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Siegfried finds a home on streets with no name

by Kaori Shoji

In an industry where self-advertisement is practically a prerequisite, filmmaker Siegfried is amazingly reticent about his personal background. From his refusal to disclose his last name to his disdain of promotional tours and interviews, Siegfried is and remains a mystery.

Filmmaker Siegfried

Most days he is traveling, clutching a Handicam and ready to record the street sights of Fez, Bangkok, San Francisco and Tokyo among others. In fact, Tokyo was the one city he agreed to be interviewed in. Finding it “extraordinary, full of craziness,” he has set part of his next film “Sansara” in Shibuya.

“Louise (Take 2)” is Siegfried’s debut feature and stars Elodie Bouchez as a Parisienne in love with the Metro and a homeless guy who wanders there. “Louise (Take 2)” strikes an astonishing balance between brute realism and a fragile, stylized fantasy world. It has a loving hands-on texture that other indie films struggle (and invariably fail) to achieve. Siegfried shrugs the compliments off.

“Independent films in the States now tend to be boring because they have access to more money. . . . [My film] was made with friends, among friends, and was made very fast. The street scenes were all guerrilla locations, and for the characters I used real homeless people who are good friends,” he explained in a heavy French accent.

And how much does it cost to make a film like “Louise (Take 2)”? At this, he cracked a big smile. “When someone gives you a gift, you’re not supposed to ask what the price was.”

At 27, Siegfried has fashioned himself into a cinematic one-man team: He knows his camera like a pro technician, writes screenplays, edits, directs and also happens to be a fixture on the Parisian underground music scene. The soundtrack here is all his own, a mix of improvisational jazz and trip-hop. Though rumored to be from a good family who sent him to the Conservatoire, Siegfried got his start by playing jazz in the Metro and on the streets. At one time, the subway stations and a tattered sleeping bag were all the home he had.

“Louise (Take 2)” is in part a personal tribute to that period, which he describes as “neither very happy or very sad. I was just living, like anyone else in the world, and there were the usual daily emotions that come from living.”

If this film has a message, it is that the homeless are not special or alien people; they may have different living conditions, but otherwise they conduct their lives pretty much the same way as the rest of us.

“Everyone thought I was crazy to make a film about homeless people being in love. That’s ridiculous. Of course they are romantic. Everyone is romantic. I don’t care if the person lives in a mansion or the Metro.”

Siegfried’s remark prompts the memory of another French love story about a homeless couple: Leos Carax’s controversial “Les Amants du Pont Neuf.” Siegfried says he liked it but was not especially influenced. “This story deals with different kinds of love, not just the obsession between a man and a woman. It’s really more a statement about family.”

Though Siegfried immediately becomes defensive when asked about his own background, he is articulate on the family that Louise searches for in his film. “It’s not about blood relations. I feel that in the modern world, and especially in the city, families are made, not preordained. You have to go out there and look for one, create it.”

This is why Louise takes a 9-year-old boy under her wing with whom she forms a maternal but flirtatious relationship. At home, her father is too steeped in his own work to notice very much about his daughter.

“But I wanted to stress that Louise loves her father that way,” explains Siegfried. “If he had been more dominating, or meddling like ordinary parents, she would have ceased to love him. By being himself, he was giving her the freedom to love other people and create an extended family.”

This father-daughter relationship was one of the few pillars of Siegfried’s story. Almost everything else was spontaneous — spur-of-the-moment incidents improvised in the subway or the streets. Siegfried has a phobia of schedules and advanced planning, and tends to shy away from the preordained. Unlike other directors who come to Tokyo for interviews, he asked to talk to the press in a Shibuya coffee shop surrounded by people and Muzak.

In between interviews he would go for a stroll and reappear with a Starbucks drink, offer cigarettes out of his own pack, then sit back and smile in the manner of someone who would rather have a filling extracted than answer personal questions. When it was over, he said, he would wander outside again, down Dogenzaka or over to Yoyogi.

“I need to be out on the streets. Always on the streets. Because that’s where the stories are.”