Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jean-Pierre Melville on Gian Maria Volonte

Edited by Rui Nogueira

Jean-Pierre Melville: The billion [francs] for LE CERCLE ROUGE was possible because I had Delon, Bourvil and Montand, and because there was a sizeable Italian coproduction interest since I was using an Italian actor Gian Maria Volonte - totally unknown in France, I might add - whom I had in mind to play Vogel after seeing him in Carlo Lizzani's BANDITI A MILANO.
But, if you want me to talk about Gian Maria Volonte, that's a very different story. Because Gian Maria Volonte is an instinctive actor, and he may well be a great stage actor in Italy, he may even be a great Shakespearean actor, but for me he was absolutely impossible in that on a French set, in a film such as I was making, he never at any moment made me feel I was dealing with a professional. He didn't know how to place himself for the lighting - he didn't understand that an inch to the left or to the right wasn't at all the same thing. 'Look at Delon, look at Montand,' I used to tell him, 'see how they position themselves perfectly for the lights, etc, etc.' I also think the fact that he is very involved in politics (he's a Leftist, as he never tires of telling you) did nothing to bring us together. He was very proud of having gone to sit-in at the Odeon during the 'glorious' days of May-June 1968; personally, I did not go to sit-in at the Odeon. It seems, too, that whatever he had a week-end free he flew to Italy to spend it there in what I would call a super-nationalist spirit. I once said to him, 'It's no use dreaming of becoming an international star so long as you continue to pride yourself on being Italian - which is of no consequence, any more than being French is.' But for him everything Italian was marvellous and wonderful, and everything French was ridiculous. I remember one day we were setting up a back-projection scene and he was smiling to himself. I asked him why, and he said, 'Because... you've seen BANDITI A MILANO? There are no back projections in BANDITI A MILANO. Everything was shot directly from a car.' 'Really,' I said, 'And did you have night scenes like this? You were inside a car filming the action going on outside at night?' 'Well, no,' he said, and it seemed to sink in that we weren't using back projection just to amuse him. He's a strange character. Very wearying. I promise you I won't be making any more films with Gian Maria Volonte.