.
For several reasons of which some remain obscure or unconscious. I can remember as my first art teacher, when I was 11 years old, had told me of Karl Lagerfeld I didn’t know before and he had said to me: « He’s the top and he’ll be the top. » Which was interesting at that time, was that Karl was considered as an unsupportable person and for my part I always liked the hateful people because I’m of the opinion that this is a behavior that hides beautiful things. I was as well fascinated by the repartee of this person that I saw in television, a little like Françoise Sagan : if she wouldn’t be dead, I would have loved to make a movie on her. Karl, as her, isn’t poitically correct. I very much liked his humor, his spirit vivacity, his manner to handle the French language, I liked his head (it’s imortant) and more of all that : his look.
You decide therefore to realize a portrait of Karl Lagerfeld: how do you obtain his agreement?
I started with meeting Caroline Lebar, his press attachée, who didn’t hide me that I was the 100th person who wants to realize a film on Karl. As I don’t like a lot that one sais no, I insisted, I called her back, I met her for lunch, and I kept seeing her regularly for three months. Every time she asked me about my project, at the same time about myself and after three months she called me and said : « You’ll meet Karl tomorrow at 12 ».
Trivial question, but how dresses oneself who is going to meet Karl Lagerfeld for lunch ?
I thought about it, in fact, but in the end, I put a grey Thom Brown cashmere pullover on who seems to be nothing special, but who had the characteristic of having been sold only to three copies in the world. What I didn’t know at that time was that I had bought one and Karl the two others.
How was this first meeting ?
You have to live it to realize it but you have to know that when he says hello and he isn’t disappointed by your look, Karl is of an extreme simplicity. He squeezes you the hand, a warm hand and reassuring, he smiles at you and right away you feel comfortable. This can seem strange but it’s impossible to explain at which point you feel confidence when he is next to you. It’s comme an air that one doesn’t breathe elsewhere…
And then he emanates such a charisma that everything seems to be easier. And he smells really good. He could benefit from this situation, from this position to behave like someone crushing or inaccessible, or like as a « mister I know everything » facing this person you dare to say nothing afraid of doing something stupid…and well it’s the opposite.
With him very quickly you have the impression that you can tell him everything, that one has the right to think differently and especially… the more one is oneself the more he likes it. On the other hand, if you play a game which is not your’s it can be terrible for you, he will notice it immediately…
We first tlaked about fashion, dresses, and then about actors and movies – he told me that his favorite film was « Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne de Bresson » of Bresson. Finally we talked about my project. I asked what I awaited from him, and I answered to him that I wanted to be the more close to him, to film him in the most possible way. I especially insisted on the fact that I wanted to do a film for the cinema which implied that I would need him for several weeks, in order not to say several months. At the beginning we fixed four months and the least you can say is that it took ages : two years of shooting and one year of editing.
Did he know your fiction work ?
I know that meeting him he had seen one of my first films, then I showed him « Dernier Jour » at the press projection. He came out very shocked and I believe that this reassured him but at that very moment we already had begun the shooting. For I came back from my first lunch with him, which took place on a Friday, he asked me when I wanted to start as he proposed to me spontaneously to start shooting the following Monday. I therefore arrived at his place on Monday morning with my movie camera and my microphone… but it took me three months before penetrating in his room !
Which was your first impression of the « part » ?
The first two words that come up to my mind all the time as far as his generosity and humor are concerned for he doen’t realize at which point he is giving simply while speaking, while being himself. I would add derision and intransigence. What is disconcerting is the fact that he has a head like a crystal ball : a lucidity disconcerting that makes it possible for him to know all the time when a person enters a room with whom he is dealing with, even if he doesn’t know this person before. He has a true talent to surround the people, his first impression is very often the good one. It means, in the moment to begin the shooting, I knew that it’s always dangerous to be fascinated or to admire someone. I also knew that you can often be disappointed by the people as zou idealize them. You imagine at which point I was excited : to be the first one to film Karl Lagerfeld in his daily life ! I therefore forced myself to be prudent but finally I was never diappointed, well on the contrary. I didn’t think that it would be possible, with someone as him, to approach myself so close to his intimacy.
In the film, you can feel well at which point Karl Lagerfeld is attached to his independence and his solitude: is this his personality that dictated the fact that you are alone to film - with the technical constraints that that implies - or was this a premeditated choice on your part?
This was exactly what I wished for the film: from the beginning, it was evident for me that all would be shot in natural light and without sound engineer. This was the condition sine qua non, according to me, to « be a part » of Karl, to become one of the numerous suitcases that he always transports with him, to be assimilated to all the rest. I was very attached to the idea to film in a hand-crafted way, to break the picture of the person and impose rough visual choices. The mixing besides has been exciting for I didn’t want to have the sound arranged, I wanted the spectator to watch the film in the way as he would live it. A licked picture as well as a perfect sound didn’t interest me. This was also a fidelity question : it’s unbelievable to see at which point Karl never looses the focus despite the surrounded furiousness.
If the film had been too « chlorinated », it automatically would have lost in identity. I filmed alone with a Panasonic 3CCD movie camera and two microphones, a HF and one that I plugged in the camera for the moods.
Your fiction films distance themselves notably by the quality of their direction of actors. Do you think that that played a role that Karl Lagerfeld "adopts" you also easily?
Let’s say there’s no actor in my films I didn’t fall in love with. I need this feeling every time. And even if I have not at all given directions to Karl, I think I glanced at him like someone who liked him while filming him. And this I think he felt. But I knew also to remain at my place, saying nothing, when it’s necessary for it, this is a question of sensibility. I passed 50% of the time with thinking about my film and 50% with thinking about not getting fired ! Besides there are some days where Karl refused the microphone: so I waited one or two hours to shoot. But after one year and a half to be present everyday, there’s necessarily a confidence that installs itself, that much that I looked for only the truth : documentaries often seem to go against their subject, I satiesfied myself to want to show the reality and if there would have been nothing to denounce, never mind !
Why didn’t you choose the off-voice?
From the beginning I knew that I wanted only his voice. When our conversations began – we didn’t call them interviews – I felt that I had true nuggets at my disposal. I didn’t want therefore neither the off-voice nor other people talking about him. Besides I have cut a lot of exceptional things because they implied not only him. The whole world marched in front of my camera, I could have abused the « name dropping » ! But this isn’t what interested me. In the same way I didn’t want to determine the places where met each other. I wanted to keep the idea of a walk, which corresponds besides to the Karl’s international personality : he never sleeps more than three nights in a row at the same place, he neither feels French, nor German, but European… maybe even international.
We are surprised with which extreme timidity you approach certain questions, notably the one of sexuality…
We have spoken about it already without the camera and this is by the way a reason why I didn’t want to use an off-voice: for that noone can imagine that I’m telling stories. Everything that Karl says in the film comes out of his mouth. But it’s true that I’m often like a child vis-à-vis him, he impressed me sometimes, especially when we spoke in front of the camera… Not to the point that he paralyzes me but he imposes a certain respect. Anyhow I was often insolent, but as he says himself, if there is only respect, it will never work. Concerning the questions of sexuality, I knew that he had never spoken about it in an interview, or in newspapers, or in television and i twas important for me to touch on this question.
Finally, the film talks rather a few about fashion… Fortunately. This isn’t a film on fashion but on a man who used the fashion to exist. I wanted to show a Chanel fashion show because it’s really exceptional, very hitchcock with all the women draped in black, and particularly interesting to see how it reflected the way how Karl works, especially his relation to dreams. For as much, it was out of question for me to do a film about fashion and the place that fashion takes in the film is finally rather proportional to what fashion is representing in the everyday life of Karl : he spends a lot of time reading books, writing letters, reading newspapers in all languages, taking photographs, designing… So well that he arrives to the fittings only at the end of the day.
After two years of shooting, you found yourself with nearly 300 hours of rushes to edit: how did you approach this crucial step?
I started with looking for an editor who doesn’t know me, who doesn’t know my certitudes or failings. I wanted to be harsh and I needed a new regard because I had been under Karl’s perfusion for two years ! Therefore I was afraid of not having the sufficient distance, of being too attached to certain sequences. In other words I chose the one editor who admitted not to be sure of being capable to cope with this. That meant for me that she was ready to look for, to try things out rather than imposing them upon me. She had done fiction, documentaries, but also internal films for fashion houses : she had therefore already a certain sensitiveness of the milieu and she was intrigued by Karl Lagerfeld without having preconceived ideas on him.
Concretely, in which way is the film constructed?
We spent the two first months looking at all the rushes, that means that it took me 12 hours a day for the period of two years I had to revive !
Very quickly I realized that the idea of telling a story was a little bit ridiculous and I preferred that the film takes the form of a walk with several pictures which are enough pieces allowing the spectator to construct his own puzzle. The idea was really to take the spectator with us, for that everyone comes out of the film with his own vision. There’s sais that all photographs resemble the photographer who took them, and I believe that it’s the same even for the films. There’s a childlike side which emerges of the portrait of Karl, just like one discovers more kindness and softness in him.
Has it been difficult to obtain to a "reasonable » length?
The first version had four hours ! I would have even been able to do a series, that was a hell to cut ! The editing took one year and the selection finally came up in a rather natural way : I wanted a true homogeneity for this walk , nothing dispensable or superfluous.
How did you choose the archived photos from the film?
Already while the editing, the archives of Chanel were openend for me for two months and Karl has shown me all his photographs : I could absolutely use everything I wanted. First I didn’t have the intention to include archived materials, I thought that it would be too « cliché » for a documentary.
Besides, it didn’t correspond to the personality of Karl for whom only yesterday, today and tomorrow are of importance. And then I found him so beautiful and shifted on certain photographs that I wanted to share this testimony of an era. And therefore rather then dispersing them in the film as that is done often, I wanted to group together them for a parenthesis which evokes his youth and certain moments of his life.
What was it that dictated the choice of the music?
I listen to music from the evening to the morning and I arrived to the editing with about hundreds of cds. Afterwards, there was the problems of the musicrights. I still couldn’t use my favorite music but there are two moments in the film where I was sure that I wanted to have something alive : For the sequence in super8 with Karl as a child – I needed a music which reminds of summer, the past and the innocence – and for the photo session a little in a Christian style with his fetish model. For these two moments I needed the music to help me with the emotion. Besides, I used the music to regulate rhythmically the film or find the moods. You have to know that there’s always a lot of music around Karl, especially in the sequence of the hangar in Biarritz, I found it important to find the atmosphere of this moment.
At which moment did you show the film to Karl Lagerfeld ?
>Two weeks after the end of the final editing, in a version that is even the one you see today : he didn’t touch anything. There was no censur during the editing. For this occasion we both watched the film in a reserved room anda t the end he got up and said to me : « Congratulations, this is very beautiful. It’s venterous but cheers. Later, he told me that it is a poetic and modern film, that pleased me.
Professional, what do you withdraw of this experience ?
I would like to make a fiction film only me, alone, with a camera and two actors! No team who tells you that this is unpossible, or that we cannot shoot because it rains or an airplane passes or I don’t know what else … I mean, I know today that this is something that I would like to do again… to rediscover the intimate pleasure to film whenever I would like to. But during the shooting with Karl I also learned a lot as far as the relation to the people inmy work is concerned. On a set, I’m rather very attentive and a little bit too kind, but as said Françoise Sagan : « One can loose his life by courtesy. » Karl learned me to take care of me first and my work rather than being in an exaggeration of concerns for the others. This doesn’t prevent me from respecting them it’s good to keep a certain distance. I had the impression that he paid a lot attention not to be too emotional with the people who are working with him. It’s necessary to separate the things and not to forget oneself on the road.
This a work of an instant.
And technically speaking?
It was such a pleasure to work alone, not having to explain my work the moment I worked... A painter, a writer or a dancer are alone in the accomplishment of their work, while a director has to explain himself the moment he shoots. On a shooting, there is a whole team to occupy while for Lagerfeld Confidential, I had a direct relation to the person that I filmed, I had the same sensation I have while taking photographs.
How was the way back to reality ?
That was difficult : after Karl, the people seemed to me boring. Besides, even during the shooting, my friends were tired of me. I was always in expectation that something special would happen, but life had not changed…
FILMOGRAPHY OF RODOLPHE MARCONI
LE DERNIER JOUR (The Last Day)
With Gaspard Ulliel, Nicole Garcia, Bruno Todeschini, Mélanie Laurent
DEFENSE D’AIMER (Love Forbidden)
With Andrea Necci, Rodolphe Marconi, Ecco Danon
CECI EST MON CORPS (This is my Body)
With Jane Birkin, Louis Garrel, Annie Girardot, Mélanie Laurent
Prizewinner at Cannes 1999