The history of French cinema is marked by the presence of groups of filmmakers, aesthetic thinkers with common aspirations, some openly united, others naturally brought together. Since the 1980s, Patricia Mazuy has stood out for her rebellious aesthetic independence from the waves of the moment, creating an incomparable cinema, difficult to map in the archipelagos of French cinema authors. A filmmaker with very particular tastes and choices, her career is marked by the constant renewal between projects that makes it difficult to point out an authorial comfort zone in her work, always risking new paths.
Her new “Saturn Bowling” (2022) is no different. With this film noir, she chooses to film what French critics fear so much, or worse, what new filmmakers tend to represent with such negligence: the abject. If Jacques Rivette, in his famous text “De l’abjection” (1961), departs a priori from two questions, what is shown and how it is shown, in order to approach the cinematographic realization of difficult subjects, Mazuy in this film seems to be mainly interested in a third question, unfolded from these two: how much is shown. For the director, who was an editor before moving definitively to directing, the approach to violence inevitably seems to be a matter of awareness of measures, not mathematics but narratives, especially when she decides to show it instead of eclipsing it. When facing abjection, deciding to film the brutal murder of a woman head-on, Mazuy demonstrates impressive awareness and audacity in the face of the difficult scene. The spectator embarks on a self-assured narrative, which lucidly advances and studies its limits without a hint of negligence.
We had the opportunity to hear from the director in the context of the release of “Saturn Bowling”, as well as talking about her career, collaborations and artistic interests.
Gabriel Linhares Falcão
Gabriel Linhares Falcão: All your films are very intense and pulsating, something that is especially evident in your work with the actors. In your first film, for example, you worked with actors that bring out this intensity and most of your characters operate with this externalization. In “Saturn Bowling” (2022), there seems to be a turning point in this direction. The protagonist internalizes all the intensity and, in the other hand, in externalizing he reveals himself as the most violent character so far in your career. Could you talk about this difference in relation to your other films?
Patricia Mazuy: You’re right about the turning point and it’s because the subject of the film, the inside subject, is about the savagery in inheritance. There are two words: savagery and inheritance. “Inheritance” means the past, which is obviously very heavy on both of the two men and it’s kept only within inside, they hardly speak. In tragedy, you have to be sharp and make radical choices. So, the challenge was to keep this goal and make something really sharp and not naturalistic, but altogether to have them be really real inside, to keep the film alive. So, because of the tragic tone of the film noir, the genre of the film, there could be no hope and I had to go deep into that.
So, I made it that way so that at one point it’s like it is real but it’s also a nightmare. When we are alone with the couple and the older brother doesn’t succeed in his love relationship, doesn’t succeed in his invests, doesn’t succeed in his inquiry and doesn’t understand what his half-brother is really like… Because, in the second part of the film we know that the half-brother has become heavy, has become a monster, but he learns how to compose and to face his destiny, he plays with his brother, in a way. Every time we see Armand in the second part, it’s different. And then everything sorts itself out, and dissolves in fact, in the chaos scene with the hunter, when one gets drunk and loses himself and the other one knows it’s the end. When his brother tells him to go away and he cleans the flat and then he becomes back, he knows that this is the end.
What you said earlier is right, and I have entrusted Achille Reggiani, who plays Armand, with the “mission” to bear the tragedy, to grab the viewer with an explosion of violence, the mission being to enclose and disclose it, in a primitive way. In fact, Achille and Leila Muse (who plays Gloria) endorse the responsibility of having the spectator linked with the birth of violence in a primitive way. It all rests upon them. In Armand’s character, humiliation explodes back in domination and savagery.
GLF: In the interview you had with Marcos Uzal to Cahiers du Cinéma in 2020, you presented the idea of creating collisions. It is an idea that can be observed in several ways in your films, in the collision of themes, genres, actors and editing too. How has this idea of creating collisions manifested itself in “Saturn Bowling”?
PM: In the others films, there was a mixture of genres, and that justified the collisions. In this one, there is only one tone, it’s only dark. The tragedy is plural, there was no way to escape it and to try to escape it was the not the right way to play with the viewer. The challenge for me was to keep to this one tune and to be bold, but not pretentiously showing off.
We know who we have to find and it’s in front of the policeman’s eye, but he cannot see it because he is loaded by his past. So, the collision that I was talking about in 2020 is not the same one here. “Chaos” is the word, but the story is very basic and primitive and simple. It’s like a baby story [laughs]. It’s very, very brutal and basic (a dead father, two sons, two women…).
GLF: About this brutality, how did you approach the violence? It seems to be a film that is very conscious about all the choices it makes.
PM: In a way, it was a cinematic question for me, like “Okay, there is a violent scene and it will occur somewhere a little bit before the first half of the film ends”. So, it’s very soon. But this scene must guide all the film afterwards, because we know what happens and we went through it once, and once is enough, I didn’t want to make it twice. You can treat violence as an option, either on the screen or through an ellipse, because you can be very violent and not show violence, it works. But, here, the film was very organic with Armand, everything is like a picture of different states he’s in, like being an outcast or being frustrated. He is very awkward as a boss. Then, there is the flat of the father that is like haunted, like a phantom film, the dog being the ghost of the father in the flat, in some sense. The first time he goes there, he’s like a twelve-year-old boy who is afraid; soon, he puts on his father clothes and he says “Okay, let’s try it” and we think “Oh, it’s going to be weird”. Then, he meets Gloria and there is a slight hope that maybe things are going to go well for him, but no, fate is there.
Going back to the cinematic problem, on how to deal with this violent scene… To go through it, you have to consider that cinema does not resolve the problems of the world. Cinema does not solve a murder or violence, or how sex can turn in something so violent that it results in death. So, I had to face the subject and there were full lines in the script like “They take the elevator, they chat a little, and then they’re in the flat, and then they’re in bed, having sex she has pleasure he hits and kills her” and I thought, “Okay, what do I do with that?”. Because, then, there are going to be real actors to play it. We talked a lot with the two actors and we worked the scene as a totally choreographic scene, because it was going to be hard for them to play it. They are always acting, we had to preserve it and let it be possible to happen. And I wanted her to be really alive so that when things are going wrong, she understands it before he does it. As a spectator, we feel it slips… Everything was really planned in terms of their acting parts; the mechanisms were so mechanic because it had been rehearsed. So, it was reassuring to have this choreography because on the shooting they could let it go, because then they knew that they wouldn’t hurt themselves. They could be in danger as actors, but not as people. They could work as actors to feel out of themselves, even though there is a camera, different shots, four people around them, the “mechanic” was something to rely on, for everybody.
There had to be this length in the scene because, in fact, at one point in the editing I made it shorter and then it became weird, sinister, because we did not get one important fact which is that it was the first time he was killing a girl, and that is something that was not planned, it happens to him, and to her, until death. So, to show that this happens for the first time and to make the viewer understand, feel, that it’s the first time that he does this, it needs time. Otherwise, we’d thought it was the fifteenth girl he was doing this to, and then the story would be sinister, just gloomy and even complacent, because if it is the fifteenth one, why do we show it?
I didn’t want the film to be sinister, and it could turn into something in which you feel that the it enjoys showing these terrible things. My challenge was to make you feel captured and still wanting to stay and see the film because it’s cinema, that you understand an ethical position, that we worked around what is the evil part, the savage part in a man. I also wanted to make it clear that Gloria is not a doomed victim beforehand, she fights back to stay alive. And then she and us, the audience, face her death. The way that the actress acts when Gloria is dead is really tough, because she had a lot of makeup on and she could hardly breathe. It’s really long when he wraps up the body and if I made it shorter it wouldn’t work, because the fact it is not something so easy to do shows us it’s the first time he does it and faces the act. Then, when he gives food to the dog, he realizes that it had happened and he thinks “Okay, that’s who I’m going to be now. That’s what my father made me to be”. And that’s a metaphor – a very intellectual metaphor – by which my co-writer, Yves Thomas, thinks about how the 20th century has left abandoned men in the 21st century. The deep material of the film is savagery in inheritance.
Later in the script, when he goes with Guillaume’s girl upstairs in the flat, when she understands the reason why he is doing that, it was written that he was cutting her when Guillaume arrived in the flat, but it was mentally so dark and hard to shoot the other scene that I didn’t want to make us go through another one. That’s why two days before the shooting I looked in the internet to find old texts from the Middle Ages about ferocity, and he reads a kind of a cut up of a 17th century text about savage animals and we understand what he has been doing in the father’s apartment, he has been reading all those weird books and I think it works better, because he has accomplished his destiny for being a killer at that point. At this moment, he enjoys it; at the first time, he does not.
GLF: You tend to work with different budgets and different forms. I believe that one thing affects the other during the artistic process.
PM: Sometimes having budget problems forces you to make radical choices. In this case, we had 34 days and three towns in the film. Everything was shot in a total disorder because of the set designing stuff, to put the bowling underground. There is no underground bowling, nowhere. I had the interior of the bowling in one city, the police station in another city and the underground tunnel and the apartment of the father in another city. So, we moved twice with the crew and we couldn’t go back to another city. For instance, the last two days of the shooting were just in the underground tunnel and both of the main actors had to play the entrance and the exiting of the tunnel, from the beginning and the ending of the film. It was crazy from the point of view of the acting to know when the scenes take place.
GLF: You often mention your passion for westerns and I think this is evident in your style. “Saturn Bowling” seems to bring new references, like from thrillers and even horror movies. What were your inspirations for this film?
PM: In Nicholas Ray’s “Party Girl” (1958), there is this character played by Robert Taylor, a lawyer who is a bit corrupted and cannot act. This was an inspiration to radicalize the fact that this policeman in “Saturn Bowling” is a winner, a very successful boy, and then everything stops, he doesn’t know how to deal with life anymore. In terms of making the film in itself, when I was stuck on how to treat violence, I thought about two films by [Nagisa] Oshima. There is one, mostly unknown, called “Sing a Song of Sex” (Nihon Shunka-Kō, 1967), which has a weird story about an old university teacher, and it has some big assemblies that get drunk and sing. It gave me the idea of the singing scene, with the hunters in the bar. In fact, it was a budget thing because all the hunters were not hunters, but extras from Caen, the village where we were shooting. I met them only in the days of the shooting, so I didn’t had time to rehearse with them; that’s why I made this old song, that’s a reminiscence of ancient times, glorifying savagery. It was my idea to make people believe that they were old friends gathering and all that, as a kind of frightening sect… The other film that inspired me it’s not the film itself, but the poster of the film, “The Pleasures Of The Flesh” (Etsuraku, 1965). In “Saturn Bowling”, I kind of copied the image from the poster in the Gloria and Armand scene, when he looks at the sex of the girl. It was the starting point for the acting, because they quit being joyful and youthful, and it becomes like a rite for a while, then it all slips up and he does that.
GLF: The dramatic tempo of your films is always faithful to the present tense. There are no flashbacks, the past is always revealed by gestures, details, speeches…
PM: … silences. The fact that they cannot speak to each other means that something had happened but we don’t know what, we just know it’s heavy. I believe in cinema to be present, even if you go into a flashback, it must be something we feel happening. But I didn’t need a flashback, because if you put flashbacks, it would give a psychological reason to the facts and I don’t think there is only one.
GLF: This dramatic choice reminds me of theatrical texts. Is there an influence of theater in your work?
PM: Well, along my life I was not really interested in theater. When I made a big, expensive, period film called “Saint Cyr” (2000), there was an important stage scene, which I had to face, and in fact I like that scene now, but when I was doing it, the [Jean] Racine text was so fucking boring to me, you cannot imagine. So, I tried to find little pieces in it that I thought little fourteen-year-old girls could enjoy saying. After a full life in the country, I went back to Paris and discovered theater again. Right now, when I go to the cinema, films are always the same, and there is no more adventure, no more risk. It seems like, because cinema doesn’t make money anymore, everything is made by financings, people are so afraid that they want to formulate everything, which means that afterwards every film looks alike and I stand for taking chances, because that’s the only way for me to feed my love for cinema. But, on the other hand, on stage you still have a lot of adventures, in some parallel theaters and plays. Sometimes it’s really freaking boring, but sometimes it’s so incredibly on the verge of a thin line that you feel alive. Now I see a lot of plays, I’ve been seeing it for the last ten years. Achille Reggiani is my son and was in a very good theater school in Strasbourg. I went to see him on the stage there too in the last three years, that is how I knew how daring he could walk on the line and stay powerful. The theater is still a place where you can find people who take chances. In cinema too, but cinema is so expensive it’s harder and harder to take chances. My goal in this film was to take a very cliché story and make it in a way that we, the audience, would be stuck, hypnotized, like in a trip with the people from the film.
GLF: Jacques Rivette praised your first film  and I would like to know how the opposite is like. Did Rivette’s work as a critic or a filmmaker marked you?
PM: Not really at that time, though I loved the greatness of the old man. But now, with maturity, I think there is something very important with Rivette, that is the freedom that he gives to the actors in the set. This is a lesson that I am trying to start applying now, making it a goal to follow after.
GLF: Almost a year ago Jean-François Stévenin passed away. He was one of the main actors in your first film, a very intense and instinctive actor and I believe it speaks a lot with your style. What was it like to work with him?
PM: Well, I wrote my first film for him and the goal of making this film was to have Jean-François on a leading part. I was very young at that time, when I shot it I was 28, and I didn’t really know French cinema. I knew a lot of westerns and soviet films, and action films, with Charles Bronson and all that, in a way I crazy about that. But then, one day I saw “Le Passe-Montagne” (1977), Jean-François’ film, which I thought was incredible, and it spoke to me like something intimate and really strong. And, so, I wrote the film to have him in it. To work with him was tough because he was drinking a lot [laughs] and I was very young and unprepared, I didn’t know how to manage a set. The director of photography was Raoul Coutard and I loved him, but it all went wrong… He wanted to leave the set and I learned a lot with that. To me, I owe him a lot. So, it was like a big mess, this first film. I shot for two months (it was a much longer period than now). The second month was better, but it still is a kind of a miracle that the film is good, because it was very awkward [laughs].
GLF: Soon, in October, there will be a retrospective of your films in the Cinématèque Française and a film by Laurent Achard (Patricia Mazuy: Avant Saturne, 2021), accompanying the preparation of “Saturn Bowling”, will also be shown. What was like for you to work with him and experience being in front of the camera?
PM: In fact, Laurent and the producer Gaël Teicher told me, a few weeks before starting filming “Saturn Bowling”, that they wanted to do a film like in the collection “Cinéastes de notre temps” and I said “No, fuck you, I won’t do that”, because it was too tough to make this film, maybe we wouldn’t do it because we didn’t have the money and even two months before the shooting everything had nearly stopped. Then, Gaël Teicher invited me to dinner and said “Laurent has an idea”. Laurent Achard is a real director that I do respect a lot, and his idea was to film the prep work that one last day before the first clap. I didn’t like the idea of being filmed when I was just preparing, but it was such a strong idea in terms of cinema that I couldn’t say no [laughs]. They did it…, just cheating a little because they were not there only for one day, but for the last two days before the first clap, because they were afraid they would not get enough material. So, they were just there, shot for two days, that’s all, and at the first day of the shooting I told them “Remember, you said you would get out before the first clap” and after the first clap they escaped in silence [laughs]. It was such a good idea to see a whole crew getting prepared and, for instance, the film was so fragile in terms of production that one of the hunters, the most important one, I met him for real for the first time only the day before the shooting, straight in the costume room (we had just met in Zoom and Skype previously). So, the day before the shooting we had to try the suits, everything, and it was like a kind of panicking because we didn’t have time to think. So, Laurent Achard was there for this and some other things, I haven’t seen his film yet, because I had previously told him of course I wouldn’t like to see my face, all my wrinkles and all that… [laughs]. I had said “No, I don’t want to see it because I don’t want to interfere. It’s your film.” I knew that if I saw it before it was finished, I couldn’t help but saying: “I don’t want this, I don’t want that” and it’s his film, it belongs to him. So, I will see it October [laughs].
We’d like to thank Patricia Mazuy and Gloria Zerbinati.
 The complete interview was translated into Portuguese by Rafael Zambonelli and is published on the blog Vestido Sem Costura. Available at: http://vestidosemcostura.blogspot.com/2020/06/criar-colisoes-entrevista-com-patricia.html
 This is in the interview Rivette had with Serge Daney in “Jacques Rivette, le veilleur” (1990), a documentary by Claire Denis for the television series “Cinéma, de notre temps”.