Julien Landais Talks the Romanticism Period, Paris Culture & More

ATM: How would you express the moment when your modern day thinking of today’s period intertwines with the thinking of the period piece?

JL: Human nature does not really change even though we have different eras. Some of them are suppressed and others are open. We live in a world where it is more periods than it has ever been. It is weird, but it is history. I was drawn to the story and characters because it was done in Europe. Henry James said he had the idea of the story when living in Florence. I wanted people to understand what was behind the story that Henry James was saying but did not want to go too far. It was a very cinematic story. It is harder to do period pieces. It is kind of a miracle that we did it at all.

ATM: How did you observe the way in which Henry James embedded imprisonment in the story?

JL: It was a very difficult period. All of these characters feel kind of imprisoned. We can feel the constant spur for more. This is with the three main characters in The Aspern Papers. They knew it was original. It was in Washington Square. You have the double climax in the end. They find marriage and love. This could speak to so many people today with love and relationships.

ATM: What elements of expressing love do you feel has shattered from our perspective of love today?

JL: People are not writing as much nowadays. Love letters were popular during the time because of the Romantic period. There is incredible sexual freedom nowadays. We still love in remnants of the 19th century. Mixing marriage and love was not the case before. It is very pervasive to our modern society.  Before Romanticism marriage was of interest, but it was not loved like it is today.

ATM: Explain the reality of love that transpires through typical storytelling.

JL: We all want love, but when we do have it, then what is there to do with it? It is sustainable. I love Henry James because he asks questions but does not give answers. I do not think anyone has answers. Sort of like the Hollywood romantic comedies we have seen that is changing now. Happily, ever after is a great dream. We need to have it and everyone has it, but is it a reality? He asks questions and then everyone can make his own answers. I try to do this in the film. I am a bit more explicit than he is.

ATM: What was the mentality of the people living in the Romantic era?

JL: It was different. Henry James was not the Romantic era, but you can embody it. They were much passionate, expressive, and longing for this type of love. Romanticism was violent. People wanted to get back to the rough ages and middle ages. It was the time of the Napoleonic Wars. There was a sense of everything was possible after the Revolutionary War. It was very idealistic at the same time. This is the way they expressed their love. Their love lives were very cruel.

ATM: This version of love was stripping away the fantasy in front of people.

JL: There was a lot of this in the love letters. It was much expressed this way. In reality yes.

ATM: It was more so seen in literature such as romantic letters. Now, it is more expressed physically.

JL: They were inspired by the letters sort of like music. They were much sexualized through this.

ATM: A modern version of a romance letter is texting. Back then you could see the ink smudges. The crippled-up marks on the paper where their tears once laid.

JL: Times have changed for sure. It is accelerating in our 21st century world. It is a new version of it.

ATM: How would they have responded to texting?

JL: The poets? They would have been like everyone and still written books. It would be something like the Mick Jagger letter. The early music composers made music but it was very visual. It is an equivalent of these people these days. It is subjective to the times. The rhythms of different eras.

ATM: If texting went away and romance letters came back, then how would this change the current era of love being shared?

JL: Technology and the media. It is about the notion of time and how people relate to time. People do not take the time to discover others and think there are so many possibilities. This is the problem today with all these dating apps. People swipe these days. You do not get to explore all the great human beings. They do not get trapped, but at the time they did not have the choice. People can move on more easily. People can escape more easily without any means.

ATM: Would you agree that you are a cinematic poet with how you direct movies?

JL: This is because some of these things I have personally lived. I hope through cinema I touch people. Even if is a few people. I am a classical musician as well, a pianist. I want to appeal to people through people and also the visual elements.

ATM: Any relations to the main characters in the film?

JL: Yes of course. I would not say I identify with one of the characters, but all three in some ways. It is the same for Henry James. We have all been in this situation. It is never the same level of love. People respond to love differently.

ATM: What does the air showcase about love in Paris?

JL: The walls are beautiful. You can feel it when walking out at night. It is very romantic.

ATM: You feel the love through the air?

JL: Yes. It is a beautiful city full of mystery. It is great to listen to music and write.  

ATM: If you feel it through the air, then the art that is from renowned artists, the love is still repressed in their artwork. What does this air of love feel like?

JL: Yes, definitely. It inspires you. It makes you feel connected to people who have the same feelings. We are social creatures, so we need to relate to others. There is a responsibility through the art. You can feel in amongst human beings much more in New York. There are more socializing people than French people.

ATM: You believe New York people are more likely to socialize than people living in France.

JL: Yes. They are not as open in the French society compared to the American society. The language is more internal and less emotional. My music friends think about it like this as well. In English, it is similar, and you stretch the syllables. In French, the language creates a disconnect from emotion. You feel it amongst the people the way they express it.

ATM: What is the remedy? How do you all create expression through language?

JL: I have been living and studying in America for some time. I travel and meet people from all kinds of worlds. It enriches you, makes you more open, and able to express yourself. The world we live in goes faster. Even with social media. You meet people and there was not a way to speak before. This is great. You get to meet people all over the world and gain different perspectives about cultures. This is what people are afraid of in the world we live in nowadays. We have never communicated as much and shared as much. People are withdrawn because things go to fast. People would adapt. In the first revolution, we went from monarchs to republics. Society changed and now we are going into something else. People cannot live disabled from the world from others. It is too late. You can build walls. People want to preserve culture, and this is a good time. We are looking at what is different and singular about our time.

ATM: How would you observe the Honore Balzac’s term Rastignac as used in French society?

JL: Yes. Rastignac. This means ambition. It is the person that is willing to sacrifice and end everything to succeed. He is the architect of ambition and was a young ambitious fictional male character. This is pretty lost in French society. France is a country that does not value ambition culturally like Americans. It has been like this for the last 200 years.

ATM: So, you would agree that people of the American culture have adapted more of the tendencies of the French originated term Rastignac?

JL: Definitely. Ambition is not a bad word in America, but it is in France.

ATM: If you do not look toward ambition like Americans, then what do you all look towards?

JL: It is the normal level of ambition to be able to succeed, do better, and achieve things. This is exciting and the adventure of life. Ambition is an English word. This is not in France anymore.

ATM: America has the term ‘The American Dream’. What is the ‘Paris Dream’?

JL: This is a complicated question. You can speak for the whole nation. People do not know what they want especially right now. They are caught between two worlds because of communication.  I always felt in Paris that whenever you had a dream it was considered impossible. You always heard things were always impossible. This is true because of our culture. I felt this as a teenager and still today. People in America are more willing to give people a chance. When you fail, you fail. People try. They do not in France. It comes with so many things from the huge administration. It is much slower. It is in all fields of life. Everything is connected of course.

ATM: The typical thing in America is everyone wants to become a millionaire and to become famous. It was not like this 50 years ago. People more so looked to survive. Especially during the Civil Rights era.

JL: It is the same thing in France. It is a part of human nature, but we do not say it in France. It is kept a secret. They want to but do not say it like you all. It is a derogatory word in France. They do not say what they want, but they only say what they do not want. Not all people but the majority hold it in.

ATM: You just released a film. Do you go home and say nothing?

JL: I have some friends who knows. People are different. It is not the same as in American though. People know me but I would not say I am a celebrity.

ATM: If you are in a store, is someone more likely to ask for your autograph?

JL: Yes, but it is done more discreetly. People are less expressive over than in America. Natalie Portman would say people here are not complimentary. When she came back to America, she was in an elevator with a child. A woman came to her to give a compliment and she had forgotten how it felt. It felt so good. She had been living in Paris for a few years and had spoken about it.

ATM: And everyone wants to go to Paris.

JL: It is a very beautiful and good city. Living here is something else. Haha. It is very different.

ATM: Do you consider yourself a Rastignac?

JL: No, because I am not willing to end anything to succeed. I have a normal deal of ambition. I am not ready to sacrifice anything for a higher level of ambition.

ATM: Why?

JL: Because of the feelings and my love life is very important. I want to keep a balance to keep the ideal thing. I am ambitious of course but to a certain point.

ATM: Are you not willing to embark on the sacrificing part of it?

JL: To sacrifice everything for this? No. It would be bad because life is too short. I have a normal deal of it. When I started doing my film, everyone told me it was impossible, and it would never get done. They would never say yes. You will not get to do it. You will never get the financing to do it. I just followed my instinct and met the right people. The only person that did not tell me I would not manage to do the film was James Ivory. He was very supportive and knew how hard it was to do period pieces. I did not tell you, but I did not think it would manage after doing the film. I did not listen to the people who told me not to do it. It is here and it did. People are very happy. I fought for it. It was a real war. There is a creative part, but cinema is also related to politics and business in many ways. The reality of this makes it a war and a fight.

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