French writer-director Olivier Assayas discussed his career during yesterday’s Screen-sponsored BFI London Film Festival masterclass.

Assayas discussed his introduction to cinema when in his early twenties he helped his father, filmmaker Jacques Remy, who was suffering from Parkinsons disease, complete feature film scripts. He also touched on his early love for painting and literature. 

Assayas talked about his time at the famous French film journal Cahiers Du Cinema, and how important it was for him to discover a new type of cinema. Assayas criticised Cahiers’ “totalitarian leftism”, which he said neglected film in favour of dry politics.

The director acknowledged the debt he owed to French legends such as Eric Rohmer, Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut: “Whatever I am as an artist is dependent on a new space defined my Rohmer, Truffaut and the great directors of that era”, he said. He also cited Robert Bresson (and more specifically, his ‘concision’) as the most important influence on his career.

Assayas, who is famed for his punk-rock soundtracks and his appreciation of Asian cinema, talked about the need to break away from the stagnation that he felt was stifling French cinema in the ’70s, a scene from which he felt ‘disconnected’: “When I was writing for Cahiers I had a feeling that French cinema was not very modern. It was basking in former glories. I had a notion that in the films of Cronenberg, Carpenter and Asian cinema there was something really new.”

Assayas said that the rock music of the ’70s was seminal to his films and his outlook: “Growing up in the ’70s filmmaking was not the core of my upbringing. The poetry and dominant art form at that time was rock music. It has shaped and inspired me in the way that American movies shaped and inspired the Nouvelle Vague in the late ’50s.”

Assayas’ films have included soundtracks from Sonic Youth and songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Wire and other rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s.

The director was also keen to mention the influence of Chinese cinema, and particularly Hong Kong cinema, on films such as 2007 family-drama Summer Hours.

Assayas’ latest film Carlos, the six-hour take on the life of iconic terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos ‘The Jackal’, screened at the LFF last week and opened in cinemas across the UK last weekend.