Christophe Honoré is a writer-director based in Paris. Born in 1970 in Brittany, he has written some 30 children’s books and five novels, and collaborated on screenplays with filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Limosin, Gaël Morel and Louis Garrel. He started directing in 2002, with his most notable films including Ma Mère (2004), Dans Paris (2006), Love Songs (2009) and Beloved (2011). His most recent films are On a Magical Night (2019), Guermantes (2020) and Winter Boy (2022), which is released April 28 by Mubi. In the theatre, he directed a number of his own plays, including Beautiful Guys (2004) and 2018’s Les Idoles (which received four Molière nominations), and in 2009 adapted Victor Hugo’s Angelo, Tyran de Padoue (Avignon 2009). He has also directed several operas, including Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, Verdi’s Don Carlos and Puccini’s Tosca. (Photo by Thomas Brunot.)
Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. While he was in New York City earlier this month for the Autofiction at Work film series at Metrograph, the acclaimed French writer-director – whose latest film, Winter Boy, is out through Mubi on April 28 – shared some of the things he loves most in life. — N.D.
One of the things that brings me most joy these days is directing for the theatre and being in rehearsal. This may seem a little ungrateful to cinema, but both in terms of the human contact I get working with small crews and the time we’re afforded to research and look for something together, making theatre gives me a great deal of pleasure.
My love of theatre started in high school, although I was already a cinephile back then. Growing up, I lived with my parents in a small town in central Brittany. I lost my father when I was 15, and I don’t really know why, but a few months after he passed, my older brother and I started an amateur theatre company with a very pretentious name – the Zenith Theatre – which put on plays in the town. For four or five years, we performed in amateur theater festivals around the country. And even though I was still young myself, I started giving weekend theatre classes to kids. I continued with theatre through high school and university, also as an actor, but when I moved to Paris, it was with an eye toward moving into cinema.
I think my love of directing theatre is tinged with nostalgia. I now have a theater company called the Comité Dans Paris, and we perform in Parisian theatres. Directing for the stage is something that is very reassuring to me. And in this time of the fragility of cinema – thinking about the conditions in which cinema is being made and the kinds of risks we see in the industry – being a theatre director acts as a bit of a refuge.
Being by the Ocean in Brittany
On a more personal note, I love the ocean, being on the shore in Brittany and going for a swim. This, too, has to do with my childhood. Living in the dead center of Brittany as a child, I wasn’t so close to the sea, but I did get to go swimming regularly and on vacations.
To me, it’s inconceivable now not to spend at least two or three weeks by the seaside each summer. I tend to go to the same town, Kersidan, and even the same house there. This regularity makes me imagine what it’s going to be like when I need to find myself another house that gives me the same atmosphere of leisure and tranquility. I have written a lot in that seaside town, but the interesting thing is that despite that, I haven’t in my entire filmography set a single scene by the beach – perhaps to prevent a noisy, bothersome film crew invading that environment!
I have a 17-year-old daughter, and I’ve spent 17 summers at the seaside with her. I think that environment has a lot to do with our relationship. It’s also a very pleasant thing to watch your child take their first steps on the sand. Those are important moments. When I was a teenager and I would go to the seaside with my parents, I would force myself to do things I wasn’t really interested in, like fishing with my father. Now, though, there are a lot of friends who come and go, the activities are often culinary and it’s a real place for reunion.
Choosing this is making me feel like an old English woman, but I love books. I have a relationship with literature that is obsessive. The idea of spending an evening with a book will always be more exciting to me than the possibility of a night out, whether I’m listening to music, dancing or meeting people. Ever since I was a young adult, it’s been this way. I think reading is the thing I have spent most hours of my life doing.
I wasn’t much of a reader as a young child. I was a “liar reader.” I would be given books as a present and I would say that I’d read them, when I really hadn’t! There also just weren’t many books in my family home. But then in sixth and seventh grade, I started to gravitate toward books I found in the middle school library, although they tended to be theater, which seemed easier to read. And then, because I wasn’t yet aware of the script form, I found what looked to me like a play: Marguerite Duras’ screenplay for Hiroshima, Mon Amour.
Of course, I was too young for such a read, but it had such an impact on me that going forward, in every single one of my school essays – even when the prompt was to recount a vacation memory – I would find ways to insert quotes from Duras’ text, which was a flattery to some of my teachers and a burden for others. From there, I started reading Duras and books put out by Les Éditions de Minuit, her publishing house. It was interesting to have my introduction to literature through the deconstructed nouveau roman – the new novel – before reading Victor Hugo, Zola or Balzac, as it was the reverse of the normal path.
My reading now is very varied. I think as a reader, I get carried by successive waves of internal coherence or incoherence. It’s always a bit of an indiscreet question to be asked what you’re reading – it’s like being asked what kind of underwear I’m wearing, and I don’t always want to answer. But right now, I am reading three books: a book by Deleuze on Nietzsche, a book by Nietzsche and a book of Wagner’s diaries that just came out in France.