Claire Denis Is Making Her Own Hummus and Working on a New Script

In quarantine in Paris, the director is thinking about delayed projects with The Weeknd, Robert Pattinson, and Margaret Qualley, and cooking. A lot. Photo: Claire Denis

It’s my birthday today. Right now, I am in my kitchen, in my apartment in Paris. In the building where I live, there is a yard, and at six we are going to have champagne and cakes — but with two meters’ distance between each other. 

Last month, I was in L.A. preparing to shoot a film with The Weeknd, and then Air France called me and my director of photography and said, “You’d better take the last flight we’re sure of and go home.” So I was back in Paris on March 20, and the confinement had already started. I don’t know what’s happening with that film project now. We were going to shoot in April. The Weeknd lives in L.A., and as soon as we can, we’ll go back there and try to shoot, because we have done the preproduction, the location scouting, everything.

From what I see, people in Paris are taking things pretty seriously. We have always heard, “Oh, Southern Europe is so disorganized, they will never respect it,” but in Italy and France and Spain and Portugal, everyone is home. Here, we have permission to go out once a day to see a doctor, or the pharmacist, or to buy food. That’s all. I go out to buy food twice a week. In a small shop, like the boulangerie where I buy my bread, one person goes inside while the others queue outside. If it’s a larger shop, it can be two, but normally it’s one. My district in Paris is mostly small stores. My brother goes to a huge food store, and he told me that people are queuing and queuing and queuing for hours. They are only letting very small numbers inside.

I am lucky because my family is safe. So many others have lost people. The mood in the area where I live is pretty friendly, I would say. My district was already pretty friendly, but now it’s much more. Maybe it won’t last, but right now, it is nice. We all go to our windows at 8 p.m. and make music for the hospital workers. We all wave at each other, and sometimes we see each other queuing at the store.

I’m working in the mornings on a new script because I am also preparing a feature film for the end of fall in Central America with Robert Pattinson and Margaret Qualley. This, of course, is already postponed. But in the meantime, I’m writing.

I’m watching films at night sometimes, too. Last night, I watched a Michael Mann movie, Thief. I have all around my bed the DVDs I’m watching, and it’s great. I thought I was going to watch a lot of [Yasujirō] Ozu movies, and I watched a few, but then I realized that, given my situation, it would be hard if I only went back to the films I have a very strong relation to. I’ve also tried to catch up with some films through Apple TV. Sometimes old films, sometimes new; I don’t want to watch one type of movie. I did watch Michael Powell’s The Edge of the World, a very important film for me. I saw Shaft, the original, by Gordon Parks. I saw two films by Marguerite Duras. I watched the films of Oshima Nagisa and a few films by [Shōhei] Imamura like Vengeance Is Mine. I think I saw six or seven films by Imamura last week — an orgy of Imamura!

Film watching I did a lot the first week, and now it’s less and less. I watch mostly at night. I don’t want to watch films in the daytime. In the daytime, I prefer to cook, to read, to listen to music. I enjoy the spring and the blue sky. I’m listening to so much: the last album by Tindersticks, disco music, Celeste. I’ve been reading about Miles Davis in Paris, and then suddenly I had to listen to Miles Davis for a couple of hours. And the Beach Boys, especially “In My Room.” The last two days, I read a novel by Denis Johnson called Angels in English. The best way to appreciate Denis Johnson’s talents is to read it in his own language.

I’ve never cooked so much! I can’t go down the corner to eat something, so everything I fancy to eat I have to cook. These days, I’m cooking a lot of rice and beans — black beans, red beans, couscous. A lot of green vegetables. Omelettes with green vegetables. Not so much pastry. I prefer simple, filling things like beans and rice and things like that. I feel, “Wow, I’m loaded.”

Claire Denis on one of her few weekly trips outside of her home. Photo: Claire Denis

I started making, once a week, my own hummus. I never thought I would, but it turned out great! Hummus makes me feel so good. But it takes a lot of time — two days. I never use canned chickpeas. I get them dry, and then I put them in water overnight, and then the next day I cook them a long time, and then I mash them with onion, garlic, some herbs, and tahini paste, with olive oil and a little bit of lemon juice. I think hummus is not good with bread; I eat it out of a bowl with a spoon, but I make a little pancake on the side.

This might be a selfish thing to say, and maybe I am only able to say it because I’m in good health, but in a way, this isn’t all that different from when I’m working. I am a confined person when I’m shooting or preparing a film. Of course, we have a whole crew and we are working together, but much of the time I need to be alone in my hotel room. Normally, I feel guilty at always keeping to myself. And for once, nobody is reproaching me for staying on my own.

I do try to call the people I work with, just about every day. I also talk to other French filmmakers, and actors, actresses. I know they are like me, on standby, so I call them at least once a week or send them little messages. I also speak with friends in L.A., friends in England. I miss them and wish to see them again. I hope this won’t last forever. I don’t want to die in my kitchen cooking hummus.

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Claire Denis Is Making Hummus and Working on a New Script