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Claire Denis & Tindersticks

The French director and the indie rock band's frontman Stuart Staples discuss their exciting collaborative project

For the last two decades French auteur Claire Denis and alt-rock band Tindersticks have formed a near symbiotic relationship. Denis's films (including Chocolat, White Material and 35 Shots of Rum), stalk and sparkle in the shadow of their character's lives, while Tindersticks' ever-evolving scores provide a common thread to Denis's oeuvre. Earlier this year, Constellation Records released a complete box set of Tindersticks/Denis scores, spanning 15 years and seven films.

To celebrate the release, the band are embarking on a nine date tour of the UK, performing a set encompassing songs from each film, accompanied by visual fragments from Denis's features. Dazed discussed Vincent Gallo, suntans and vampires with director Denis and Tindersticks frontman Stuart Staples at the BFI after a preview of their haunting live show.

Dazed Digital: Claire how was the experience of the live shows for you?
Claire Denis:
I don’t like to watch my films. It’s very painful. But the show yesterday, I enjoyed so much. Because it does not belong to the film anymore. The way the music grows, it builds something completely different.

DD: Can you explain your first meeting in Paris while you were developing your film Nenette and Boni?
Claire Denis: I managed to get backstage and meet Stuart at this club. I wanted to use one of his songs that I’d been listening to for a year during the time of writing – My Sister. But Stuart said using a song is not strong enough, let’s explore something else.

DD: Stuart was is it an exciting period to be entering another world with your music?
Stuart Staples: At that time our lives were full of excitement. Our band was breaking. We met Claire and we talked about Nenette and Boni, it was the first time that anybody had shared an interest in that way. Then we got hold of Chocolat, and we felt like this is something that has a connection.

DD: Do you think there is a kinship regarding how you both approach your different art-forms?
Stuart Staples:
I think every film must have such a different approach. To go from Nenette and Boni, which is playful, colourful to Trouble Everyday it’s like a radically different approach for Claire and for us.
Claire Denis:
I try not to make a judgement on the character or the moral of the story. It’s important for me that they are sexy. That they have a strong desire. That they are really alive. I would not make something just to say something about society. It has to be something more than that, it’s about people.

DD: Is there a shared sense of intensity with how you approach your projects?
Claire Denis:
I believe in all my characters, I believe in their pain. Making films is a boring thing, unless there is a passion growing inside.

DD: Has the way you develop music changed since that first collaboration?
Stuart Staples
: Looking back at Nenette and Boni and looking at White Material, Claire's latest film, the first thing is always to find a kind of a palette of sound that mean something. That chimes with the feelings and the colours in the film. Once you can find two notes that move you, you go inside of the film and start exploring.

DD: It’s finding that connection between the images and the sound?
Claire Denis:
In the editing room, it’s a battle to understand the film – to find out if there is a film there or not. Normally when Stuart finds his way it’s also good news for us because it means there is a way in.

DD: How quickly do your ideas flow from the initial spark? On a film like Trouble Everyday?
Claire Denis:
A long time ago, at the end of the eighties, I was making a short film in New York with Vincent Gallo. The American producer, told me, “I would like you to make a scary movie” There was a sort of – “Let’s have fun. Let’s make scary movies” I said, “For me, no. It has to be a real nightmare.” It took a few years, then one day I read this article that an American couple – working in a group of scientists, disappeared in the forests of New Guinea. Nobody found their bodies. It was so strange, like it was in the 19th century. I kept that in mind and little by little it grew. Like a scientific vampire story. I had in mind that I wanted Beatrice Dalle to be one. And Vincent to be the other. So I knew they were like strange flowers both of them. Venomous. (Laughs).

DD: Do the film's locations inspire the music?
Stuart Staples: I don’t think I would’ve wanted to visit the set for White Material. I think it’s a response to the images and the colours of the editing. I don’t know what I would gain from visiting the set.
Claire Denis: A suntan?
Stuart Staples: If Claire wanted the feeling of local music she would’ve asked some authentic local musicians to be involved. I think it wasn’t musically internal, it’s about something else.

DD: Isabelle Huppert’s performance is very captivating in White Material.
Claire Denis:
She’s tiny, strong, selfish and emotional. I like Isabelle and I like the character too. And I think I was crazy about her while shooting. I would say the same for many of the actors I cast. It would be very embarrassing for me to cast someone I don’t like.
Stuart Staples:
Looking at Isabella working on White Material is quite an inspiring thing. There isn’t really any cracks in it. It’s totally believable and totally engrossing.

Do the both of you keep in touch when future films are forming?
Stuart Staples:
One of the biggest parts of us getting started is just casual conversations way before Claire has even started the script. That’s where you hear the things that are going through her mind, that carries a long way in pointing me in the right direction.

Text by Luke Seomore

Tindersticks UK October Tour

16 Oct - Edinburgh, Usher Hall
17 Oct - Manchester, Bridgewater Hall
18 Oct - Liverpool, Philharmonic Hall
19 Oct - Basingstoke, The Anvil
22 Oct - Coventry, Warwick Arts Centre
24 Oct - York, The Barbican
25 Oct - Northampton, Royal & Derngate
26 Oct - Brighton, The Dome
28 Oct - Gateshead, The Sage