The Simple Life of Vincent Lindon: Cannes Prize-winner on Career and Causes

in 68th Cannes Film Festival

by Richard Mowe

As he matures Vincent Lindon, 55, who was named Cannes Best Actor for his role as a jobless security guard in Stephane Brizé’s Competition entry The Measure of a Man / La loi du marché seems to have found his niche with a series of characters on the edge and a resolute commitment to causes.

He may not seem the most obvious candidate to portray characters in hard-hitting social dramas. Lindon’s father was a rich industrialist, and he has never had to struggle to keep body, soul and family together.

Not that he displays any ostentatious wealth. There is a Parisian apartment, but there is no chateau, he assures, and no pad on the Côte d’Azur where we meet before he receives his best actor accolade at the Cannes Film Festival for his role as mature job-seeker with a wife and disabled son. Rather than a smoked glass limo he makes his way around Paris on his modest motorbike.

He seems to have been around in French cinema for decades, with features that always appeared “lived in” and a slight facial twitch that miraculously disappears whenever he is in front of the cameras.

He became embroiled in the profession almost accidentally, working first as an assistant costume designer on Alain Resnais’s Mon oncle d’Amerique. He spent a few years in the States and then worked as a journalist on a daily newspaper. Finally he decided that he might take a stab at acting and enlisted in the Cours Florent school in Paris. One of his teachers Francis Huster (an established veteran actor and director) put him forward for a role as an inspector in Paul Boujenah’s thriller Le Faucon in 1983.

He worked his way through the Eighties in secondary roles, collaborating with the likes of Claude Sautet (he played Sandrine Bonnaire’s girlfriend in Quelques jours avec moi), with Bertrand Blier in Notre histoire and with Jean-Jacques Beneix in Betty Blue. It wasn’t until he teamed up with Claude Lelouch for two films La Belle histoire and the comedy hit Tout ça… pour ça in 1993 that his career begain to take off.

He became one of the most sought after names in French cinema in the last couple of decades working notably with the likes of Benoît Jacquot (Diary of a Chambermaid), Claire Denis (Bastards), Emmanuel Carrère (La Moustache), Pierre Jolivet (Ma petite entreprise), Nicole Garcia (Selon Charlie) and Philippe Lioret (playing a swimming instructor in Welcome, trying to help illegal immigrants in Calais for which he won a César nomination). Besides smaller scale dramas he is not adverse to a high concept thriller such as recently Fred Cavayé’s Mea Culpa opposite Gilles Lellouche.

It is his work with Stephane Brizé, which has brought him his most recent recognition and accolades, starting with Mademoiselle Chambon in which he played a small town artisan falling in love with his son’s primary teacher, continuing through the rigours of A Few Hours of Spring /Quelques heures du printemps as an inarticulate truck driver living with his mother, and now The Measure of a Man / La loi du marché as a mechanic on the dole.

In between fielding mobile calls about his son’s baccalauréat (school leaving exam) Lindon is full of praise for his collaborator. “What I like about his films is that you are not told what to think. He shows things the way they are and you have to make up your mind. Films used to be all about escapism but moe and more people want to see films about the world they live in – the kind of films made by Ken Loach or the Dardenne Brothers. It is almost as if you have to go to the cinema to get a glimpse of reality because when you see the news on television it is too concentrated to take in.”

Although he is viewed as an actor committed to causes he believes he is “normal”. He adds: “I am not a hero, I just make movies. When you have a certain level of fame in France you get offered a lot of scripts in the same vein. People see you in one film and you get sent a whole lot of similar parts. It is a normal reflex reaction. In my generation there are three or four actors who read everything – Vincent Cassel is another in the same bracket. I pick and choose – I don’t have a luxurious life-style to sustain – I lead a simple life. There is no secretary or manager, no limo with smoked glass and no chateau – just my scooter and flat in Paris.”

Lindon suggests that is way of demonstrating against injustices s through is his work. A glance at the films he as done suggest “a social conscience at work.” He says: “When I did Welcome about illegal immigrants there was an amendment to the law passed shortly thereafter and after A Few Hours of Spring Time there was change in the law to ensure dignified death. There you have two films and two laws – that is my way of protesting.”

To ease under the skin of his character Thierry the director allowed him and the rest of the cast the time to breathe in the situations and predicaments. “You would react the way they would in real life,” Lindon explains. “Thierry is courageous because he shows great restraint when he has to suffer the indignities thrust upon him. He demonstrates he cares about his family by actions rather than words. I am a great observer and often I will use that material as part of a character.”

Lindon who is no great fan of social media, prefers instead to sit around the dinner table with friends and thrash out the issues of the day. “I love that even if we do not agree – in fact it is better when we don’t agree”, he says.

Despite his spell in the States in his youth he harbours no Hollywood dreams. “What would I do there for eight months – play a bad guy with gold teeth and an awful French accent. By the time I came back to France they would have forgotten who I am. I might be tempted to try directing but much later on… when I have lost all my hair. But I love building relationships with particular directors: I have worked five times with Pierre Jolivet, and three times with Coline Serreau. Between them there are always new people coming in such as Stéphane.”

With his best actor trophy proudly tucked away he will choose his next role carefully. “I don’t know what I am going to do now. I have read a few scripts but what I need is the desire – and you cannot buy that or prepare for it. It will just hit you. There was one film I desperately wanted to do for a long time – but then ten days ago it all folded. I simply sit and wait for roles to come along and if they appeal to me then great. I do not say I want to do a comedy or a thriller or a psychological movie, I just want to do a good script and one that I like.

“I will only work if the script is good.  I receive propositions every week but I don’t do them. If I wanted I could work all the time and be much richer than I am and, believe me, I am not rich. I want to sleep with an untroubled conscience. I only care about doing good work and the only opinion I listen to is my own. The beginning of the downfall of an artist is when he starts to listen to everyone else rather than himself”, he says philosophically.

Richard Mowe