Didier Allouch, a Frenchie between Cannes and Hollywood

Didier Allouch is getting ready to leave his base in Los Angeles, where he has lived for nearly 30 years covering the Oscars for Canal+, to go to Cannes. As the film festival’s U.S. correspondent, he will be standing on the red carpet and sitting in the theaters from May 16 to 27. The French journalist, who also produces and hosts the program Rendez-vous d’Amérique on TV5MONDE (also streaming on TV5MONDEplus), spoke to us about his Cannes schedule, the energy of the French cultural scene in the United States, and the American movie that made him a cinephile.
Didier Allouch with Leonardo DiCaprio at the Cannes Film Festival, 2019. © Stéphane Kossmann

France-Amérique: Which movie are you most looking forward to seeing at Cannes this year?

Didier Allouch: The latest Martin Scorsese movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, of course! Firstly, because I love Scorsese, and secondly, because I just saw the first images in Las Vegas – I was recently at CinemaCon, the international convention of movie theater owners – and I almost fell off my chair! It blew my mind. But there are also plenty of other movies. The surprises are what I love most about festivals, especially Cannes. You walk into a room and you have no idea what you’re going to see. That’s the magic of cinema!

As for another movie screened at Cannes, what do you think about Johnny Depp playing Louis XV in Jeanne du Barry by Maïwenn?

I love it! Johnny Depp is a great actor who can play almost any role. He’s currently going through a rough patch [following his bitter divorce from Amber Heard, who accused him of domestic violence, among other things], so we’ll have to see how he does. But he’s one of those actors with interesting twists and turns. After the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the fame, and the money, here he is in a super arty movie in French. Perhaps the fact that he hit a low point in his life made him want to make movies again? As a film buff, I find it interesting. Either way, I’ll be in the theater on May 16 to see his movie.

On that topic, can you tell us more about your role at the festival?

I have several! I’m a journalist for TV5MONDE and Canal+, and I’m also a correspondent for the Cannes Film Festival in the United States. Throughout the year, I work with Thierry Frémaux [the festival’s director] and his team to highlight American movies that I think the Cannes audiences might like. I don’t select the finalists, I’m just a scout – I point them in the direction of the films. This year, for example, I recommended Hypnotic, the Robert Rodriguez thriller with Ben Affleck, which I discovered at South by Southwest in Austin. It’s a great B movie! It will be presented at Cannes at the Midnight Screening, which will be good for the guests. I also work for the festival, hosting press conferences, conferences for film professionals, and master classes, and I watch two movies a day. I don’t get a moment’s rest!

You have interviewed some of the biggest movie stars. How do you prepare for these encounters?

It depends on the type of interview. On the red carpet, I only have three or four minutes per person. I see the movie beforehand and I do some research, but I don’t write down any questions. I’ve been doing it for a while, so the actors recognize me and know that I’ll respect them. We talk movies, we don’t gossip! On the other hand, when I do a master class with Jodie Foster or Matt Damon, for example, I learn everything there is to know. I spent six weeks preparing for my interview with Tom Cruise at Cannes last year. I watched all his movies, reread all the books about him, and went back through all his interviews. I then had around 90 minutes with him, and I was able to share my excitement with the audience in the room. It’s a blast.

Can you tell us about Rendez-vous d’Amérique, the show you produce and host every other week for TV5MONDE?

I’m currently editing the 343rd episode, which will cover the American release of Benjamin Millepied’s Carmen, Angèle’s concert at Coachella, and François Avril’s exhibition in New York City. I will also be filming a concert by pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque at UCLA this Sunday. The show launched in 2010, and covers French cultural news in America. With the help of the Keep in News agency and a network of correspondents, I cover both completely obscure and well-known topics. These can include a Gad Elmaleh stand-up comedy show, a Stromae or Phoenix concert, a Sempé or Agnès Varda exhibition, a performance by tightrope walker Philippe Petit in Washington D.C., or the release of the Senegalese television series Wara. Our job is to promote Francophone culture in North America, but also to study it closely and observe its developments. It has really broadened my professional horizons beyond film. It’s a breath of fresh air!

Which stories have moved or surprised you the most?

A few years ago, I interviewed Anne-Lise Desmas, a French woman who is a curator at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. That day, I learned that French and American museums are not organized in the same way, that the works are arranged specifically in each country, and that visitors walk around differently! I also covered the Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette. I spent four extraordinary days there with the musicians and the public, and really fell in love with Louisiana.

Going back to the start, how did you end up in California?

By chance! I was born near Montpellier, but I grew up in Paris in the Opéra neighborhood. I used to go to the movies every Saturday afternoon, especially at the Hollywood Boulevard, which showed a lot of horror films. Then, with a small community of fellow film buffs, I started a fanzine, Le 35, which we printed using the photocopier at my father’s office – this was before blogs! We saved up to go to the Deauville American Film Festival and Cannes, we bunked together in a hotel room, and watched eight or nine films a day. That’s how I started writing for Mad Movies, a fantasy movie magazine. A friend of mine then asked me to become a correspondent for Canal+ in Los Angeles. That was in 1996, and I’ve been there ever since!

I imagine you like your life in Los Angeles?

I feel so good here. It’s the city of movies – I watch films at Warner and Fox, and I always get a thrill when I walk into the studios – and it’s an international metropolis with very few skyscrapers. I live in a house with a garden, which is great for the kids. I’m also lucky enough to spend two months every year in Europe at festivals and on vacation. As Hannah Montana once sang, I have “the best of both worlds”!

Do you remember the first movie that inspired your love of film?

Of course! It was The Exorcist [1973]. I must have been 12 years old when I saw it, and it traumatized me. I was shocked because it was scary, but also because I realized the power of cinema. How a dolly zoom [when the camera moves forward and the zoom moves backward, or vice versa] could get into your heart, into your head, and keep you up at night. William Friedkin does this while filming the little girl Regan’s door, and it creates a nightmarish feeling. For weeks after, I saw that terrifying image every time I closed my eyes! If cinema can inspire such emotions, what else can it do? It’s been more than 40 years, and I still haven’t finished answering that question.

Rendez-vous d’Amérique
is currently available to stream on TV5MONDEplus.