Cedric Klapisch on How “Rise” Kept Him on His Toes

When Cedric Klapisch visited a wedding hall in Brittany with his location scouts in preparation for his latest film “Rise,” he probably should’ve warned the owner that in recasting it as an airy dance hall as part of an artists’ retreat, they might want to be prepared for an entirely different clientele than they were used to.

“It’s a castle used for weddings during the weekends, but now after the movie, they did start to receive a lot of dance companies,” Klapisch said recently. “So it’s funny that the movie gave the idea to the owner and now it’s used by musicians and dancers.”

Klapisch has had a habit of seeing his cinematic adventures lead to real-live tourist destinations ever since came to international renown with his 2003 comedy “L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment),” with a cast that now looks like the French version of “The Big Chill” with rising stars Audrey Tatou, Kelly Reilly, Judith Godreche, Cecile de France and Romain Duris on their way up as a collection of students traveling abroad, and while others have stopped to see the sights, the filmmaker hasn’t, too busy to enjoy the popularity of any one of his projects when he not only continued to follow the lives of those in “L’Auberge Espagnole” with its two feature sequels (“Russian Dolls” and “Chinese Puzzle”) and now an Amazon series (“Greek Salad”), but has been working in numerous arenas from documentaries to helping to establish the Netflix hit “Call My Agent” in its early episodes.

All that time, Klapisch has also been nursing a love of dance and seems to have been waiting for just the right time to make a film such as “Rise,” a passionate tale of a ballerina (Marion Barbeau) who suffers a debilitating ankle injury and works to get her groove back, taking the year that she’s told she’ll have to spend in recovery and gaining inspiration from not looking back at her career in classical dance, but in more contemporary work. That would seem to be the attitude of its director as well, bringing to bear all his experience for this passionate drama, yet allowing himself in audiences to simply get lost in the moment as Barbeau’s Elise recuperates in Brittany and starts taking her first footsteps back to the stage, practicing modern moves less stressful on her ankle and more nourishing for the soul. Although a compelling case is made by some of the dancers that join Elise at the retreat for not ditching the tutu, there’s nothing old fashioned about the way “Rise” thrusts audiences into the middle of the action, responding to what’s happening in front of the camera as a dance partner would with as much grace or ferocity it requires.

Teaming with the innovative Tony Award-nominated choreographer Hofesh Schechter, Klapisch appears to be reinvigorated by trying something new himself and on the eve of the U.S. release of “Rise” following a successful stand in its native France, he spoke about how mixing things up both in his films and his career in general has kept him engaged, how the pandemic lockdown had a silver lining when it came to gathering the best of the best in the dance world for his latest and finding the right shooting style for each form of dance.

You’ve been working around the dance world for years, but was this a goal for some time to tie it to your narrative work?

It’s true that I’ve made a documentary about Aurélie Dupont, who’s a dancer, and it took me four years to work on that documentary, so I spent a lot of time in the Opéra Garnier especially and I filmed classical ballet and contemporary dance. And after that, I recorded a lot of [live performances], so I kept on meeting a lot of choreographers and a lot of dancers and that gave me really a sense of the background of dancers and what is the backstage of a show, so that gave me the idea and the desire to make a fiction movie about that.

What was it like to collaborate with Hofesh Schecter from the start of this, developing a story alongside the dancing?

It was really great because he didn’t want to interfere in the filmmaking, so I was really free to invent the story I wanted and for a long time, he didn’t know he would act in the movie and doing his own character, but he let me use his work. So that means all the rehearsals that we see are rehearsals that he’s really doing with his dancers, almost like a documentary. I was able to film a show that he was preparing or and I could choose the music from his shows or the dance from his shows, so he was really open for me to use anything that he had done and in the way I wanted. I felt really free with great dancers, who are really good actors also, and with him — and he’s a good actor. The scene where they dance in the wind near the sea is the only scene we really invented together, and it was more like a musical comedy for that scene.

Was that a natural breeze that day? It looked so magical out on that cliff.

I have to admit it was a fake wind. [laughs] Huge, huge fans and it was really not magic when we shot because the fans were really noisy, but it was very effective. The dancers could use the sense of the very strong wind and they were dancing really with it. Usually, it’s a very windy spot so we would expect that it would be windy, but I’m glad that we planned to bring huge fans and it was easier in fact to work with the dancers because they knew how close to the fan they were and when it was when they were away, so it was like when you’re under a helicopter, for example, it’s really windy and you really react to what’s happening.

What was it like relating to the dancers with the camera?

I understood really quickly that I have three styles of dancing in the movie — hip hop, classical ballet, and contemporary dance — and you can’t film the three in the same way. Hip hop, you have to be on the floor, like the [David LaChapelle] movie “Rize” [which] is a great example of how to shoot break dance or hip hop dance. And when you film ballet, you have to reach for a perfection of the movement that the dancers are doing, so when you have an arm [extended], if you see my arm and it’s going out of frame, it doesn’t work [cinematically] and you have to keep always things in the frame, so it creates geometry. Then contemporary dance, it was more about the movement and the rhythm, so I used more editing in the contemporary dance and less the editing in the classical ballet because it was more fluid camera movements following the dancer. I used different types of mise-en-scene and ways of shooting because the three kinds of dance told me that I couldn’t film the same way.

With the different styles, I felt this allowed you to get away with one of your preoccupations – telling the story of an ensemble – while you still had a central character. Did you feel that had this in it from the start?

What you’re saying is true. For example, I love Robert Altman because for me he’s a master of ensemble movies. [Alejandro Gonzalez] Inarritu too also is really talented with that, telling different stories and bringing all the stories together. In this movie, I knew I had to follow this girl and she meets a lot of different people. And for me, it’s like when you’re a dancer, you have to deal with a company. It’s very rare when you’re dancing alone on stage and you’re doing only a solo. So sometimes you have duets, but sometimes you have big company moves and then you have to deal with the fact that you synchronize yourself with the gestures of the others, so in this movie, it was like that [where] I had to focus on one person and know the interaction and observe the interaction with the others and it was really the goal of the movie to show that.

What sold you on Marion to play this role?

I’ve cast actresses who had done a lot of dance, and I understood very quickly that when you’ve [only] done 10 years of dance or even 15, it’s really not the right level [to play an accomplished dancer] so you have to start with a dancer. And I didn’t want to do like in “Black Swan” where [the director] used Natalie Portman and someone else danced. I really wanted to choose a dancer and the acting was related to the dancing, and maybe there were five dancers who were able to do what Marion can do with dancing [as far as] classical ballet and contemporary dance in the same level, and Marion has something very touching [about her]. When you just put the camera in front of her, you have empathy for her, you feel for her, so if she’s fighting, if she’s sad, if she’s crying, you have pity for her. That’s why I chose her because she had never acted in a movie [before], and now it’s funny because she’s done already three feature films after this one. People really liked her so much in France that she’s hesitating between dance and acting now, but at the beginning it was a challenge because I didn’t know if she would act well enough to to hold the movie, but she did, so it was a good challenge.

I’ve heard in spite of the obvious challenges of filming during the pandemic, it actually freed up some of these auditoriums and a lot of the dancers were out of work. What was the energy in the room was just getting people back into these places?

It was crazy because after we’ve done the movie, we could say that COVID helped us, but during the movie, of course, it didn’t help. But Hoffesh is [typically] never available. The theaters are never available and Marion Barbeau is dancing all the time in the Paris Opera, so the fact that the theater was closed for eight months, and [the dancers] were all unemployed was a blessing in a sense because maybe this movie couldn’t have been done [otherwise]. After that, I realized that it was really very complicated to get all those locations and all those people and when we were in the theater, the dancers had not danced in front of an audience for six to eight months and they were really moved because they really felt they were missing so much, not dancing in front of an audience that everyone was crying after the first rehearsal. I don’t know if you got that after the lockdown, the first time you went to a movie or you went to a restaurant or a show, [where] you feel, “Wow, it’s so powerful to see real people on a stage.” That really happened during the movie and it was really, really moving.

Whenever I want to know what’s going on in Paris from abroad, I look to your work because it always feels of the moment, but I understand you may be tackling a period piece next?

In fact, it’s got the two periods because it’s got today and the past and it’s really what’s interesting in the next project.

It seems like you’re trying new things these days generally, with a dance movie and a series as well. Is it an exciting time?

Yeah, and it’s great because I worked on “Call My Agent” a long time ago, and I felt like I wanted to do a series that I wrote also because I didn’t write “Call My Agent,” so I worked on “Greek Salad,” which is playing on Prime Video now and it was great to go from “Rise” to “Greek Salad” because it’s so different and it’s really challenging for me and it’s really awakening in a sense. I’m glad to go back to moviemaking now and it’s great to go from one to the other because it’s really something that keeps me stimulated.

“Rise” opens on June 2nd in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal and New York at the Quad Cinema.

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