In the past two decades, Cédric Klapisch has become one of the most internationally renowned French directors due in large part by making the entire world part of his films, even if they take place in a single location. In his wildly successful "L'Auberge Espagnole," he traveled to a Barcelona apartment building where a group of students from around the globe shared the same wild life of being young and in love, and in his last film "Paris," he encapsulated the diversity of his native city with the stories of people from different ends of the earth all grappling with more somber aspects of the human condition.
Much of Klapisch's work has spanned the gamut of countries and emotions, but his latest film "My Piece of the Pie" is at once a smaller film in scale and a bigger one in scope as he shows the fallout from the global financial crisis of 2008 through the eyes of a callous day trader (Gilles Lellouche) and the woman he hires to clean his apartment (Karin Viard), a relationship that should teach him to have greater sensitivity to the stocks – and the people – he short sells on a daily basis and allows her to get a glimpse of the high life. For Lellouche's Steve, a pristine view of the Eiffel Tower from his apartment is referred to as merely part of the decor and the inauspiciously named France, as played by Viard, gets an education in the market whims that led to the layoffs that shut down the factory that employs nearly all her friends and family.
Though he's long brought social issues to the fore, "My Piece of the Pie" is Klapisch's first since his 1992 feature debut "Riens du tout" to deal with institutions, which in turn resounds with an unfamiliar feeling in the writer/director's films to date — of frustration and rage — that happens to be particularly appropriate to create such a wicked farce. The film has only grown more timely on its way to America where it will no doubt remind audiences of the current Occupy movements and Klapisch describes the alternate reality he encountered while making a film about the out-of-touch moneyed men on whose shoulders so many of our fortunes rise and fall, how reality mirrored what he depicted on screen and the "sum of desires" that led him to make "My Piece of the Pie."
This was really a reaction to what was happening after the financial crisis where I realized there were two things in the newspaper and on TV –factories [were] closing down and [executive] bonuses were going up. Everyone said there's no connection where it's just obvious there is between industry and finance, so it was strange that everyone was denying that. And I [researched] a lot about traders, brokers, financial worth and about factories and workers and I realized it was too much – I needed to talk about that. I think it's not [documented] enough in the movies. After 1929, it created movies and novels about the result of that and I think we have to face the reality of something that's really important to everyone on the planet.
That was also a period of some of the greatest escapist cinema. How necessary was it to make the film feel light on its feet even if it was dealing with such heavy subject matter?
It was complicated to manage that story because there were many traps. The first one was I thought it was a movie about rich and poor, which it's not. I realized it's more about people who live in virtuality [versus] people who live in reality — the opposition [between the two characters] is more about that. It's also very complex to talk about finances in a movie because it's very easily boring and un-understandable, so at one point, I said, why do I want to make a movie because it's so complicated?
I think what was interesting for me was what's happening at the end. I saw Patti Smith yesterday in the streets, so I've been thinking about the song "People Have the Power." This sentence, "People Have the Power," is very true — the fact that we believe that people have the power with democracy. [But] you say, okay, people have the power, but they don't because [the financial] professionals deal for the others. When Obama wants to moralize the [financial sector], he can't do it and then all the problems that everyone sees, he's not able to solve them. No one is able to solve them and I think that we have to give back the power to the people. It's really important right now. So the ending of the movie is really about the fact we feel the crowd has something to say.
There's some irony that you're dealing with subject matter that is more practically complex than many of your previous films, but this isn't an ensemble piece like you've been making in recent years. Was that intentional for a more specific focus?
It's true. What I'm talking about is really organization, about rich and poor, about people who have the power and people who are submissive. And I tried to take a very simple example about a cleaning lady and her employer and if you put those two characters in an apartment, you have an image of the whole world in the scenes. That was interesting for me because as you said, I made a lot of movies with a lot of characters and it was a good training for me to focus more on the story and the amount of characters.
There's a wonderful sequence early on in the film where Steve takes a supermodel (Marine Vacth) to Italy to wine and dine her with the end goal of sleeping with her, only to never see her again. It's a great demonstration of his attitude towards anyone he thinks of as inferior, but would likely be cut from most films for time. Was that a challenge to keep?
Definitely. It's probably the same thing in France as in America about digression and the fact that in a storyline you need to be illogical and to follow just the narration. That scene was important since the beginning and I think it's got the right rhythm now because I couldn't just shrink everything to a very small thing because otherwise it's just fucking. [laughs] But for me, it's a very good example [of] the whole film about the fact that he thinks that he can buy everything and the money gives you both the power and the ability to do almost everything, but it's that almost which is interesting. He gets what he wants, but he doesn't get what he [really] wants. Okay, when you're rich, it's easier, but there's still something that's lacking.
You've long made a point of portraying France in an unadorned way at an urban level, but when you're making this film showing a glamorous life that's real for very few, was that something different for you to present?
Yeah, and very often people don't believe that. For example, when I [researched] traders and I went to London [and] Wall Street, some people, especially in London, when they're between 30 and 40, they're very rich, they're traders, they're bachelors – I had to lie about the reality because reality is too dark, ugly and awful. So I had to smooth things out with the character, otherwise it's too dislikable. It was strange to [do the research] and to know the reality and then to adapt that reality so that it's acceptable for the audience because what I saw in real life was too hard to convey and to talk about.
It was complicated to deal with because as you said, in my other films, people are more normal, I would say. For this film, I'm not a worker, I don't know the life in factories and I don't know the life on trading floors, so I had to [research] in the two directions and in a sense, I needed to do a documentary of the two things for the audience, so that's why there's a kind of financial class in the movie to begin the story to understand what he's talking about.
You were apparently considering an American film at the same time when you decided to make "My Piece of the Pie." Was this more pressing?
I think so. And I needed to do [a film with] a smaller budget, I needed to do something that mixed actors and non-actors, in a sense, documentary and fiction. You never know why, but when you make a movie, it's always a sum of desires that you have, so it was a desire to shoot with Karin Viard, a desire to shoot outside of Paris, to have less characters, so you put that in a pot. Also, it may be because of what's happening in the French government. I think the period is very cynical because of that government, which is lying all the time and it's a new period for politics where politicians deal more with media than with politics. This is tiring, this is revolting. I made this movie also because of that.
You can't really have ideas beforehand. For example, when I went to Dunkerque, it was pretty normal, the industrial life, and then when we got there, the exact same thing happened as what I described in the movie — the whole company, they kicked out 400 workers at a refinery. So the extras in the movie were the real workers and it was a strange combination of dealing with reality and what was really happening at that time.
I think it's something about our period, maybe because we're dealing with the Internet and the fact that we're getting information online in a second.. For example, I thought it was great — "Social Network" was the first biopic that happened seven years ago and the idea's just crazy that you can tell the story of someone who's not dead, he's just 30 years old. I think that sticking to the reality and to the instant is very much our times.
What kind of things are you interested in making films about?
I know I'd like to make a movie about wine, so I'm writing something that would take place in France about people who make wine. And I would like to make a movie in New York. I studied two years in New York, and there's something about the city I'd like to do. I don't know exactly what, but I'd like to make a movie here.
"My Piece of the Pie" is now available on VOD and will open in New York at the IFC Center on December 9th.