Andreas Wiseman talks to the great documentarian Marcel Ophuls about his new film Ain’t Misbehavin and returning to the Croisette after 20 years.
“This time it’s the Quinzaine so I don’t have to wear a tuxedo, which I rather regret because I like being in a tuxedo,” laughs the great German documentarian Marcel Ophuls, who turns 86 later this year.
“I like protocol and ritual. It makes the adrenaline flow.”
Ophuls returns to the Croisette for the first time in almost two decades with new documentary Ain’t Misbehavin (Un Voyageur), a cheerful and bittersweet journey through cinema history.
25 years ago the director’s acclaimed documentary Hotel Terminus, about Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, picked up the festival’s FIPRESCI Prize en route to the Oscar for Best Documentary.
Ophuls’ new film is altogether lighter in tone, spanning his childhood in Berlin and Paris and adolescence in Hollywood as the son of legendary director Max Ophüls. It then tracks his life and career as the award-winning maker of documentary classics including The Sorrow and the Pity and the aforementioned Hotel Terminus.
Ophuls talks with and about legendary personalities including Jeanne Moreau, Bertold Brecht, Otto Preminger, Ernst Lubitsch, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick and his friend François Truffaut with his memories interspersed with film clips.
“I suppose people are supposed to write their memoirs, not film them,” says the director. “I have a contract to write mine but I had a hard time writing them so I thought I’d film them first,” he says.
Ophuls singles out Truffaut as a particularly important relationship in his life: “Truffaut has had a great influence on my life. He did a great deal for me. He was like an older brother, even though he was younger than me.”
How has the documentary making process changed since Ophuls last got behind the camera? “Things go much faster now, especially in the editing room. There has certainly been an improvement, I would say.”
Despite the rapid changes, the director’s dormant period wasn’t intentional: “I wonder why I couldn’t have made another one sooner,” he muses. “I wanted to. I don’t enjoy being out of work. For one, the brain needs exercise to function!”
Ain’t Misbehavin debuts in Directors’ Fortnight today. Wide House handles international sales.
Frank Eskenazi of French documentary production house The Factory produced the feature with the support of Arte, Inthemood…, French audiovisual institution Ina and Swiss broadcaster RTS.