A French Connection


An airy loft in a busy, workaday neighborhood of Paris, the offices of Why Not productions are humming. For a bit of quiet, Pascal Caucheteux goes across the street to his apartment, where beside a billiard table and a heap of baby toys, he explains the genesis of his maverick film production company.

“We came together in 1991, five young people, each with different skills, to produce the first films of Arnaud Des-plechin,” says Caucheteux, who with Grégoire Sorlat now heads a company with a dozen employees. “We had waited a long time to find a great director, and we were lucky. Arnaud’s short film, The Life of the Dead, was an enormous success, with a commercial run, great reviews, a prize. His first feature, La Sentinelle, and My Sex Life, his second, were both selected for Cannes.”

My Sex Life (1995), a peculiarly charming three-hour drama about a perennial graduate student’s confused romantic and professional yearnings, had a short run in New York last fall; La Sentinelle (1992) opened here last week. A surreal psychological thriller about the legacy of the Cold War among a privileged coterie of young Europeans, it confirms Desplechin’s place among the most promising new French directors.

Yet Why Not is no one-trick pony. Specializing in hardcore French auteur cinema (with works by Philippe Garrel, Jean-Francois Richet, Xavier Beauvois, and others), they’ve also produced American independents Gregg Araki (Nowhere and Doom Generation) and Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup). Recently, they’ve added music to the mix, putting out albums by John Cale and others. With prizewinning films at Cannes, Venice, and Sundance, their international presence is growing.

Why the English-language name? “We wanted to signal our openness to innovation and cultural exchange,” says Caucheteux, “and our interest in America.” What is their strategy? “We look for young directors with a real cinematic vision. And we make long-term commitments to their work. Araki has a very young, wild style; Desplechin’s films are more intellectual; Richet makes tough, politicized films about the banlieux. Each is working with a cinematic language all his own, and each has something to say.”

Financing La Sentinelle, an ambitious first feature with no name-brand stars, was tricky. (Many cast members–Emmanuel Salinger, Marianne Denicourt, Emmanuelle Devos, and others–have since gone on to become familiar faces of the new New Wave.) “We got small amounts of money from many different investors,” Caucheteux explains. “And we secured a distributor first.”

Why Not’s policy of long-term support for directors has paid off. In the past year, they’ve produced new films by Garrel, Richet, and Bruno Podalydes; in December, they begin shooting Arnaud Desplechin’s latest project. Esther Kahn, an adaptation of a work by turn-of-the-century English author Arthur Symonds, is a big-budget period drama starring Ian Holm, set in London and to take place in English. “It’s a departure for Arnaud, and a risk for us,” Caucheteux says. “But then again, why not?”