What We Talk About When We Talk About Jean-Marc Barr

January 7, 2016
Jean-Marc Barr stars in an Australian short film, premiering at Flickerest

Jean-Marc Barr is probably best known for his work in European cinema, and especially with Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier, appearing in films such as Breaking the Waves, Dogville and more recently Nymphomaniac. It may come as surprise then that Barr is the lead in a short Australian film premiering this year at Flickerfest.

As he notes: “I’m an American living in Europe. I was born in Germany. Half French. Half American.”

Whoever Was Using This Bed is directed by Andrew Kotatko and stars Radha Mitchell alongside Barr and the telephone voice of Jane Birkin. The twenty minute short film, based on a story by Raymond Carver, details a middle aged couple deep in marital malaise, excited only by the mysterious phone calls that outwardly frustrate them.

“I had previously worked with Radha Mitchell on a film in California called Big Sur,” explains Barr. “She thought of me when she read the script and it was as easy as that. I was free and it was an opportunity to see Australia for the first time. And I love working with Radha so it happened very easily.”

He adds: “Andrew contacted me, but it was Radha who was the go-between and maybe sparked the idea.”

What is readily apparent talking to Barr is that his mandate for roles is regulated by a fervent devotion to quality cinema. In conversation he uses Hollywood as a negative counterpoint, although his references to mainstream Euro cinema are no more enthusiastic.

Reflecting on his own career, he says: “I’ve been able to participate in European cinema in the ‘80s and ‘90s that’s been done in English and which is very different from the national product. I’ve been able to participate in some interesting work because it’s not defined by the Hollywood ethics of business. It’s still got an innocence maybe that’s starting to disappear.”

Of Australian Andrew Kotatko, however, he has nothing but kind words. “Andrew has a real vision in his cinema,” he says, before waxing chipper on Kotatko’s approach to Raymond Carver.

Barr has a lot to say about Carver, citing him variously as an actor’s inspiration, equating him to Shakespeare and Chekhov, suggesting by implication that what excited him foremost about the project was its source material.

“There’s something very human about Carver’s short stories and daily happenings that I think every couple has maybe gone through this,” he notes. “He [Kotatko] was able to leave it as open and as modern as possible but also give it his own kind of spices and wishes. The characters are really well built, especially in the writing and I think they leave a really big range for interpretation.”

He explains: “The malaise of course is the underlying theme. I think loneliness for each individual… both these characters and the couple are still very lonely… and I think this was a study on their loneliness being in a couple as well. You always try to defend an emotion, a character, and this is about a couple, and couples are always an impossible subject.”

The mysterious phone caller that plagues Barr and Mitchell’s couple is played by the legendary Jane Birkin, who without appearing on screen for a second, is instantly recognisable by her dulcet English tones. For a short Australian film, her casting, however minor, represents a coup of major proportion.

“Andrew aims high,” Barr says and laughs, when asked how Birkin became involved in the project. “He contacted her and he knew someone who might have known her. And it was a decent proposition. When actors get a decent proposition in terms of coherence of text and what’s being done… It just happened to work out, we were all free to do it. Of course, Jane didn’t have to travel to Australia.”

Given the nature of her role, there was no need for Birkin to be on set, although, Barr notes: “I met her on a train to London one time. And I’ve worked with her daughter [Charlotte Gainsbourg] a few times.”

Whoever Was Using This Bed will premiere at the 25th Flickerest International Short Film Festival on January 13 at 8.45pm as part of their Best of Australian 6 programme. The 25th Flickersfest International Short Film Festival run from January 8 to 17 at Bondi Beach. For more information head to their website http://flickerfest.com.au_mar

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