Alexander Payne, 1970s Man

Alexander Payne, 1970s Man


American director Alexander Payne at the Les Jardins du Faubourg hotel, in Paris, October 24, 2023.

It was upon discovering a film by Marcel Pagnol, Merlusse (1935), about a high school supervisor with a scarred face forced to spend Christmas with a few students from his establishment, forgotten by their family, that Alexander Payne had the idea of Winter Break (released December 13). Transposing the story to the United States, in a New England university, with an unappreciated, single history professor, a brilliant but temperamental student and an African-American cook whose son died in Vietnam, had for him quite obviously. Without Marcel Pagnol, no Winter Break . However, there is very little of Marcel Pagnol left in this film.

Set in the early 1970s, more precisely during the transition from 1970 to 1971, Winter Break tells, in its own way, its author’s obsession with this period. Reconstructing this era is an obligatory step for a generation of American directors who appeared in the 1990s: Quentin Tarantino tackled it with Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), Paul Thomas Anderson in Boogie Nights (1997) and Inherent Vice (2014) or David O. Russell for American Bluff (2013).

The reason is simple: this generation grew up during the 1970s, their cinephilia comes from the New Hollywood, this moment during which a group of filmmakers (Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and others) reinvented cinema American, freeing itself from the studios. It was also a time when cinema echoed the concerns of a society shaken by the Vietnam War and Watergate. The spectator went to the rooms to obtain answers that he could not find elsewhere.

“I’m wary of gender”

This period became a paradise lost for filmmakers. And Alexander Payne resurrects it in Winter Break . He rediscovers what constitutes an era, without folklore, without apparent effort, freeing himself from the imperatives of reconstruction to go back in time. “The Italians have a word, “sprezzatura”, to describe what seems easy when so much effort was necessary,” explains the American director. This is the first time I’ve made a period film, probably because I’m wary of the genre, with its sets and costumes that are too flashy, to the point that I have the impression of finding myself in a drawing. animated. “ He says having wanted to give the public “the pleasure of watching a film from the 1970s which would reflect the pleasure [they] had, and continue to have, in watching films from this period”.

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