Interviewer: You were a film critic for four years, but all the while you were looking for an opportunity to make a film, right?
Oh yes, absolutely. I started making little movies in 16mm that weren’t worth showing. They had all the same flaws as most amateur films: they were extremely pretentious; and they didn’t even have a storyline, which is the height of conceit for an amateur. I probably learned something from this work, like how to suggest rather than show. But in the first of these shorts, there was nothing but doors opening and closing—what a waste!
My first real film, in 1957, was “Les Mistons”—“The Mischief Makers” in English. It had the advantage of telling a story, which was not common practice for short films in those days! It also gave me the opportunity to start working with actors. But “Les Mistons” also had commentary interspersed with its dialogue, so that made making it much simpler. The film met with quite a bit of luck. It was awarded a prize at a festival in Brussels, I believe. “Les Mistons” is based on a story by Maurice Pons; it’s not my original script. I saw it as the first of a series of sketches. It was easier at the time, and would be even now, to find money for three or four different short films than to find enough financial support for a feature film. So I planned to do a series of sketches with the common thread of childhood. I had five or six stories from which I could choose. I started with “Les Mistons” because it was the easiest to shoot.
When it was finished, I wasn’t completely satisfied because the film was a little too literary. Let me explain: “Les Mistons” is the story of five children who spy on young lovers. And I noticed, in directing these children, that they had no interest in the girl, who was played by Gérard Blain’s wife, Bernadette Lafont; the boys weren’t jealous of Blain himself, either. So I had them do contrived things to make them appear jealous, and later this annoyed me. I told myself that I’d film with children again, but next time I would have them be truer to life and use as little fiction as possible.