b. 4 September 1961, Neuilly-sur-Seine

Further Reading

“All of (Klapisch’s films) are solid mainstream entertainments with sprawling casts, intersecting storylines and a strong sense of place (or places). They feature recognisable characters in melodramatic situations that are flecked with drawn-from-life humour as well as a sincere form of light pathos that feels earned.” 1

Cédric Klapisch and ‘pop art’ cinema

In 2011, Tim Palmer detected an emerging trend in French cinema he termed “pop art cinema”. These were films that “flit nimbly (…) back and forth between cultural registers high and low. Mainstream pleasures permeate the rarefied materials of the arthouse, as popular and intellectual paradigms intercon­nect.” 2 Palmer’s useful model – he singles out, inter alia, OSS 117: Caire, nid d’espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, Michel Hazanavicius, 2006) and Il est plus facile pour un chameau… (It’s Easier for a Camel…, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, 2003) – was then taken up by Raphaëlle Moine, who noted how development of the comédie d’auteur in France over the last two decades can be partly seen as a way of challenging the dichotomy that has traditionally existed in the Hexagon between commercially driven entertainment and high-brow, demanding auteur cin­ema. This ‘pop art’ or ‘auteur comedy’ genre, argue Palmer and Moine, drives a wedge between two approaches and styles, opening up an alternative dynamic space where established auteurs might profitably interface with popular genre cinema. Moine lists the principal characteristics of such films: “careful, elegant dra­matic writing (…) a well-constructed plot (…) an intimist, autobiographical vein (and) a polyphonic ensemble form that interrelates a variety of points of view around a common theme or shared event.” 3 She concludes by arguing that the register of auteur comedy “is that of dramatic comedy, which joins the observation of contemporary mores with a ‘mixed’ form of comedy (in contrast to the laughter and farce of pure comedy)” 4.

Moine might just as well be describing the entire output of Cédric Klapisch here. She in fact namechecks his early comedies Riens du tout (Little Nothings, 1992); Chacun cherche son chat (When the Cat’s Away, 1996)) as part of this ‘dramedy’ trend and nestles him alongside such auteurs as François Ozon and Alain Resnais, whose Potiche (Trophy Wife, 2010) and Pas sur la bouche (Not on the Lips, 2003) exemplify Palmer’s and Moine’s model. This overlap between the highbrow and the popular highlights an increasing permeabil­ity in French cinema between auteur-driven films and popular, mainstream genre-driven fare. Not all critics view his status in French cinema positively. Andrew Schenker described him as “the poster child for the French middlebrow” in an excoriating review of Ma part du gâteau (My Piece of the Pie, 2011) that decried “plotline(s) that verge on the ludicrous” and the “mixture of bland obviousness and crudely manufactured drama.” 5 The Guardian likewise belittled Paris (2008) as representative of French commercial cinema’s tendency “to veer into the over-sweetened and picturesque, a kind of nostalgia for an idealised present.” 6

We are mostly familiar with Klapisch via his wildly successful ‘Erasmus’ trilogy L’Auberge espagnole (The Spanish Apart­ment, 2002), Les Poupées russes (Russian Dolls, 2005) and Casse-tête chinois (Chinese Puzzle, 2013). Since 2002, Klapisch has developed into one of contemporary French cinema’s most erudite, finger-on-the-pulse directors, renowned for sophisticated, witty social comedies. His most recent work, Ce qui nous lie (Back to Burgundy, 2017) was another bankable and critical success (tellingly, it was described by Larushka Ivan-Zadeh as featuring an “engaging signature ensemble (who) tackle bourgeois problems with added global complications” 7 That world ‘global’ is a resounding theme in Klapisch’s work, and signifies not just his own moral and ethical outlook but also those of his characters (Klapisch has written the screenplays for all 12 of the films he has directed). It is worth quoting at length a response Klapisch gave in a 2009 interview when questioned about the major themes he has weaved into his successive storylines:

“Ten or fifteen years ago we didn’t have a sense of it. There are three subjects that bring out issues of globalisation—climate change, immigration, and the outsourcing of manufacturing to other countries, forcing you to deal with the fact that the plant isn’t in your country any more. These three subjects mean that you have to deal with the rest of the world, which is a very new thing—especially for Americans. The Internet is actually a fourth factor—you know that the rest of the planet exists, and you can speak instantly with a Chinese or African person; it changes our whole perspective. Everyone in the world was more compassionate when the tsunami hit Thailand—even though it happened miles away from your home in Paris, for instance, it was on the Internet, on TV, and in the newspapers constantly. 20 years ago we didn’t have that sense of compassion with the rest of the planet. That’s very new.” 8

This is the Klapisch Weltanschauung in a nutshell: an engagement with contemporary life, the pros and cons of globalisation, cross-cultural communication, an ethically informed perspective, digital media. All are at play in his work. Stylistically, Jean Fallon has noted how “he plays a small cameo role; in each film the wide-ranging soundtrack adds nuance to the themes; he employs many of the same actors to play very different characters in a variety of his films; he uses a dream or fantasy scene to comment on reality; he has a penchant for framing images through grids or breaking an image into many small pieces.” 9 We might also upscale Fallon’s evaluation here by adding that the starting point for Klapisch’s screenplays is frequently autobiographical: The Spanish Apartment recalls his sister’s Erasmus experience and his own sabbatical to New York; Chacun cherche son chat (When the Cat’s Away, 1996) was based on his own recollections of a girlfriend who had left her cat with an elderly neighbour (who then subsequently lost the cat), while the Le Peril jeune (Good Old Daze, 1994) is a nostalgic recreation of his own teenage years. 10

It’s worth remembering that Klapisch was named by Claude-Marie Trémois as one of French cinema’s up and coming directors back in 1997. Describing Klapisch as “the most humanist, and the freest” of the new generation of French filmmakers, Trémois noted how he mined the same thematic seam again and again: “human relationships (…) how people perceive one another, how people get on, or don’t get on, with one another, and how they communicate with each other.” 11 Klapisch’s films frequently explore this group dynamic, whether in a department store (Little Nothings), a high school (Good Old Daze), a Parisian neighbourhood (When the Cat’s Away) or six characters in a café  as in Un air de famille (Family Resemblances, 1996). Most of these films feature young characters, either at the centre or the periphery. Paris and Family Resemblances may focus on more mature characters who recalls life’s disappointments or roads not taken, but these characters still exhibit a childlike naivety. The Spanish Apartment depicts a ‘family’ under pressure, and subsequent films have done the same, including Paris (2008), My Piece of the Pie (2011) and Back to Burgundy (2017).


Cédric Klapisch was born in 1961, to Jewish parents, in Neuilly-sur Seine, an affluent residential neighbourhood in northwest Paris. He was a film studies student at the prestigious Paris-III University, where he graduated with a thesis entitled ‘Le nons-sens au cinéma, 6e sens du 7e art’ (based on a comparative reading of Tex Avery cartoons and the films of Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers). Frustrated at having twice failed the entrance exam to Paris’s prestigious film school Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques (IDHEC, now known as la FEMIS), Klapisch left France to study film at New York University in 1983. It seemed an opportune moment to leave. Klapisch has often railed against 1980s film culture in France arguing that it was still being held prisoner by what he described as the dated, mind-numbing aesthetics of the New Wave. In America, he would later admit, “there was more to life than (Jean-Luc) Godard.” 12 While there, he trained first as a camera operator, and then as a writer-director, making a series of eye-catching short films. These include Glamour toujours, Un, deux, trois mambo, Jack le menteur, and In Transit, which featured an appearance by future American independent director Todd Solondz. It was a liberating experience for him professionally and personally, and kick-started his future style: “(In America), I learned to be more concrete, not to use a symbol as the starting point of a screenplay, but rather to use an image that I like, and then to try to bring that image into the service of the script. (Americans) tackle everything more simply and less intellectually (than the French).” 13

Klapisch’s eclecticism and pro-American style is evident in a substantial list of films he submitted to the LaCinetek website in 2015 that constituted his ideal filmography. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960) and The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) sit alongside Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) and North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959), with his home nation represented by François Truffaut (The Man Who Loved Women, 1977) and Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle, 1958). Parsing the filmography might give us a better understanding of the director in terms of his aesthetic influences, visual style and narrative preferences. In fact, the list reveals a director whose creative stimuli stem from the Europeans art-house to New Hollywood to The Marx Brothers, to, unsurprisingly, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jay Roach, 1997). Bergman, Kubrick…and farce (for a full list of the films chosen, see https://www.lacinetek.com/fr/realisateurs/cedric-klapisch).

This focus on concrete images, rapidity, simplicity and a refusal to over-intellectualise has become the hallmark of Klapisch’s career. Returning to France from his American stint, he began by assisting Leos Carax on Mauvais sang (Bad Blood, 1986), directed his first short, Ce qui me meut in 1989 (which would subsequently become the name of his production company), and made a documentary on the Kenya Massai warriors for cable television channel Canal +. That sensitivity towards the documentary has remained part of his work ever since, ranging from his 2010 short film L’espace d’un instant, a portrait of ballerina Aurélie Dupont, which won him the prestigious Fipa d’Or in 2010, or the ways in which he blended real traders and the mise-en-scène of the world of global finance into My Piece of the Pie (2011).

Little Nothings from 1992

In 1992, Klapisch made his first feature, Little Nothings, the story of an ambitious new CEO charged with boosting employee morale at a failing Parisian department store. This humanist fable established the Klapisch touch and laid down recurring thematic concerns – a critique of modern management techniques imposed by the imperatives of globalisation, the trope of the family, male and female interaction and (mis)communication, the vitality of youth culture, and the importance of setting. It’s also version of the film choral at which French cinema frequently excel and brought together a range of faces both established (Fabrice Luchini, Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and new (Karin Viard, Simon Abkarian). Klapisch playfully sends up the ‘company away-day’ philosophy and its push for team building by comically depicting group psychotherapy sessions, lessons in how to smile correctly, and bungee jumping excursions. Klapisch has often declared his fondness for multicultural and melting-pot environments; here, the ‘Grandes Galeries’ store, with its 24 different characters, each with their own foibles and tics, serves as a microcosm for French society, just as the ‘Spanish Apartment’ would reflect ‘young Europe’ for its director a decade later. Klapisch spends time with each employee, focussing on their domestic life and their bickering interactions with each other.

Communities in conflict would now become a recurring feature of Klapisch’s work. After Little Nothings came Good Old Daze. Initially part of a compendium TV series commissioned in 1993 by French television channel Arte that focused on teenagers about to leave school, Klapisch’s sophomore effort was so well received by television viewers that it gained a cinematic release a year later. According to Guillaume Soulez, Good Old Daze offered a moving portrait of mid-1990s French youth, blending “psychological analy­sis of the characters and the social and political inscription of the stories with a certain degree of stylistic detachment.” 14 Set in the late 1970s, the film recounts the lives of four friends who left high school in Paris ten years earlier. They meet up in hospital while waiting for a young woman to give birth. She is the partner of Tomasi (Romain Duris), a friend who has recently died of an overdose. Via a series of flashbacks, the young men reminisce about their bitter-sweet time at school (drugs, girls, student demonstrations) and reflect on the passing of time, the transition into adulthood, and their uneasy place in a post-1968 France. Punctuated by musical interludes that include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd (Klapisch’s time-capsule soundtracks are always perceptive), 15 these vignettes dramatise the familiar rites of passage trajectory of French youth and the inherent ambivalence between collective action and individualistic gain.

Good Old Daze struck a chord with audiences (nearly 650,000 tickets were sold in France). It was successful in part because its obvious mimicking of the American youth teen comedy offered French audiences an alternative to the heritage cinema and literary adaptations that domestic cinema had increasingly turned to in the early 1990s. Audiences empathised with the onscreen depiction of Tomasi, Alain, and the gang who had come of age in the 1970s, just as they themselves had. As he would do in his later ‘Spanish Apartment’ trilogy, Klapisch depicts adolescents on the uneasy cusp of adulthood, at once confident and fearful, egotistical and socially committed. The remarkable work of Duris, Vincent Elbaz, Hélène de Fougerolles and Elodie Bouchez highlighted Klapisch’s knack for unearthing new acting talent. It remains Klapisch’s favourite film; he has confessed that it is the “worst directed” but most “graceful.” 16 It also brought him wider critical attention, serving as a template for how emerging auteurist writer-directors like Klapisch might blend autobiographical memory with stylistic flourish, and contribute to the emergence of a personally-inflected, socially conscious cinema in mid-90s France.

Good Old Daze

Around this period, Klapisch became increasingly socially engaged as well. In 1994, he made the short films Poisson Rouge and La Chambre as part of his contribution to the French-based AIDS prevention campaign 3000 scénarios contre un virus, and in 1997 was a prominent signatory of the repressive anti-immigration Debré law. Such interventions form an important part of Klapisch’s unpretentious intellectualism and non-didactic involvement in contemporary French politics and can be linked back to the wider thematic concerns of his films, what Mireille Rosello calls “self-conscious and self-referential attempts at participating in the construction of contemporary Europe.” 17

The underlying themes of his next film, When the Cat’s Away in 1996 confirmed Klapisch’s interest in the downsides of social upheaval and modification. The light, breezy film was a critique of urban renewal and gentrification in Paris, and depicted the city as a space permanently in flux, both architecturally and sociologically. These tensions between the old and the new, and the ramifications of these renewal projects on local community relationships signal the ongoing give and flex in Klapisch’s films between the familiar and the new in both spatial and societal terms. Colin Nettelbeck aptly distinguishes in Klapisch “the hypersensitive combination of psychological intimacy and quirky sociology.” 18 On the surface, When the Cat’s Away (1996) is about a timid young woman, Chloé, looking for her lost cat, Gris-Gris. Along the way, as she scours the Bastille neighbourhood, she (re)connects with her community, is helped and hindered by the locals, and witnesses at first-hand the simmering multicultural brew of Paris’s 11th arrondissement. But Klapisch’s masterstroke here is to jolt the inconsequentiality of the story towards a broader engagement with the comforts of community, conflating Bastille with the current plight of many contemporary multicultural cities – old neighbourhoods are being torn down, new buildings are erected in their place, gentrification becomes the watchword, rents go up, social cohesion is fragmented, and urban life splinters. Yet Klapisch’s view remains inherently utopian, if occasionally naive: Chloé’s meanderings reveal to her (and to us) the peaceful coexistence of blacks, whites, beurs, gays and straights, young and old: this part of town is a model of neighbourliness. As Klapisch stated two decades later, “The films that I make are about different people who end up being able to talk to one another, get on with one another, and live side by side (…) To not fear someone means being able to understand them.” 19 The search for Gris-Gris (who gets found, by the way) thus becomes a voyage of discovery for Chloé – she calmly and adventurously goes travelling, bonding with her community, visiting bars, knocking on strangers’ doors, finding Mr. Right (Romain Duris, again!), and engaging with the world.

It’s gently paced, and often dynamically edited: when Chloé goes on holiday, we see her cross the street to the train station, wallow in the sea, then cross the road back from the station: lasting no more than a few seconds, the scene is a model of narrative efficiency. Klapisch also casts non-professionals, adding an extra level of documentary-style ‘thereness’. He is deftly plugging into the tradition of Eric Rohmer, focusing on the preoccupations of ordinary people and relying on casual glance and gesture rather than mechanical plot action. This is David Parkinson, describing Rohmer’s style: “(H)e often dwelt on characters in transit. But the focus invariably fell on the sensation of being alive rather than melodramatic contrivance. Consequently, emotionally vulnerable individuals are required to make momentous decisions about love affairs, careers and vacations and they fret, make mistakes, regret and reach conclusions, as desire collides with reality, morality, caprice and common sense.” 20 Parkinson might just as easily be describing Chloé here, or the gang of five in Good Old Daze, or Xavier in The Spanish Apartment. When The Cat’s Away is thus a knight’s move away from a Rohmerian conte moral, less a tale that deals with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it.

When the Cat’s Away

Klapisch followed this up with Family Resemblances (1996) and Peut-être / Perhaps (1999). The first was based on Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri’s award-winning stage play (Jaoui and Bacri also star) and is confined to one set. It’s a wry take on family get togethers, which, with its multiple César awards (including Klapisch’s only one to date, for his screenplay), and lucrative box-office takings, cemented his reputation. In this nuanced, witty comedy of manners, a French provincial family celebrates a birthday in a restaurant. Over the course of the evening, the hidden tensions, residual grudges, and repressed squabbles crash together. What begins as a droll chamber piece mutates into an increasingly awkward set of family interactions that are counter-balanced by moments of naturalism and surrealism.

In Perhaps, at a Y2K party, Arthur and Lucie fail in their attempts to have sex. When Arthur discovers a time portal in the bathroom ceiling to a Paris of the future (covered in sand), he meets an old man named Ako (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who turns out to be Arthur’s son. In a narrative hook pulled straight from Robert Zemeckis’s time-travel adventure Back to the Future (1985), Arthur must eventually persuade Lucie to sleep with him so that his future son can be born. Some of Klapisch’s trademark preoccupations are on display, such as the contrast between the futurist society in which economic and environmental mayhem is non-existent and the present-day Paris, where the lack of job security is ever-present. The quirkiness and unbalanced tonal shifts (part science-fiction, part family drama, part mediation on identity) indicate a director eager to shuttle between different registers. By following When the Cat’s Away with two very diverse projects, Klapisch was able to amplify his visual and narrative style, ricocheting between genres.


If Klapisch’s first films now seem roughhewn and experimental, it was his highly regarded Erasmus-students-through-the-years trilogy The Spanish Apartment (2002), Russian Dolls (2005) and Chinese Puzzle (2013) that cemented Klapisch’s position at the apex of smartly written French films, and showed how French/European youth lives today. Mingling elements of romantic comedy, sitcom, and social drama, the trilogy narrates a familiar set of ‘youth’ rituals – the move from university to ‘the real world’, the often convoluted personal, romantic and cultural encounters that ensue, and the moral, ethical and emotional uncertainties that typify that key biological and physiological developmental stage between adolescence and adulthood. We follow four friends – Xavier (Romain Duris), Wendy (Kelly Reilly), Isabelle (Cécile de France) and Martine (Audrey Tautou) – and track their individual journeys over a period of fifteen years, taking in along the way the Erasmus student mobility program and Europe’s growing multicultural and polyglot citizens. Core themes emerge throughout the trilogy – alienation, the bitter-sweetness of love, the melancholy of youth, the putting away of childish things – that reflect Klapisch’s career-long preoccupation with the fraught relationship between individual and community, the importance of acceptance and tolerance, and the direction European youth might take in the 21st century.

In The Spanish Apartment, Xavier (Romain Duris), a French student, spends a year in Barcelona as part of the Erasmus university exchange programme, and ends up sharing an apartment with a motley group of fellow Erasmus students drawn from across Europe. Incorporating dialogue in French, Spanish, English, Catalan, Danish, German and Italian, the film explores the various facets of European identity that gradually emerge through the comic interplay between cultural difference, cliché and gentle stereotype. As Xavier discovers, the similarities that exist between young adults from different European countries far outweigh the differences. Klapisch’s own sister was an Erasmus student in Barcelona during the late 1980s, and he visited her in the apartment that she shared with four other foreign students. Simply by being there and watching the flatmates interact, Klapisch (2012) sensed the emergence of a new generation: “They lived together and reinvented undogmatically a new way of life without realising it. They were the image of Europe in full spontaneous and enthusiastic construction.” 21 The Spanish Apartment presents a confused generation seeking to find its place in an increasingly globalised, hyper-connected world, where individual languages, cultures, and histories often count for naught. 22 Advocating the importance “of erasing boundaries, walls, and stereotypes in order to recognise and embrace the multiplicity of identities” 23, the film is profoundly modern in its exploration of the ‘New Europe’ and the ramifications of global tourism, education, linguistic hybridity, and the ebbs and flows of cultural identity. Klapisch asks a potent question: within the supranational apparatus of Europe, which risks de-essentialising identity and individuality, how can we ever ‘belong’? The later sequels would return a second and third time to the main protagonists to see whether their initial aspirations – romantic and professional – had been fulfilled. It was no surprise to discover that the Xavier of Chinese Puzzle, pushing forty, was no less befuddled and baffled as his younger self a decade and a half earlier. For Klapisch’s characters, who had moved from Barcelona to New York, via London, Paris and St. Petersburg, the connective tissue of their friendships had been progressively strengthened along the way. The characters endured mutual hardship, loss and sadness, but have always been present in each other’s lives to offer the friendship of virtue, trust, and non-judgementalism as promoted by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. In the Aristotelian sense, true, ‘good’ friends must accept the other friend as they are. This belief system is sustained throughout the trilogy. They have taken time, but these are friendships that will last.

The Spanish Apartment

Russian Dolls

Chinese Puzzle

The trilogy is not only freighted with a dynamic visual style but is also humanist and heartfelt in its quasi-ethnographic depiction of human interactions. Much of his trilogy is concerned with the overlapping of languages, customs and cultural differences, and the inherent (often comic) tensions that inevitably occur when these factors bounce off each other in enclosed social spaces. Olivier Courson, the CEO of Canal + (the channel has co-produced Klapisch’s last five films) has applauded his “extraordinary ability to tap into the vibes (and) the contemporary trends of a society.” 24 That is why The Spanish Apartment is more than just a film about the impact of the Erasmus programme on a group of privileged white Europeans. Klapisch reveals, among other themes, the messiness of Xavier’s relationships with the women in his life (his mother and Martine in Paris, Anne-Sophie, Isabelle and Wendy in Barcelona) alongside Wendy’s and Isabelle’s own awkward romantic entanglements; the muddled dynamics of the Barcelona apartment to consider questions of language and identity (should one speak Catalan or Spanish in Barcelona?; do Walloons speak Flemish or French?), the permanence of national stereotypes, and the value of forging one’s own future.

As the trilogy unfolded over a decade, and as audiences returned periodically to his characters, Klapisch made three very different films. Ni pour, ni contre (bien au contraire) (Not for, or Against (Quite the Contrary), 2003), in the tradition of the best French polars, takes as its starting point a rigid binary choice: “Two paths opened before me: good and bad. Bad seemed more promising.” These words are spoken by Caty (Marie Gillain), a shy TV camerawoman. Following a routine assignment, she gets mixed up with a gang of amateur crooks, led by Vincent Elbaz, who want her to record their next heist on film. If Perhaps was a (failed) attempt to inject Hollywood-style science-fiction into a French cinema notoriously resistant – in 1999 at least – to these kinds of generic ‘borrowings’, Not for… is more successful in its reworking of the visual and structural codes of noir. Flitting between Cannes and Paris, Klapisch interleaves influences both domestic (Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Becker) and foreign (Walter Huston, Martin Scorsese). The tonal shifts are not always successful – the film often veers between comic interlude and darker psychodrama – but Not for… adroitly plays with dichotomies and difference; the criminal gang are in turn ruthlessly professional and hilariously inept.

Paris (2008) remains Klapisch’s most formally ambitious film to date, with an all-star cast (Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, François Cluzet) and a narrative approach that owes a clear debt to Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson. Composed of a series of vignettes following several characters – a cabaret dancer, a social worker, an architect, a market trader – around the French capital, Paris reworks Short Cuts (Altman, 1993) and Magnolia (Anderson, 1999) through its loosely interconnected stories and relentless focus on the near misses, overlaps, and chance encounters. As with When the Cat’s Away, Paris is ‘about’ Paris, and deploys the micro and macro aspects of the city to draw together disparate character networks and the gaps between them. Klapisch also slots in his trademark globalist perspective – Paris unspools in a city delineated between the haves and the have-nots. One character illegally emigrates from Cameroon; another North African is racially abused in a bakery. Luchini plays an esteemed history professor at the Sorbonne who is about to moonlight as a TV pundit. Duris’s character learns that he may require a heart transplant; like Cléo in Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), who walks the Paris streets while reflecting on her own mortality, Pierre takes a taxi through the city, and glimpses other characters through the window.

The question of how the worker, both individually and collectively, survives in a world driven by the laws of supply and demand was the subject matter of Little Nothings, and he would return to this idea once more in My Piece of the Pie (2011). Taking as his starting point the 2008 financial crash and resulting social crisis across France, he fashions a class-based drama that generally resists facile moralising and didacticism. In the northern coastal town of Dunkirk, a factory closes suddenly, families are uprooted, people lose their incomes and suddenly find themselves poor. One such worker is France (Karin Viard), whose name allegorises the very values seeded through Klapisch’s catalogue – family, community, solidarity, nationhood. Unemployed, France ends up in Paris working for Steve Delarue (Gilles Lellouche), a rich, immoral trader-banker responsible for the mass lay-offs and outsourcing to China back in Dunkirk. Klapisch’s narrative contrivances and melodramatic plot developments (France absconds with Steve’s son back to Dunkirk, which in turns triggers a final confrontation between the trader and the unemployed workers) do serve a purpose in that the narrative mechanics of moral retribution and redemption intertwine around the lives of the rich and the working class. My Piece of the Pie forms parts of a subgenre in France that pits worker against boss and intractable employment law against common sense and dignity. The scathing financial and political dramas at the heart of state-of-the-nation snapshots like Laurent Cantet’s Ressources humaines (Human Resources, 1999), Stéphane Brizé’s La Loi du marché (The Measure of a Man, 2015) and Robert Guédiguian’s Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro (The Snows of Kilimanjaro, 2011) throw a spotlight onto the gloomily precarious situation of so many French citizens. Klapisch’s focus on the 1%-ers may lack the forensic detail and existential anomie of these other films, but My Piece of the Pie reveals how a two-hander between Lellouche and Viard becomes emblematic of the tussle between the two ends of the post-2008 economic spectrum.

Klapisch’s most recent film is Back to Burgundy (2017). Three siblings from Burgundy reunite at the family vineyard when their father falls ill. The resulting tale deals with complex issues of legacy and patriarchal ownership of the land and more domestic matters – who will look after the vineyard, how will they manage through the harvest, and so on. Klapisch’s cinema has always nudged up against families and communities in conflict; Back to Burgundy likewise portrays familial affinities and schisms, and details how friendship networks and family dynamics can overcome emotional and economic turmoil. On some occasions, families splinter and separate; on others, they unite in spite of their differences. Here, it is clear that Jean left home in part because his father, seen in frequent flashbacks, was cruel to him, and he’s only returning to Burgundy because of the father’s impending death. Jean’s sister Juliette has been working on the vineyard for the past two years. She clearly has the winemaking gift but not the confidence to go with it, and she is juggling her strong ideas about wine with insecurities about whether she is able to follow in her father’s footsteps. The younger son Jérémie has married into a prosperous winemaking family but the complication here is that he has to deal with an overbearing father-in-law.

Back to Burgundy

As might be expected, Klapisch examines in forensic detail the practices of winemaking (soils, labelling, picking, tasting, selling, bottling…) and charts the mythic connection between winemaker/director and the land. To establish the changing rhythms of the Burgundy countryside throughout a 12-month cycle, he hired a photographer to take a picture of the same tree every day at 3 p.m. for one year. Klapisch uses the rituals of the Beaune vendange to make broader comments on the importance of friendship: a mutual common purpose become the adhesive that bonds together disparate social and cultural groups. Many of his films feature scenes of eating, drinking, chatting in bars and in streets, visiting famous monuments, listening to music, and making wine. These are not solitary activities, but become shared, reciprocal experiences that deepen and evolve over time.


Alongside the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Agnès Jaoui in his home country, or further afield with Steven Soderbergh, Alfonso Cuarón and Michael Winterbottom, Cédric Klapisch serves as a model of a director who can flip from genre to genre, while maintaining visual and thematic consistency. A passionate advocate for the world-altering perspective travel, mobility and intercultural dialogue can pass onto Europe’s ‘emerging adult’ generation, Klapisch remains admired for his loose, spontaneous approach to shooting and his skill at making films that combine both popular and auteur aesthetics. This most ‘European’ of third-way directors is now, of course, faced with new geo-political and social challenges that are the antithesis of his previous emphasis on cohabitation and finding harmony in difference. Now is the era of Brexit, continental terror attacks, the upsurge of far-right politics in Hungary, France, and Austria, and ‘Fortress Europe’, that traumatic landscape that segregates rich from poor, Europeans from non-Europeans, and citizens from immigrants. This retrenchment has been accompanied by a conceptual shift in how European youth interact with each other, which has not gone unnoticed by Klapisch: “Today (…) this post-Spanish Apartment youth (…) is extremely reactive. It lives in a form of permanent instantaneousness, in total immersion in social networks. I do not feel that this new form of mobility is as positive as it was fifteen years ago. We have moved into the era of self-love, an inward-looking virtual world.” 25 In Klapisch’s films, ultimately, it is the unchoreographed hubbub of the Barcelona apartment rather than the selfie in front of the Sagrada Familia that forms the essence of modern life. It’s not the cocoon of virtual reality that counts, but real-world curiosity – feeling soil through the fingers and biting grapes in the mouth. The next challenge for Klapisch will be to imagine how the nomadic spirit of Xavier, Chloé, et al. will manage future encounters with walls both real and symbolic, and how the ongoing muddle of their lives can be recuperated or reshaped by cultural encounters both domestic and foreign.


Ce qui nous lie / Back to Burgundy (2017)

Dix pour cent / Call My Agent! (TV Series) (2 episodes)
– Nathalie et Laura (2015)
– Cécile (2015)

La chose sûre (Short, 2013)

Casse-tête chinois / Chinese Puzzle (2013)

Ma part du gâteau / My Piece of the Pie (2011)

Aurélie Dupont danse l’espace d’un instant (TV Movie documentary, 2010)

Paris (2008)

Les Poupées russes / Russian Dolls (2005)

Ni pour ni contre (bien au contraire) / Not for, or Against (Quite the Contrary) (2003)

L’auberge espagnole / The Spanish Apartment (2002)

Peut-être / Perhaps (1999)

Le ramoneur des lilas (Short, 1998)

Un air de famille / Family Resemblances (1996)

Chacun cherche son chat / When the Cat’s Away (1996)

Lumière and Company (Documentary, 1995)

3000 scénarios contre un virus (TV Series) (2 episodes)
– Poisson rouge (1995)
– La chambre (1995)

Le péril jeune / Good Old Daze (1994)

Riens du tout / Little Nothings (1992)

Ce qui me meut (Short, 1989)

In Transit (Short, 1986)

Further Reading

Guy Austin, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction, 2nd edn (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002)

Sylvie Blum-Reid, “Away from Home? Two French Directors in Search of their Identity”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 26:1, 2009, pp. 1-9.

Jean-Pierre Boulé, “Cédric Klapisch’s The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls in Nausea’s mirror”, in Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema: A Sartrean Perspective, Jean-Pierre Boulé and Enda McCaffrey, eds. (New York & Oxford: Berghahn, 2001), pp. 157-174.

Jon Lewis, The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992)

Ben McCann, L’Auberge espagnole: European Youth on Film (New York & London: Routledge, 2018)

Tim Palmer, Brutal Intimacy: Analysing Contemporary French Cinema (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011)

Timothy Shary, Teen Movies: American Youth on Screen (London: Wallflower, 2005)

David Vasse, Le Nouvel Âge du cinéma d’auteur français (Paris: Klincksieck, 2008)

Emma Wilson, French Cinema Since 1950: Personal Histories (London: Duckworth, 1999)


  1. Boyd van Hoeij, ‘Back to Burgundy’, Hollywood Reporter, 16 June 2017, www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/back-burgundy-ce-qui-nous-lie-1012522.
  2. Tim Palmer, Brutal Intimacy: Analysing Contemporary French Cinema, (Mid­dletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011) p. 97.
  3. Raphaëlle Moine, “Contemporary French Comedy as Social Laboratory”, in A Companion to Contemporary French Cinema, Alistair Fox, Michel Marie, Raphaëlle Moine and Hilary Radner, eds. (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2015) p. 246.
  4. Raphaëlle Moine, “Contemporary French Comedy as Social Laboratory”, p. 247
  5. Andrew Schenker, ‘My Piece of the Pie’, Slant, 4 December 2011, www.slantmagazine.com/film/my-piece-of-the-pie.
  6. Peter Bradshaw, ‘Paris’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/jul/25/drama.
  7. Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, ‘Back to Burgundy’, The Times, 1 September 2017, www. thetimes.co.uk/article/back-to-burgundy-8xsfkc25b.
  8. Cynthia Lucia, “The Many Faces of Paris: An Interview with Cédric Klapisch”, Cineaste, 35:1, Winter 2009, www.cineaste.com/winter2009/the-many-faces-of-paris-an-interview-with-cdric-klapisch/.
  9. Jean Fallon, “Ni pour, Ni contre: Conflict and Community in the Films of Cédric Klapisch”, Foreign Language Annals, 40:2 (2002): p. 202.
  10. In 2014, Klapisch exhibited at Galerie Cinéma in Paris a series of photographs of Paris and New York he took while on preproduction for Chinese Puzzle. The gallery’s press release stated that such photographs serve as a ‘visual logbook’ for Klapisch, inspiring ideas for his screenplays.
  11. Claude-Marie Trémois, Les Enfants de la liberté: le jeune cinéma français des années 90 (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1997), p. 151.
  12. Prune Antoine, “Cédric Klapisch, European New Wave”, Café Babel, 17 September 2005, www.cafebabel.co.uk/article/cedric-klapisch-european-new-wave.
  13. Madeleine Kammoun-Carlet, “Chacun cherche l’autre”, Nouvelle Revue Française, May 1997, www.cedricklapisch.com/interviews_uk.html.
  14. Guillaume Soulez, “Moving between Screens: Television and Cinema in France, 1990–2010”, in A Companion to Contemporary French Cinema, Alistair Fox, Michel Marie, Raphaëlle Moine and Hilary Radner, eds. (Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2015) p. 99.
  15. In The Spanish Apartment, we hear European electronica (Daft Punk), Chopin and Charpentier, salsa, flamenco, the Malian singer Ali Farka Touré, and Radiohead.
  16. Anon., “Interview du réalisateur Cédric Klapisch”, Cinedirectors.net, 2013, www.cine-directors.net/interview19.htm.
  17. Mireille Rosello, “Imagining European Subjects as Chaotic Borders: Cédric Klapisch’s Pot Luck and The Russian Dolls”, in Zoom In, Zoom Out: Crossing Borders in Contempo­rary European Cinema, Sandra BarrialesBouche and Marjorie Attignol Salvodon, eds. (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), p. 17.
  18. Colin Nettelbeck, “In a Distinctive Cinema Culture”, Australian Journal of French Studies, 36:1, 1999): p. 3.
  19. Géraldine Kamps, “Je ressens comme un privilège d’avoir échappé à la guerre”, Regards, 865, 3 July 2017, www.cclj.be/actu/judaisme-culture/cedric-klapisch-je-ressens-comme-privilege-avoir-echappe-guerre.
  20. David Parkinson, “Eric Rohmer for beginners”, British Film Institute, 11 January 2018, www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/eric-rohmer-beginners.
  21. Cédric Klapisch, “25 ans déjà…”, Huffington Post, 11 April 2012, www.huffing­tonpost.fr/cedric-klapisch/25-ans-deja_b_1414742.html.
  22. The transformative potential of the Erasmus scheme has also been endorsed by the Italian novelist and scholar Umberto Eco: “I call it a sexual revolution: a young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children. The Erasmus idea should be compulsory – not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers.” (Gianni Riotta, “It’s Culture, Not War, That Cements European Identity”, The Guardian, 27 January 2012, www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/26/umberto-eco-culture-war-europa).
  23. Sylvie Blum-Reid, Travelling in French Cinema (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 12.
  24. John Hopewell, “Cédric Klapisch: Life Isn’t over Until It Ends”, Variety, 16 January 2014, www.variety.com/2014/film/global/cedric-klapisch-life-isnt-overuntil-it-ends-1201061902.
  25. Cédric Klapisch, “Les inscriptions en Erasmus ont doublé après L’Auberge espagnole”, Le Figaro, 10 January 2017, www.lefigaro.fr/cinema/2017/01/09/03002-20170109ARTFIG00257-cedric-klapischles-inscriptions-en-erasmus-ont-double-apres-l-auberge-espagnole.php.

About The Author

Ben McCann is Associate Professor of French Studies at the University of Adelaide.  He is the co-editor of Michael Haneke: Europe Utopia (Wallflower, 2011), and the author of Ripping Open the Set (Peter Lang, 2013), Le Jour se lève (I.B. Tauris, 2013), Julien Duvivier (Manchester University Press, 2017), and L’Auberge Espagnole: European Youth on Film (Routledge, 2018).

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