CONVERSATION WITH FRĂDĂRIC SCHOENDOERFFER
Part of the filmâs power comes from this descent into the daily life of mobsters in the French underworld. This âdocumentaryâ aspect of the story is captivating. What research did you undertake to achieve such realism?
We always start with a lengthy investigative process. My co-writer, Yann Brion, and I delved into everything we could find that relates to organized crime. It ranged from reading the metro section in the newspaper every morning, where one always find a couple pages of fascinating news, to the confessions of former thugs or the memoirs of the ex-cops who hunted them down. I also encountered a few peopleâŠ My ambition was to make a sort of âMicrocosmos of the Mobâ, to give the viewer a chance at an intimate look into this impenetrable, secretive and dangerous world. I wanted to develop a âShakespearean intrigueâ, and place it in this context with the utmost veracity. In this story of a mob boss, leader of the most notorious Parisian gangster ring, betrayed by the guy whom he trusted the most, I could say, in all humility, that CaubĂšre plays Julius Caesar and Magimel is Brutus!
Gangsters must not be easy to approach.
The few gangsters I was able to approach, to some degree, have something very unusual about them. When you dine with the devil, youâd better have a long spoonâŠ They operate on instinct, they sense everything. I met a gangster once with a cop friend of mine, who pretended that I was one of his colleagues. The next day, the mobster called him up to say âyouâre screwing with me, that guy wasnât a cop!â. My friend had to confess that I work in film. Thankfully, like most thugs, the guy loved movies. But these men are nonetheless seriously dangerous.
CRIME SCENES exposed the perverse violence of a serial killer. SECRET AGENTS showed brutality without misgivings. CRIME INSIDERS reflects the barbarian ways of gangsters, who fear neither God nor man. What captivates your interest in all these manifestations of violence?
In CRIME SCENES, I talked about cops on the edge of a cliff, who keep their hold on life by having the law on their side to serve the State. The protagonists of SECRET AGENTS were also on the edge of a chasm, flirting with the forbidden, thus becoming outlaws while remaining in the service of the State.
With CRIME INSIDERS, the idea is to delve into a world where there no longer is any law, nor State. We are in the heart of chaosâŠ And chaos is interesting to describe!
Should one see in your film the reflection of a period of extreme violence, as fascinating as it is disturbing ?
The film can be watched as entertainment, a gangster movie with all the ingredients and a broad range of spiciness, for all tastes. It can also be seen with a more political eye, as a metaphor, a testimony to the evolution of human relations. This is rather sad to observe, which is also the reason why it struck me as interesting to discuss. Just take a look at politicians and the unbelievable way in which they undermine each other. Not to mention the world of business! Gangsters are a product of their society. In the end, we have the criminals we deserve! We live in a society where there are no more values or friendship. People betray one another. They are caught up in an egocentric obsession, they have to make money, attain a form of notoriety or power, regardless of the means used to get there. I thought the realm of criminals would be a more flavorsome way to illustrate this observation.
If the realm of organized crime can be attractive, you nonetheless do not seek to praise it.
This moral point of view drove me throughout the writing and directing processes. Upon leaving the theater, I doubt that the viewer, no matter how much pleasure or displeasure he or she derived from this genre film, will have any desire to be part of the crime world. The violence shown in the film is neither choreographed nor aesthetic. It is ugly violence. I think itâs important to reiterate such simple things as this: when you shoot a bullet through someoneâs head, itâs disgusting. We have to stop believing that death is beautiful when it is carried out by man.
In each one of your films, you show that there is always a price to pay.
A gang lasts about ten or twelve years. After that, another outfit takes over, just like in the food chain. Gangsters know this. The story of the gangster who ends his life happily, in the countryside, is a myth. This line of work always ends very badly. The bill always ends up coming at some point, one must never forget that.
The police is practically absent from the film.
Organized crime in France concerns about 400 people. How many mob bosses are arrested every year? Very few. Gangsters bump each other off. While I was editing the film in Marseilles in January, one gang was decimated by another gang. Looking at the pictures in the newspaper, I felt as though I was seeing images from my film! In France, thuggery operates in gangs, according to the model of our Gallic clan conception! It doesnât rely on a pyramidal organization like that of the triads in Asia, or on the very hierarchic system of the Mafia in Italy or the United States. This distinctiveness allowed me to free myself from the American or Asian codes. It was important for me to show how all of this takes place over here, the various circles, the North African gangs, the Gypsies, etc. All these gangs that somehow manage to cohabitate in order to split the take.
By killing each other to enforce their power. We discover a new generation of gangsters with no scruples, devoid of forgivenessâŠ
Yes, the underworld has changed, the âcodes of honorâ are scorned, as they are in our society, which itself has deteriorated with disillusions. These guys are totally irresponsible, completely nuts, out of bounds. Violence is their language, their means of survival to hang on to power. What we find here are primary men, in their dialog with the world and others. Corti tortures the Chinaman because he considers that he screwed him, so the retribution is horrible, immediate and without any warning.
Todayâs gangsters are into diversifying.
Yes, their thing is flexibility. Itâs very simple, they go where the money is. And they adapt very swiftly. Their system, in a way, is a model of social mobility! Itâs interesting to observe that at an any given moment, these guys are capable of dropping one endeavor to grab another, even if itâs in a business they know nothing about. Whatâs important is profit. As it is shown in the film, this can nowadays even go as far as uranium trafficking.
The film focuses on two men with opposite characters and behavior patterns. Claude Corti, a sort of âgodfatherâ, a pack creature, and Franck, a killer for hire and more of a lone wolf.
Corti embodies the leader who is getting slightly overwhelmed by changes in the marketplace, that are imposed by the new rising generation. This highly aggressive, and slightly out of it psychopath, gets his power taken from him by a bunch of younger guys who decimate his gang. It reminds me of those companies that get acquired by Oxford graduates who, when they step in, fire 200 people to reduce bulk and increase profit. That is yet another parallel between the underworld and the realm of big business, where the prime concern is making money, no matter what it takes. In a more polished way, businessmen also make up their own rules.
Corti is a multi-faceted criminal; he controls drugs, night clubs, girls, boxing, counterfeit bills, car registrationsâŠ
Itâs money for the sheer sake of it. He always needs more. That kind of criminal doesnât want to make money for any specific project. In Colombia, one drug trafficker made so much cash that he emptied his swimming pool to fill it to the brim with stacks of bills. That guy didnât know what to do with his money but he still kept on developing his business!
Corti wants to control everything, even the gender of his future child!
It was important to delve into the characterâs private life, and to discover that when it comes down to it, he is confronted with simply human concerns. These guys are not extra-terrestrials. That too is of interest to me, to speak of the human condition within one of its most unattractive contexts.
Corti still carries remains of old school gangster etiquette. For instance, he gives envelopes to the widows of his bodyguardsâŠ
Absolutely. He is part of an older generation that is disappearing. Corti has ties to the North African cousins out of loyalty to Hichamâs father. But the more he gets left behind, the more dangerous he becomes, because he must battle a new generation of increasingly violent thugs.
Cortiâs character is displayed, with his loud mouth, his entourage, his whores, his schemes, while Franckâs character remains more mysterious.
In this type of film, Franck is the classic hired killer figure, the professional paid to carry out contracts without leaving a trace. He is like a lone wolf, always on the periphery of the pack. Presumably the smartest one of them all, he does his business alone, pitting the others against one another. In fact, apart from those who have âtemporarilyâ seized power, Franck is the only one who manages to get out. I wanted to show, within this chaos where power keeps changing hands, one archetype of the solitary killer who drifts through the story with something melancholy about him, then goes away. We understand, through faint signs, that this man is on the move. The film opens on the out of focus image of BenoĂźt Magimel moving in slow motion through the night toward us, until his face is revealed, his eyes filled with weariness. Later, we see him watching a plane take off. And the film ends on the same face of this man, bathed in sunlight, as he walks away through an African city and everything goes out of focus again. Franck is a killer, but oddly, his is the character I can most identify withâŠ I hope the viewer will also be able to get attached to him, as he is the one who leaves the underworld, the one who is the most lucid about the chaos.
Franck has a dandy hoodlum way about him, with his baseball cap, his fancy carsâŠ
The world of gangsters is a world of high rollers and luxury, and not necessarily in the best of taste! They splurge on good food, fast cars, designer clothing, and they pay cash to avoid leaving a trail. Gangsters remain the products of a certain poverty. Crooks from good neighborhoods usually go into finance! To gangsters, money buys anything, it is power. Pulling a wad of bills out of oneâs pocket is akin to drawing a weapon.
The sets also inform us on their personalities. Franckâs apartment, for instance, high up like an eagleâs nest, with its panoramic view over Paris.
This man lives in a state of constant wariness. It took us a long time to find that apartment which is, for anecdoteâs sake, the highest in Europe, at the top of a tower. It belongs to some charming people, who had recently bought the place from a former pimp. Thatâs when I said to myself, this is perfect, weâve found it. Which just goes to show that we reach our subject via all sorts of roads!
We cover all the territory of the underworld, the night bars, the escort clubs, the palatial orgiesâŠ You even shot a scene in a mosque.
Organized crime and terrorism sometimes cross paths for obvious reasons; same need for money and weapons, which lead to trafficking. But obviously, that scene in a mosque seeks in no way to insult the religion, nor is it meant as an aggression or a provocation of any kind. As it is often reported in the news, one of the cousins, Larbi, while in prison responded to the lure of religion, but he remains an opportunist. With Yann Brion, the co-screenwriter, our guiding principle in writing that scene was to show how two characters from the same family can have diverging opinions about religion. We could have shot the same scene with two Jews or two Catholics. We also show how this world is racist against North Africans, as society can be. But as always, in a slightly more primal wayâŠ
No real gangster movie would be complete without weapons. In your film, the criminals are heavily equipped!
To them, a weapon is a tool of the trade, of negotiation, it is their means of communication! In the film, we only see the weapons when they are in use. I didnât want any of the fetishist relationship we get in some movies, between the gangster and his weapon. Gangsters today have phenomenal fire power, which actually poses huge problems for the police. To hit a gang like this one, you must have specialized units. In cases of armored car robberies, when guys pull out weapons of war, only the SWAT team can intervene. Some cops told me that in certain shootout situations, as in the parking lot scene, the gangsters donât even cover their faces or use silencers. The more noise there is, the more the weapons are frightening and the more the witnesses on the scene are in a state of shock. That kind of trauma prevents them from recording the facts and recalling them when they testify.
To these âmalesâ, women are nothing but objects of pleasure.
Yes, this is a very macho environment. These men donât have normal relationships with women. But again, I think this reflects todayâs world. We return to the chaos. I am no âpreacher of modestyâ, but our society is highly eroticized. The merest car advertisement is an appeal to our sexual urges. Women are objects in most ads. So when it comes to these very primary men, their vision of women is no better! In the scene showing the delivery of prostitutes from Montenegro, we see that these guys put the girls through the worst kind of violence, in order to break their spirit and mentally dismantle them. Terror must reign. That way, once they get to France, they will do everything theyâre told. And all this takes place two hours from Paris!
You take the sex scenes very far, to the point where it seems these males are unloading their excess violence. It is no longer pleasure, but rageâŠ
These guys have all the trimmings of virility, cars, guns, girls, and yet, these exterior signs of manhood are actually a form of impotence. The description of this startling world is indeed rather crude, but we either stop at the bedroom door and listen to the dialog without seeing what goes on, which makes us fantasize, or we enter the bedroom and see just how far they are capable of going. This is cinema, but we decided to get as close as we could to their truth. And it is not always a pretty sight. That is also what gives the film its moral viewpoint.
How did you compose the character of Beatrice, Cortiâs love interest?
Behind every gang leader, there is a woman. Behind Zeitoun, Francis le Belge or Mesrine, there was a woman, itâs a classic. In my opinion, Beatrice is the positive character of the movie. She has premonitory flashes, feelings about things to come. She knows that her brute of a man is a dirtbag but she loves him. Unlike the whole clique, she is the only sincere one. No one talks to Corti like she does and yet, they have an almost regular couples dynamic. I was thrilled that Beatrice Dalle accepted this role as a gangsterâs woman, and in fact, she was the one who insisted that her character be named Beatrice. I knew she was the only one who could provide such intensity, such an emotional impact, she gave the character luminosity. Beatrice Dalle is particularly moving in her sincerity when she asks Corti to have a child with her.
Your directing style is increasingly incisive, sharp and efficient.
In CRIME SCENES, the regional crime squad investigators could not get involved in shootouts, and the central intelligence agents in SECRET AGENTS had to carry out their business on the sly. With CRIME INSIDERS, the subject was conducive to shootouts, spectacular action scenes, it would have been a shame to hold back. In addition to which, these scenes give rhythm to the film.
You stick to the genre, while also giving it a new spin by ridding it of any Film Noir folklore and shedding its slew of clichĂ©s.
These three years of immersion into the world of organized crime, for the preparation of this film have taught me a number of things. The closer you get to the truth, the more you evacuate clichĂ©s. I wanted a work of anthropology, not some kind of pageant! The more you demystify, or âde-glamorizeâ the truth, the more it falls into place. I tried to be as raw and honest as possible in this representation of organized crime, without making any judgment, in order for the viewer to form his or her own opinion on this world.
I am not a moralizer, but I am sick of this notion of romantic gangsters with a big heart, who help old ladies cross the road. Thatâs a joke, especially nowadays! Iâm not at war against that world, but I have children and this phenomenon is of interest to me. I donât think thereâs anything glorious about being a criminal.
You have given Philippe CaubĂšre an astonishing comeback to the screen!
One night, while watching Thalassa on television, I discovered this actor, who was a participant on the show. Being claustrophobic, I seldom go to the theatre. I was so struck by his charisma that I immediately called my producer, Eric NĂ©vĂ©, to tell him âlook at this actor, heâd be a great Cortiâ. Eric tells me âitâs Philippe CaubĂšre, a theatre legend. Unfortunately he hasnât been in a movie in fifteen years, he turns everything down.â But we contacted him anyway. Luckily, CaubĂšre had liked my two previous films and he accepted! Philippe CaubĂšre invested himself completely in his character of a paranoid mob boss, contributing pertinent remarks about the writing of this or that scene. And above all, he gave Corti all his violence and rage, and dared to delve into the cruelty and crudeness of the sex scenes.
What about BenoĂźt Magimel?
BenoĂźt was in as soon as he read the script. He astonished me with the seriousness with which he prepares. He is one of those actors who really work on their characters. Watching the rushes for the panoramic bar scene, I was impressed by the way he moves, the way he delivers his lines to CaubĂšre as he nibbles on olives and tosses back a whiskey, all with such rhythm and tension, as if heâd choreographed his every move. Next day, as I congratulated him, I asked him if heâd worked on that bar scene. He replied âyes, I rehearsed it at home for a week.â
BenoĂźt is a hard worker. He perfected his appearance by dying and slicking back his hair, and also selected all the necklaces he wears around his neck, his watch, etcâŠ BenoĂźt Magimel loves my fatherâs films. This allowed me to slip in an homage to THE 317th PLATOON, an allusion to an underhanded maneuver, a war ruse. A scene that also alludes to the film.
The casting is flawless, with special praise for Olivier Marchal, Tomer Sisley and Mehdi Nebbou.
I met Olivier Marchal at a festival, when 36 QUAI DES ORFĂVRES was released, and we took an immediate liking to one another. When Olivier found out I was prepping CRIME INSIDERS, he called me up to say that heâd love to be part of the adventure. When I offered him the part of Jean-Guy, this somewhat obtuse character, Olivier said: Iâm in! Iâd already spotted Mehdi Nebbou in Spielbergâs MUNICH. He is a terrific actor, who works a lot in Germany. Tomer Sisley is a star today, with his one man show. When I met him while we were casting CRIME INSIDERS, he wasnât as well-known. Tomerâs elegance, tinged with insolence really appealed to me. With my first AD, we auditioned about 500 actors over the course of four months and we found some real jewels, like Anne Marvin, Cyril LecomteâŠ They all deserve to be mentioned. Working with such talented actors, who put so much faith into their performances helps enormously. Itâs like a shot of vitamins !
You always remain loyal to Bruno Coulais. How did you and he define the feel of the filmâs musical score ?
As soon as we have a ten minute rough cut, I show it to him. Bruno spent five months thinking it over, composing themes with his son, Hugo Coulais, creating samples. We mulled it over as we listened to selected scores from other movies, certain arrangements. We know each other so well by now. Far from being invasive, his score reinforces the action and the filmâs rhythm.
How did you come up with the idea of including Marianne Faithfullâs song âA Lean and Hungry Lookâ over the end credits?
It was Bruno Coulaisâ idea to ask Marianne Faithfull to write the words and sing this song that he and his son composed for the film. Marianne Faithfullâs wild icon of rock image was perfectly in keeping with the film. I couldnât have dreamed of a more ideal fit!