Michel Piccoli on Marco Ferreri

LA GRANDE BOUFFE/BLOW-OUT (Marco Ferreri, 1973)
[Piccoli at the barre: weighed down by the orgy, he performs slow exercises, while whistling the film’s music, then lightly touches the costumes hung next to the barre, rubs his hands together, before rapidly hiding his face in the crook of his arm.]

MICHEL PICCOLI: It’s fantastic, the films where directors take their time; this scene has an imaginary dimension just by its length. All that is related thus in a single shot, physical and mental states, nostalgia, habits and needs, is extremely delicate and mysterious. The opposite of an anything-goes attitude, whereas at the time Ferreri was considered a political danger, a mental danger, a sexual danger [...]. Blow-Out showed gestures and conditions of reunion of characters who never existed; you never heard about four men who got together to kill themselves in eating! We had fun in being the grotesque puppets of grief, in order to die in climaxing; to die with an animality, not to die of mental despair. To play to die.

Ugo, Marcello and I were close friends and of course we had read the script, but as soon as the shoot began, nobody looked at it again! We were inventing incessantly, while remaining very attentive to Ferreri, but he too was paying attention to our pranks. The take-off on Marlon Brando, for example, was suggested by Ugo; it wasn’t in the script. Ferreri had a very deep imagination, a constant anti-psychological streak. He was a man of freedom of creation and he understood that we entered into his game with a lot of pleasure.

For this scene, he certainly didn’t direct me very much. I must have imagined how this solitary being could be the master of his pain; and the final gesture, the psychological point is very certainly my invention - the take was supposed to be longer; Ferreri cut precisely on this gesture.

At the time of Blow-Out I was already well integrated into the troop. But the manner in which I met Ferreri is strange. I was shooting La chamade/Heartbeat with Alain Cavalier - he’s another whom I like enormously, and as we say, his evolution is extraordinary. Ferreri came by to have me read a few pages from Dillinger is Dead and to offer me straightaway the role, while at the time we didn’t know each other [...].

Dillinger is the story of man who coming home late, finds a pistol, and instead of committing suicide as is expected, kills his wife, eats, makes love with the maid, roams around the house like lonely child and suddenly jumps into the sea and goes to live on a boat. I am in all the film, continuously. The film was shot in 1969, after the revolution, and it’s a question of the desperation of man who has “made it” who no longer knows where to go. It caused a scandal, so much ferocity on the condition of the “parvenus,” as we said at the time. Too violent, too dangerous.

Ferreri didn’t direct me for a second during the shoot; he would simply give spatial indications. It was up to me to play this solitary person, this solitude, this eternal child or this childlike rebirth of “mature” man, between despair, suicide, simple insomnia, dream. There is another character who comes close fairly close to this, a similar state of solitude and of potential violence; it’s the male character in Agnès Varda’s Les Créatures/The Creatures. Or yet again, it is perhaps close to what Godard used to say to me for Contempt, that I should be “ a character from Rio Bravo acting in a Resnais film,” somehow perfectly split between the physical and the intellectual.

Finally, I have played many loners who were both cerebral and physical. If I had the energy for it, I would write my two lives, psychoanalyze myself via the psychoanalysis of the characters whom I’ve played. That could explain why I went in this direction, why different directors employed me in an ultimately similar way [...]. An introspection of myself and of the characters with whom I had a feast, to talk in a culinary way.

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Read the complete interview in Cahiers du Cinema.