French Director Coralie Fargeat Fears Parisians Aren’t Taking the Coronavirus Seriously

As the Revenge filmmaker ponders the possibility of a second wave of illness in her city, she turns to the Jumanji movie franchise for solace. Photo: Coralie Fargeat

I was in the States when things started to get really serious. I was in Los Angeles for my new feature that I’m still writing. I started to do a few meetings there to think about the next steps of production. Before I left France, there were a few voices who were aware that maybe Trump was going to close the U.S. borders for Europeans. But it was still okay, so I left. While I was there, Trump said that he would [enact] the travel ban for all European travelers. At the beginning, we didn’t know if people who were already [in the U.S.] could go back, so I had all these texts on my phone saying, “Oh my God, did you see Trump do that? How are you going to come back?”

I really didn’t want to be in the middle of this potential nightmare not at home. I took a plane ticket for the day after [the announcement]. It was almost empty. There were only 15 or 20 people on the plane. I got back to Paris, and the day after, the government said, “Now everybody’s going to be under lockdown. You can’t go out of homes.” Everything was so quick and crazy. Matilda Lutz, the actress who was in Revenge, lives in Los Angeles and Milan, where the situation in Italy was like 15 days before France. We chat a lot, and she said, “Please, Coralie, be careful. In Italy, it’s a nightmare. The country is on its knees.” She was basically witnessing what France was going to have two weeks after, and I really thanked her for opening my eyes.

It’s crazy, because it brings you a lot of anxiety, and at the same time it’s very not real. You are sitting at home. Nothing happens. Everything is quiet and okay, and just when you turn on the TV, you see all those crazy numbers and there is this kind of schizophrenic difference between what you see and what you live at home. Like, [when I am] writing, I am most of the time at home, so it doesn’t change much of my everyday organization. And for the stage where I am now in my script — the project is almost finished — I don’t need the same concentration as at the beginning. I really need the world to fade out in the beginning, but obviously during this time, you don’t need to do anything to have the world feel very, very far away.

For our industry, we don’t really know what the consequences are going to be. It’s going to harm a lot of movies, for sure. I’m definitely thinking about people who had a movie ready to be released when this happened, and, my God, that is so awful. You know, you’re working two, three, four years on a film and it’s ready and it’s your moment and bam! Everything collapses. It’s going to be tough, and there are discussions here in France for how we can support the cinema industry so that it doesn’t suffer too much.

You see, on social media, everybody is like, “I’m going to watch this movie! I’m going to do this and that!” And that is like, oh my God, I can do nothing. I have a list of films and series I wanted to see for a long time. I was like, Great. It’s going to be the moment I will be able to catch up. But I haven’t been able to watch anything except one or two things [that don’t require] mental ability. That’s something that is very strange. My mind has never been less open to discovery than now. The only thing I was able to watch and really enjoy was Jumanji. I wanted to see [Welcome to the Jungle] that somebody told me about it, but before I watched it, I said, Okay, I have to watch the original [Robin Williams] one. It was a very fresh, happy bubble. Entertaining and very funny and moving. I really liked both of them. It is a little bit easier for me to watch series, so I also watched HBO’s Succession. That was so cool. I started just when I got back to Paris, and I watched the two seasons in a row, and it was great. The show is very smart and well written, but at the same time there is a lot of the soap-opera dynamic with all those characters and family and relationships and betrayal and everything. You can really let yourself go into that, being yelled at in helicopters.

Now, in Paris and other regions, it’s very good weather. So it’s very tough to stay inside. You can feel that people go out a little bit more. I think people don’t respect the lockdown that much, because they’re already saying the peak of the curve is behind us. I hope we don’t have a second wave, but because people are now used to it, they think they can handle it better, and I really hope that this is not going to hurt the slowdown of the infections. It has been very strange, because definitely we’ve got very contradictory information. At the beginning, it was, “You’re going to be under lockdown, but tomorrow you have to go out to vote.” And after you got the information that you don’t need to wear a mask, you discover that they said that because they didn’t have masks. Now that the government starts to receive masks, they said, “Okay, now everybody has to wear a mask.” Who do I believe? I had seen Chernobyl, the series, not a long time ago — and it’s not the same scale, obviously — but when you see this thing happened and all the firemen go without any protection into the radioactive stuff, it’s like, I have to think by myself, take my information, and make my own idea.

What was very disturbing from the beginning is that the virus really brings into light the oldest social inequalities. In France, I think two years ago, there was an inauguration of a big train station, and President Macron said, “This train station is a place where everybody meets — people who succeeded and people who are nothing.” He [meant] all the different classes of society, but he said it in a way that was really shocking. So, people who didn’t succeed are nothing? Now, when you have this virus, you see that people who are “nothing” are everything, because it’s thanks to them that the whole country doesn’t collapse. People who go to collect the garbage, the cashiers at the supermarkets, the people in the hospitals. And they have to go to work without any protection.

There are so many different types of reactions [to our new reality]. I think there is a lot of need for humor, and what is great is it takes you very close to friends with whom you text or have WhatsApp group chats. It’s a great way to live this together. I’ve seen great solidarity. People do shopping for elderly who can’t leave home, and people are happy for [ecological advancements]. I think that’s great, but the thing that I can’t take off my mind is that you can be sure, unfortunately, that the day all this stops, all these idealistic thoughts are gonna collapse again. I so much hope it doesn’t, but my realistic voice says once the economy goes up again, like, maybe it’s going to be even worse, because everybody’s going to want to produce. So, I hope we can keep something positive from this crisis, in terms of how we behave in society and how we behave with our planet.

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French Director Fears Parisians Aren’t Taking This Seriously