Je rentre à la maison

                                                        Flickhead

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Michel Piccoli

Manoel de Oliveira’s
Je rentre à la maison
(I’m Going Home)

Je rentre à la maison — Written and directed by Manoel de Oliveira.

Produced by Paulo Branco. Cinematography by Sabine Lancelin.
Edited by Valérie Loiseleux. With Michel Piccoli, Catherine Deneuve,
John Malkovich, Antoine Chappey, Leonor Baldaque, Leonor Silveira.
90 minutes, released in 2001.
Available on DVD from Milestone Film & Video.
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Jacques Parsi and Manoel de Oliveira interview

Film review

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Michel Piccoli and Manoel de Oliveira
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Manoel de Oliveira and Jacques Parsi
Je rentre à la maison / I’m Going Home

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Jacques Parsi has worked on several of director Manoel de Oliveira’s scripts, aiding in the French translation and dialog on Party (1996), Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo (1997), and O Princípio da Incerteza (2002). For Je rentre à la maison, Parsi worked on the screenplay and played a small role on camera. In the following interview, conducted for the film’s presskit, the two men discuss Je rentre à la maison, sex, Buñuel, and James Joyce.

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Manoel de OliveiraI’m Going Home is almost a non-story, as simple as its title suggests, which takes place in “fairytale” Paris at the beginning of the year 2000. The city of lights, center of all our complex western civilization, where the superfluous seems to take precedence over the essential. It is like a game played by innocent naughty children, and its results, may be, or rather, not be, a pathetic and unexpected socio-ecologic eclosion of tomorrow’s world, where to say “I’m going home” has lost its meaning. But no, this is not the story.
    In fact, although the action of the film is divided between the city and the theatre plays, etc., we should look at it as a whole. It is certain that we are dealing with a personal drama, undergone by a famous old actor, who is the innocent victim of an unexpected betrayal. The initial idea may seem exaggerated or even out of place, but in truth I must confess that it was exactly that which gave me the urge to write such a simple story.

Jacques Parsi — In filming Paris you create two pictures: one, the Paris of lights, the cafés, the expensive shops, and the other that of Paris by night, dark and threatening. Why did you make this choice? Why Paris?

Manoel de Oliveira — Answering your two questions together I would say that the first is a sketch of the life of the city as it is today while the second shows it as the Center of Western Culture, which Paris is. Then, there is this globalization of all that is brilliant and satisfying, but there is also the other side, the dark threatening night as you call it, with its drugs, its ethnic, religious and political conflicts which are rife everywhere: in Eastern Europe in the Middle East, in Africa, Indonesia, without mentioning what is going on in Asia, or with the Indians in the Americas.

Jacques Parsi — We get the impression that the old famous Gilbert Valence is a negative personality. He says no to Silva. Turns down his golden proposal . . . Is it experience? Is it age? Or is it the ethnics that he invokes when faced with his agent?

Manoel de Oliveira — I think it is the result of the wisdom he has gained by experience. Just as I don't think his ethics were negative. It is from these same ethics that come the commandments ‘thou shall not kill, steal, exploit, discriminate,’ etc. . . These are the ethics written on top of the plinth in the “Place de la Republique” which holds up a bronze statue, and when we look on the back we can read the words carved in stone, “Labor, Liberdade, Fraternidade.”

Jacques Parsi — He doesn’t want to take part in the telefilm because of the “scenes of sex and violence.” Nevertheless there are great works which contain sex and violence. Joyce’s Ulysses was forbidden for years because of its pornography. What is it in your opinion that explains Gilbert Valance’s attitude in the today’s world?

Manoel de Oliveira — I respect his ethics, professed by the character himself. Whether as an actor or as a man. I think ethics are fundamental for the rules of human relationships. But I can’t see where there are great works confined to pornography. Sex, the source of all pornography, is an abysmal thing and this abyss perverts and attracts man’s animal instincts. It dehumanizes him. I say man’s animal instincts, because in animals pornography does not exist, nor does shame, while in Man the excesses of pornography pervert him and make him like a kind of assassin, the attraction of which may be similar or even confused with this other type of abyss. Pornography and assassination are outside the law, outside the bounds of morality. They spring from the confines of human nature and become absolute in themselves.
    Ulysses by James Joyce has value in itself not because of pornographic speculation, which is not an accessory to the content, as neither are the psycho-definitions that he gives some of the characters at the end. In both cases, however, they are no more than an exercise in seduction. In the second case they are what the author believes, or wishes his characters to believe. Going back to the first, this could be the overwhelming need of the narrator himself to expel his erotic libido. Here we could find reasons due to the author’s personal urge for a need to exteriorize out of context, whereas “I'm going home,” is still the basis in Joyce’s Ulysses, after Homer. What we find in the hurried and “modern” literature of today, is an elevated multiplication to the seventh power by many opportunist authors in repetitive works of violence and pornography for their own sakes, just because they are in fashion and sell well, which has nothing to do with the writings of Joyce. In this, the public things pass to the private and most intimate, without them, however, becoming mixed. In the case of the cinema, an irreverent director as aggressive as he is genial, I’m speaking of Buñuel, never showed the sexual act or pornographic scenes, things of an intimate nature which other, uninhibited directors in their search for audiences make public, as is especially the case on many television programs. Despite this, the violence in Buñuel’s films is more powerful because Buñuel, strange as it may seem, was, deep down, a modest man, and his films suggest more than they show, and the suggestion is more powerful than the act in itself, whatever that may be. The Greeks in their great tragedies held back from showing scenes of abominable acts “Kill the Children but not on stage,” they said. Anyway showing in public what should be done in private is always a lack of decorum. Today, however, the barriers are down and decorum is out-of-date, nothing shocks and “everything goes.”

Jacques Parsi — At the end, the camera doesn’t focus on Gilbert, who disappears, but on his grandson who up to now has only played a secondary role. Why did you suddenly focus him?

Manoel de Oliveira — Because up to now the grandson was secondary. But children have a sixth sense and a perception of disaster, he sees in his grandfather a model who represents a past free of wisdom and stability which collapses before his eyes; a tragedy which, consciously or not, the child applies to himself. It was not only affection which placed him there to witness the collapse, but the presentiment that the responsibilities of life will now fall on him in the same way his grandfather had reached the top of the ladder and fallen, defeated. Is life not a passing on of the baton, whether it is natural or acquired, stolen or won?

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Michel Piccoli’s character as Buck Mulligan
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Je rentre à la maison / I’m Going Home

Review by Ray Young

    Twelve years older than Eric Rohmer, twenty years older than Agnès Varda and Jacques Rivette, Manoel de Oliveira first astonishes us by his longevity. Born in 1908 in Oporto, Portugal, he had dabbled in acting (Fátima Milagrosa, directed by Rino Lupo, 1928) and documentary filmmaking (Douro, Faina Fluvial/Labor on the River Douro, 1931), but spent most of the next thirty years away from the cinema, involved with the family business. It wasn’t until Acto de Primavera/Passion of Jesus (1963) when he resumed full time and began attracting attention in international festivals. And twenty years after that he entered something of a golden age, a stream of excellence that shows no signs of remission: Um Filme Falado, with John Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, and Irene Papas, is soon to be released, its director ninety-five-years-old.

    Je rentre à la maison/I’m Going Home concerns itself with the issues closest to Oliveira, age and time and mortality. These themes were employed to great success in Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo/Voyage to the Beginning of the World (1997), where the director found an eager accomplice in his star, Marcello Mastroianni. (Such an inspired union, it’s unfortunate they made but one picture together.) That film also continued Oliveira’s predilection for actors as characters and the use of stage drama to reflect life situations (motifs he shares with Rivette), which had been first revealed in O Passado e o Presente/The Past and the Present (1972).
    Opening with a stage performance of Eugène Ionesco’s Exit the King, Je rentre à la maison gradually examines its main character, an actor played by Michel Piccoli. In his introduction, Oliveira films most of Piccoli from behind, his back to the camera — a technique both jarring (depriving us of seeing the star) and informative (recognized and respected, the star owes nothing to us). It also distances the viewer from Piccoli’s character, a man equally aloof from the people in his life.
    At his advanced age and with the losses he’s suffered, the character’s remoteness — which he calls his “solitudiné” — earns our empathy. In a restaurant with his agent (Antoine Chappey), their superficial banter is exchanged over an impassive, prolonged close-up of Piccoli’s shiny new shoes. Chatting with fans on the street or with a waiter at this favorite cafe, voices are blocked from us by the windows we’re peering into. And as the 76-year-old French actor weathers the jumble of cuts and multiple takes of an English-language film production, playing Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, we sense his disenchantment by the reactions on the face of his director (played by John Malkovich).
    In this last scene especially, Je rentre à la maison studies the progression of humiliation, while other areas of the film point out the rewards of living in the moment. At peace in banality, joyous when playing with his grandson or treating himself to simple pleasures, the actor becomes his own man, much to the chagrin of those who believe he’d be happier doing more. But he no longer chooses to perform his “role” in life, opting for a plain, unhurried existence.
    There is no finer actor for this than Michel Piccoli. From a long and varied career, he has recently given a number of outstanding performances, notably the blocked artist challenged by La Belle noiseuse (Rivette, 1991); as the father of film in Varda’s charming Les Cent et une nuits de Simon Cinéma (1995); and in Oliveira’s Party (1996). Speaking on the Je rentre à la maison DVD audio commentary, Richard Peña, Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, makes an intriguing connection between Piccoli’s character in the Oliveira film with the screenwriter he portrayed in Jean-Luc Godard’s Les Mepris/Contempt (1963): Godard had him pursuing The Odyssey, Oliveira places him at its end.
    Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve (appearing in the Exit the King segment), have lent their support to several Oliveira films. (O Convento [1995], a dark meditation of evil and satire of horror film trappings, is particularly interesting.) Leonor Silveira, so effective in Vale Abraão/Abraham’s Valley (1993) and the director’s most frequently used performer, appears briefly as an actress.
    An effective visual gimmick in Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo is the observation of life passing by, through a camera mounted on the back of a moving car. As the present becomes their past, the characters regress into primitivism, questing for “home.” In Je rentre à la maison, Michel Piccoli’s actor has found where home is, wisely choosing rest over performance, a primitive in a world rushing to nowhere.