FF2011: 'Calibre 9' Director Jean-Christian Tassy Goes Ballistic

An interview with Jean-Christian of 'Calibre 9'

"If I'd known I was going to be spending my day with the ghost of a whore trapped inside a gun, I'd have stayed in bed." Frankly, it sounds like our ideal weekend getaway, but in French director Jean-Christian Tassy's righteous debut feature, it's a prelude to bullets, bloodshed, and a fight against the status quo of epic supernatural proportions.

Austin Chronicle: Calibre 9 is a true genre mashup, part supernatural thriller, part horror film, and part old school shootemup. What were some of your cinematic influences that led you to this uniquely badass debut?

Jean-Christian Tassy: The movie that made me dream as a child was Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This is an incredible film, I watched it four times in the theatre and at least a good fifty times on video. Every time I saw it again, I discovered something new. I think if you ask me if there is a definition of cinema, I would reply without hesitation: Clint Eastwood

My parents did not take me to the movies too often, but I still remember the incredible film by Richard DonnerThe Goonies. My mother did not like that I watch movies too violent. I was a little frustrated because I was very attracted to action movies and adventure movies. When I became the age allowed to see these films, I overdosed on them and today I'm still not satisfied. I'm a junkie who shoots with action movies!

AC: That's a fitting description of your film, which has a very unique, bloodthirsty style about it. I'm guessing you dig John Woo, right?

JCT: I love Asian movies, especially Hong Kong's new wave. The films of Tsui Hark, John Woo, Johnnie To, and Ringo Lam are extremely inventive both formally and narratively. What I like with these filmmakers is that they take risks in every film. They do not just do what they know, they try to make films or plans that have not yet been done.

In Japan I am a big fan of Takeshi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura. Also, I watch a lot of low-budget films, mostly American B-movies. MonstersGareth Edwards' film, is one of the movies that impressed me most in terms of writing and production. Right now I'm closely following the careers of Isaac Florentine and Roel Reine. Their films are released directly to DVD, yet they make films that are very inventive and very generous.

AC: Do you consider yourself a part of the "new new wave" of French filmmakers? By that I refer to people like Xavier Gens, Alexandre Aja, Pascal Laugier, David Moreau, and Xavier Palud?

JCT: It's very complicated for me to answer this question because it's true that there has been, in recent years, a new wave of French genre films. They are low-budget films which mostly died at the French box office but have sold pretty well abroad. Some of these filmmakers have graduated to their second film in the United States with varying degrees of success. Among them, Alexandre Aja is clearly the best of the lot due to his success at the American box office and his undeniable know-how. 

Calibre 9 didn't just have a small budget, it had a ridiculous budget. At the end it cost around double the budget of El Mariachi. This is something that seems to me quite unique in France, the DIY filmmaking ethic. So obviously, in terms of reference and envy, I feel very close to this new wave of filmmakers. But in terms of production but I am still far away. 

AC: Did the "old new wave" of French filmmaking inspire you at all? There is a certain Godardian quality to the notion of the ghost of a hooker possessing a handgun, that most phallic of masculine home defense accoutrements.

JCT: As for the new wave of 60 years past, I do not consider myself a hardcore fan. For example, with Jean-Luc Godard, I prefer the man to his films. But what I admired about the New Wave was the freedom to shoot with small means on the street as it is, unadorned. In A bout de soufflé, Godard made ​​his travelling shots with a baby carriage, and on Calibre 9 we did our travelling on the roof of a truck. So, yes, eventually Calibre 9 has a real affiliation with the French New Wave. It has the same spirit of freedom. And I would never say bad things about the filmography of Rene Clement.

AC: Your film is a seamless mashup of various film genres, to be sure, but I'm most curious about how you came up with the concept of a handgun possessed by a hooker.

JCT: I have long thought about a movie concept. In 1997 I loved the script of John Woo's Face Off, where the concept was simple but ultimately very strong. For Calibre 9, I clicked on a vision of the film Memento, by Christopher Nolan. Early in the film there is a sequence upside down and a weapon flies into the hand of the hero, Guy Pearce, as if it were magnetized. I fantasized about that image and I thought we could make a film with a story of manipulation. Then I imagined a woman could talk to him from inside the weapon. I found it very funny to link a concept very macho -- a woman trapped in a weapon -- with a very feminist concept -- she takes revenge on men and manipulates the hero. I saw the film as a modern version of the film The Hands of Orlac.

Fantastic Fest presents Calibre 9, Saturday, Sept 24, 3pm, and Wed, Sept. 28, 9:30pm

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