“I came to movies being behind the camera, a technician and all that. It was Arnaud Desplechin who invented me as an actor, but I was already 30 years old,” says Mathieu Amalric, who started in movies as an Assistant Director and was thrown into the spotlight when he was cast in Desplechin’s 1996 film My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument.
Not long after, Amalric turned to directing himself, and has continued with both ever since, but maintains today that “my life is just to make my films. I act only when it’s irresistible. I don’t need to act to feel alive.”
His latest film as an actor is Gilles Lellouche’s crowdpleaser, Sink or Swim. According to Amalric, it was their camaraderie that convinced him to join the project.
“We became friends on The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec,” he says referring to the 2010 Luc Besson film in which they both appeared in as actors. “We’re supposed to be opposites. We are supposed to be from two different fields of cinema. That’s not how cinema works… and that’s why I think he wanted to mingle with those tones.”
To decipher Amalric’s difficult to translate French to English sentiment is to infer that Amalric is seen as more of an arthouse star and filmmaker, whilst Lellouche is perceived as commercial.
“I was moved, and I said, ‘I don’t need to read the script, Gilles, I’ll be there’. Then I said, ‘When do you want to do it?’ He said October. I said ‘Gilles, I have to do my film’,” Amalric says referring to his own most recent directorial effort Barbara. “Gilles says, ‘I’ll wait for you’. He waited seven months. Then what was crazy, we were shooting during the nights, and I would edit Barbara during the day. I think that some of the liquid aquatic spirit of this film is in the editing of Barbara.”
The tones that Amalric is referring to relates to the themes that emerge in Sink or Swim, which follows a motley crew of middle-aged men (played by the likes of Guillaume Canet, Benoit Poelvoorde and Jean-Hughes Anglade, all stars and directors in their own right) who decide to form a synchronized swimming team at their local pool, just for men.
“Gilles was thinking of something around the community or a place where there is no judgement. He had played this part where he had to do an alcoholic guy, so he went to Alcoholics Anonymous, and he was amazed by the openness of those people together, that just don’t know judgement, and I think it made him believe in human nature. But it [Sink or Swim’s premise] creates a community of respect, of friendship, of love, that I find really beautiful. In something where, of course, the look of others would be mockery. And I find it very moving. I like how he mingles different tones. Not comedy, not drama, just the pleasure of the salt of the life.
“I think with aging, if you didn’t totally fuck your life, some people just get drier and drier. Yes, you open yourself and manage your complexes, and the physical complexes are terrible, it’s a disaster…. but I think that’s why we love working in movies – the community.
“I think that’s part of the film also, why these guys go through this,” he continues. “This thing that has no meaning, that has absolutely no glamour. There is no medal, there’s nothing in the paper, there’s nothing on television. We all need a medal. But it’s a very intimate medal, and I love that in the humanity of Gilles.”
When we spoke with Amalric, he was about to film a role in Roman Polanski’s next film, J’accuse, following up their 2013 collaboration Venus in Fur. Is he conflicted at all about working with the revered filmmaker whose past indiscretions are still in the spotlight?
“We are in a moment where [we are asking], can a person change or not? How do you pay [for] your crime? Who were you, who have you become, are you allowed? Maybe we don’t change, and you have to pay for your crime and what do you do with the victims? These are huge questions.
“Of course I would [work] with Roman Polanski,” he exclaims. “I think Gilles’ film is also about that, perfection and moral perfection doesn’t exist. And what you love of a person, is very dark and beautiful. I’m not very moral, you know? I’m more amazed by the wideness of human craziness.”
Sink or Swim is in cinemas July 18, 2019