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Paris 1968: the irrational and the unreal

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Milos Forman
Jean-Claude Carrière Film-maker
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Quand finalement les choses se sont calmées à Paris, Milos au fond de son lit ne comprenant rien, et que de Gaulle est revenu au pouvoir ce qui allait entraîner une victoire de la droite aux élections prochaines comme jamais la France n’en avait connu, Milos m’a dit: «Écoute, on ne peut pas travailler à New York, on n’a pas pu travailler à Paris, nous allons aller dans l’endroit le plus calme du monde, nous allons à Prague». Nous sommes allés à Prague et les russes sont arrivés avec leurs tanks… l’armée du pacte de Varsovie. C’était une année extraordinaire pour cela, nous étions revenus à Paris, cherchant désespérément… bousculés par la grande l’histoire à écrire notre petite histoire sans y parvenir. Nous nous sommes retrouvés à l’automne à Paris, et à ce moment là le glas de ’68 a sonné avec les massacres des étudiants à Mexico, à la mitrailleuse…  Le gouvernement Mexicain a fait tuer de 400 à 500 étudiants… un gouvernement qui tire sur sa jeunesse, on ne peut rien imaginer de pire, tandis que le communisme s’est réinstallé en Tchécoslovaquie après les espoirs de printemps de Prague pour 20 ans, pour de nouveau 20 ans, pour rien du tout simplement, pour  20 ans d’oppression de plus. Donc on était là, hésitants, Milos était coupé de sa famille, qui était venue un moment, qui était repartie, etc. Et il a décidé de rester à l’ouest et d’aller aux Etats-Unis. Il a fait un an et demi plus tard Taking off le film que nous avions écrit ensemble, qui n’a pas eu le succès commercial, il s’est retrouvé à la dérive, il habitait une chambre d’hôtel, il avait plus de 40 ans, ses films étaient étudiés dans toutes les écoles de cinéma du monde, ses films tchèques, et il n’avait pas de quoi vivre… C’était nous qui le nourrissions, qui payait sa chambre d’hôtel, et puis miraculeusement il a fait « Le vol au-dessus d’un nid de coucou » et tout est reparti, il est devenu le metteur en scène que l’on connaît aujourd’hui, doublement oscarisé, pour le Coucou et Amadeus mais après avoir traversé une période très, très, sombre. La période ‘68 était pour lui très excitante et très étrange, mais très difficile à vivre. Et moi j’avais beaucoup d’autres choses en même temps, j’avais la première d’une pièce à Paris, ma première pièce de théâtre l’Aide-mémoire que jouait une grande star d’alors, Delphine Seyrig, qui était une comédienne magnifique et qui avait accepté de la jouer, mais elle s’était prise de passion pour les étudiants et elle avait  totalement abandonné son projet, elle allait manifester dans les usines Renault… avec sa petites voiture alors que faire, comment la ramener à la… bon les évènements s’en sont chargés d’eux même.

When eventually things calmed down in Paris, Milos still in bed, not understanding a thing, and de Gaulle coming back to power leading to a victory of the right wing in the next elections such as France had never witnessed before, Milos said, 'Look, we weren't able to work in New York and Paris, let's go to the quietest place in the world, let's go to Prague.' So we go to Prague and the Russians arrived with their tanks and the Warsaw Pact troops. For this reason, that was an extraordinary year, we had come to Paris, desperately seeking… shuffled about by history as we were trying to write our small story without any success. We went back to Paris in the Autumn, and it was the end of the '68 movement, with the massacring of students in Mexico who were mown down with machine guns... the Mexican government shot about 400-500 students... a government which kills its youth, there is nothing worse. In the meantime, communism returned to Czechoslovakia after the hopes that came with the Spring, for 20 years, for 20 more years of oppression.

So we were somewhat hesitant, Milos was cut off from his family who had been here for a while, but had gone back. He decided to stay in the West, and to go to the United States. He made Taking Off a year-and-a-half later, the film we had written together which did not have any commercial success, and he was somewhat adrift, living in a hotel room, he was over 40 years old, his films were studied in every film school in the world, his Czech films, and yet, he did not have any money to live on. We were the ones paying for his food, hotel room, and then, somewhat miraculously he made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and everything went back on track, he became the director he now is, with two Oscars for Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, but only after having had that very dark time. That period in '68 was very exciting and very strange, but very difficult for him. And I, on my side, I had a lot going on at the same time, I had the premiere of a play in Paris, my first play, L'aide memoire, starring a wonderful actress, Delphine Seyrig, who had agreed to perform in it, but she became heavily involved with the student movement and completely abandoned her project, and was going to protests in Renault car factories... going with her little car. So how could we make her come back... events saw to that.

 

French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière began his association with films aged 24 when he was selected by Jacques Tati to write for him. This early experience led to further contact with other film-makers, including Luis Buñuel with whom Carrière collaborated for many years. He has written screenplays for films including 'Belle de Jour', 'The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie', 'Tin Drum' and 'Danton'.

Listeners: Andrzej Wolski

Film director and documentary maker, Andrzej Wolski has made around 40 films since 1982 for French television, the BBC, TVP and other TV networks. He specializes in portraits and in historical films. Films that he has directed or written the screenplay for include Kultura, which he co-directed with Agnieszka Holland, and KOR which presents the history of the Worker’s Defence Committee as told by its members. Andrzej Wolski has received many awards for his work, including the UNESCO Grand Prix at the Festival du Film d’Art.

Tags: Paris, Prague, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, August 1968, L'aide memoire, Delphine Seyrig, Milos Forman

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2010

Date story went live: 18 October 2010