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A pure presence

Memories of conversations with Patrice Chéreau

A pure presence

As the Opéra Bastille revives Patrice Chéreau's production of From the House of the Dead, we asked Anne-Claire Cieutat, editor-in-chief of the digital film magazine Bande à part, to talk about her memories of the stage director and producer.

Meeting Patrice Chéreau to interview him after the release of each of his films was an experience in itself, an utter delight. He had a unique way of listening to you. The way he greeted you gave you an idea of what was to follow – in the handshake, the way he lent towards you and his attractive, direct gaze, something told you you were going to share a real instant of life.

Patrice Chéreau always had a notebook open in front of him with a pen resting on top, awaiting you. When you began talking, introducing your question with a prologue of carefully chosen words, he took notes, like a student would. It was both surprising and rather intimidating. But he thought that all exchanges might cast some kind of light on his work. Your words and thoughts were genuinely valuable to him, and he welcomed them humbly and wrote them down. After that, he took his time in answering. His calm voice and frequent silences all showed how carefully he weighed his words, seeking just the right phrase. And that's the way our conversations went: they were always mutually nourishing, because he was a man who sought preciseness, and infected you with his love of exploration.

In Patrice Chéreau, Pascal Greggory, une autre solitude, a fascinating documentary devoted to his theatre work, Stéphane Metge filmed Chéreau directing Pascal Greggory in a staging of Bernard-Marie Koltès' Dans la solitude des champs de coton (In the Solitude of Cotton Fields). You see the director adopting his actor's movements, tirelessly pinpointing the proper gesture, musicality and rhythm with him. When you talked to him about his films, it was just the same: with hindsight, we looked together for the path he wanted to take. With great sensitivity and charm, he would take you along in the meanderings of his thought, like someone taking you on a journey. He was the only one who worked like that.

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