Mathieu Demy is one super-chill bilingual bro. Slipping easily between French and English—and sipping on a cappuccino in his midtown suite—the gecko-eyed Parisian still maintains the lassez-faire coolness of a 30-something stoner, aloof to the press-people buzzing around him. Demy is in town to promote his debut film, Americano. The film narrates the hapless odyssey of a sulky Parisian in Los Angeles and Tijuana. Demy wrote, directed, and starred in the film, whose title he even had tattooed on his forearm (he later rolled up his sleeve to show me).
Although Americano is clearly his debut (and truth be told, it often shows), Demy is no stranger to the world of cinema. Born to legendary left-bank directors Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda, Demy is like the French equivalent of Sofia Coppola: baptized into cinema aristocracy from birth. As we sit down to talk, it’s hard not to see Demy only in relation to his famous parents. Luckily, his film—about a man digging into his mother’s mysterious past—puts the filial question front and center. Americano also features clips (or are they flashbacks?) from one of his mother’s early documentaries, as well as performances by Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie) and Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Marcelo and Catherine Deneuve). But the film also stars Salma Hayek as Lola, a Tijuana stripper with a heart of gold, a winsome orphan at her hip, and a fishnet bodysuit. So I figure it may be best to start the conversation out on a more bro-friendly point.
What was it like directing yourself getting a lap-dance from Salma Hayek?
That wasn’t the worst part of the job! (Laughs). But really, Salma is great. I could tell you all the usual things: she’s so smart, she’s professional. But she really is! She loves movies, she’s very inspiring. She brought a lot to the character because she’s so picky and specific. I mean this whole encounter is very strange: I’m a first-time director, this is a French film. But it’s also why I wanted her because it’s about a surrealistic environment. It was so unrealistic to have her on set in a freezing suburb in Paris.
As you say, this is your first film. But your parents are cinema legends. Did you always want to follow in their footsteps?
No, I thought I would do something really rebellious at first, like be a doctor or a lawyer! (Laughs) I’m joking, it wasn’t quite like that. You know my mother put me in some of her films when I was a kid. So cinema wasn’t something I chose; it was something I just enjoyed. It wasn’t until I was about twenty that I started to really get into acting.
What about directing? How did the transition from acting to directing come about?
I’ve always enjoyed storytelling. When I was acting I always liked to talk to the director about the shot. Maybe this is more a European thing. I guess I really enjoyed talking to the director and being part of the storytelling process.
Were you like that with your mom’s films?
No not with my mom, I was too young. This started about ten years ago.
Where did the idea behind Americano come from?
I definitely wanted to talk about the loss of my Father, and about the grief process. I wanted to make a road movie about that: like really walk into the cliche in the road movie. You have to lose yourself to find yourself — that kind of thing. It was originally going to be in Tangiers, Morocco. I was there and this idea came to me of a guy getting lost in a foreign city and finding the truth.
So how come it ended up in LA?
Believe it or not, I grew up a bit in LA. And I had this footage of my mother’s film [title here] which are the flashbacks of Americano. I wanted to use those flashbacks.
So it got autobiographical?
Well, more ‘autofictional’. There’s a lot of allegory, a lot of distance taken with the subject. But it’s all mixed up, that’s what I enjoy.
The film is very much about the relationship between parents and children. Many of the actors in the film are children of legendary actors. Was that a conscious choice to cast Chaplin and Mastroianni?
Well, it’s a film about family and memory, and I guess it is also interesting that many of the actors have a personal history in the cinema. That includes Jean-Pierre Mocky, a legend of underground French cinema, who plays my father. So I guess I wanted to ask people who share this past in the cinema like me. But I mainly asked Chiara and Geraldine because I admire them as actresses in the first place.
A lot of people talk about the benefits of having VIP parents, but there must be drawbacks as well.
The whole film and the character’s relationship to the mother is a metaphor for me as a filmmaker making a film. I use clips from my mother’s films, but I also wanted to make it my own thing. AndAmericano is a very classical film in that matter — formally.
So is the nouvelle vague, which was rebelling against the official cinema, now the new official cinema? In your case, it’s quite literally the cinema du papa?
(Laughs) Yeah totally. It’s super official now. And we don’t know whats next.
Whats next for you?
Well, just continuing in the auto-fiction thing. I really like the fact that you can tell intimate stuff about yourself through very fictional things. But we just finished Americano in September. Then there’s the dvd. So it takes a while … its like a child. It slowly goes away. I’m still breastfeeding the film.