Olivier Assayas On Cinema & Superhero Films

Olivier Assayas On Cinema Superhero Films

Over much of the past few months we’ve seen various filmmakers weigh in with their thoughts on the whole ruckus surrounding Martin Scorsese’s opinion on superhero films and the definition of what constitutes cinema.

To the “Goodfellas” helmer, and to some cinephiles, the more your film is a large blockbuster and/or based on a superhero film the less it qualifies as cinema. Then you have plenty of other directors and film fans who thoroughly disagree with that take.

Now, in a lengthy interview with Le Monde (via The Playlist), celebrated director Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Carlos,” “Personal Shopper”) has offered the must thought-out and reasoned answer to the whole thing – both critiquing superhero films and not agreeing with Scorsese’s stance either.

After dubbing Scorsese one of the greatest filmmakers alive and someone who knows American cinema better than anyone, Assayas says:

“Scorsese specifies that the superhero films do not match with the cinema that he dreamed of in his youth and that his generation wanted to practice. I would not put it that way, if only because I am not of the same generation. For me, the question is asked differently, but in no less explicit terms: if cinema was limited to superhero films, would I want to make films? The answer is simple: no.

Hollywood is a pretty extraordinary tool because it allows you to reach the whole world; but cinema, as I understand and experience it, is an art based on total freedom, and probably also on a form of irresponsibility, risk-taking, if you will.

Studios don’t see it that way. Basically it’s simple: the higher the budget, the more reduced the artistic freedom is. The space for creativity in the world of blockbusters is all the more limited as it is subject to censorship by two puritanisms, on one hand from American society, of course, but on the other hand from China, which is today the second world market, and requires, to gain access to it, to submit to a censorship which is not so much political as it is determined by the rules of Confucian morality.”

Don’t think Assayas is some elitist cinephile snob though. Assayas is a comic book fan who has seen the films like everyone else and has a soft spot for the X-Men comics scripted by Chris Claremont in the 1980s because: “He created a rich and complex universe and narrative forms which seemed to be much more daring than what Hollywood cinema wanted to explore back then.”

He also says he has no prejudice about Marvel universe adaptations, but isn’t a big fan of the MCU films and has specific reasons why:

“The film adaptations of the X-Men, which are not the worst, do not demonstrate comparable originality [to the comics]. But like other recent Marvel movies, I find them terribly sanitized. The whole ‘Avengers’ cycle, in particular, seemed particularly fishy to me. The narration is simplified to the extreme and the transgressive eroticism that some screenwriters injected into these comics, and which was a big part of their interest, has completely disappeared… I insist on the fact that if we want to understand what Scorsese is talking about, we must not forget that he does not evoke superhero cinema in general but what the Marvel universe turned into today’s universe. These are two different questions.”

When asked for his opinion on the DC Comics adaptation “Joker,” Assayas says: “I don’t think much good of it – but if the question is whether it is cinema or not, the answer is unequivocally yes. It is an original project that bears the touch of an authentic filmmaker.”

Another superhero film he dubs actual cinema is “Wonder Woman,” even as he calls it ‘silly’. It’s also the one superhero franchise he might have an interest in getting involved in so long as it’s an ” ultra-cheap ‘Wonder Woman’ without special effects” – a version which he suggests would never get made.