Under the Influence

What Damien Chazelle Learned from Maurice Pialat’s Stumbled-Upon Cinema

On Film / Features — Oct 10, 2018


Nearly a decade before he became, at thirty-two, the youngest director ever to win an Oscar, college senior Damien Chazelle buckled down and got to work on the film that would become his first feature. A shoestring black-and-white musical that paved the way for La La Land, his award-winning later spin on the genre, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is an infectious romance made by a director wearing his influences on his sleeve, from the vérité indies of John Cassavetes to the formally inventive early musicals of the 1930s. And around the time that he was making Guy and Madeline, Chazelle discovered a film that stoked his desire to lend a grounded sense of immediacy to his often highly choreographed fictional worlds: Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours.

A raw character study about the conflict between a sexually rebellious fifteen-year-old (Sandrine Bonnaire) and her domineering father (Pialat himself), the improvisation-heavy À nos amours “seems somehow both completely spontaneous and completely deliberate,” Chazelle marvels in this latest installment of our ongoing Under the Influence series, in which we ask filmmakers to highlight the movies from the collection that have had a lasting impact on their work. To this day, Chazelle—whose acclaimed Neil Armstrong biopic First Man opens on Friday—finds inspiration in the 1983 drama’s seamless combination of documentary and fictional techniques, the apparent effortlessness of its performances, and the unmatched emotional intensity of its climactic scene. As Chazelle says, the daringly original Pialat “makes movies as though he had never seen another film—and I mean that in the best sense of the expression.”