“I really wanted to make the reader laugh”

It’s okay, I’ll try not to pay too much attention to the weirdness of the thing. » The technical problems inherent in a videoconference had the merit of giving us a first information on Charlie Kaufman, forced to be seen but to address a black square. He, the king of quirky scenarios, works on the oddity of things like the sculptor works on matter. The screenwriter has always rubbed shoulders with originality: his father, an engineer during the week but a painter in his spare time, was a “quirky dad in a neighborhood full of non-quirky dads”. Perhaps the filmmaker draws from this childhood a certain ease in the handling of extravagance? This is also the whole aesthetic debate that has surrounded his work since his beginnings: is Charlie Kaufman only a goldsmith of chaos, a mannerist skilled in putting abysses under glass or one of the great Baroque artists of our time? ?

It is hardly surprising thatAntkind, his first novel, is a cobblestone full of intrigues and twisting characters around a mediocre film critic who seeks to find a masterful, and unknown film, destroyed at the beginning of the story. The very first words lay their cards on the table: “The thing lands with a schtonk, out of nowhere, without warning. » From the outset, the case is clear: the screenwriter and director does not pretend to arrive stealthily in literature. Schtonk ! A whole din confirms it in the text. From “rat-a-tat”, from “clacccccccccccck”, from “swush” and other hysterical cartoon sound effects.

Cerebral, Charlie Kaufman is very literally

The backfire contrasts sharply with the writer’s calm and friendliness. Leaning over the screen of his computer in his New York apartment, Charlie Kaufman answers in an almost thin voice, a remnant of a shyness he has gradually overcome. He had to: seven years of frequenting the editorial offices of American television shows forced the writer to make himself heard. In the hubbub of these rooms where screenwriters try to impose their ideas, “we had to be able to speak”. He pursues : “When I started, it was impossible for me. Over time, I gained confidence. »

The stage fright of the young screenwriter resembles the curse of certain cerebral writers: a weakness for the cathedrals of words masking a disabling aphasia in society. Cerebral, Charlie Kaufman is very literally. His first scenario did not hide it, we entered it, through a small tunnel, in the brain of an actor: In the skin of John Malkovich, by Spike Jonze (1999). It was a kind of coming in, the confession of a passion for mental caving. The sequel does not deny this attraction. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by Michel Gondry (2004), takes place largely in the memories of Joel (Jim Carrey). In 2002, it was a collaboration with George Clooney for “the confessions of a dangerous spirit”, as one can translate the American title (Confessions of a Dangerous Mindreleased in France under the title Confessions of a Dangerous Man). Recently, his third film, I just want to end (2020), deployed a road trip in the mind of an old man. The choice of a first-person narration in Antkind prolongs, in writing, this obsession for the turmoil of the soul. And, when you don’t wander directly into a man’s psyche, Charlie Kaufman’s work never recovers its cerebral bent, systematically displaying an appetite for convoluted compositions.

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