We interviewed Frédéric Beigbeder in a small bar of the port of Guéthary, the town where he lives for some years now. L´enfant terrible of France has left his frenetic Parisian life behind to enjoy the peace of the French Basque Country. However, he continues writing, directing films and creating, with his cheeky and intellectual unique signature.
In your novels you mention several times (with certain degree of nostalgia) Guéthary; and it seems your dream of living in this idyllic town of the French Basque Country came true. Where does your love for this place come from?
This village is where my father met my mother. My grandmother and my grandfather are buried here, near the church of Guéthary, so this village is the paradise of my family.
I came here for the first time when I was 3 years old. When I was 18, I thought “I want to see the world, I want to travel”, so I went to Formentera, Ibiza, Saint-Tropez, New York, and Los Angeles. I wanted to get away from here to be a free guy, individualist, worldwide person, with no roots.
I came back 10 years ago and I understood that this place is special for me; it has a meaning. It’s even more beautiful when you leave and then you come back, because then you feel the nostalgia, and the melancholy. I wanted to forget this place, and now I have to admit that it’s my favorite place. I feel good here and I’m living the happiest period of my life. I enjoyed the crazy nightlife of the big cities, but now I’m enjoying another lifestyle.
In Paris you lived a frenetic life. In the same month you were shut in the Conciergerie –like Marie Antoinette- and in a celebration in the Élysée Palace with Sarkozy. Do you miss your Parisian life of parties, cocaine and prostitutes?
If you miss that, it’s easy to find it in San Sebastian, where you have all the party you want. But to be honest, I don’t miss it. I’m not saying that I have become a moral guy and that I’m clean. Not at all. I still like to go out, but it’s also interesting to have a healthy way of life.
If I had wanted to be a legend, I should have died in the 90’, or just after publishing 99 Francs. Now it’s too late for me to die young. I should have died maybe in the World Trade Center during 9/11. That would have been a nice death. I talked about this with my publisher; I told him “if I was dead, I would be a legend”, but he said “yes, but then you won’t be here to enjoy it”. It’s like committing suicide: it’s cool, but then you are not there to enjoy the coolness of the suicide.
Now that it´s too late to die young, I don’t want to die, never ever. I even gave life. Today I was swimming in my pool with my two babies and I though “I’m a superhero”. But if you do this without the 20 years of party before, you might not enjoy it that much.
Your novel 99 Francs was a big success. What do you think about the repercussion your book had?
Right now I’m reading White by Bret Easton Ellis. It’s a new collection of non-fiction where he talks about the success of American Psycho. He says he got depressed when his book was a hit. And I understand what he says. It can sound like a spoiled brat to criticize success, because I was very lucky to have success, a book that was translated all over the world. But when you have such an important popular work that everybody reads, you become the character of the novel, and sometimes, when people are weak and fragile like me, they try to look like the character. And I was playing this roll of being arrogant, and an asshole for many years.
Ellis with American Psycho, Lolita Pille with Hell, and I, we got very much attacked, hated and criticized, and also popular. And when everyone falls on you so quickly, it’s difficult to stay normal. But in a way it was fun.
I think it’s cool to live such an experience, but I don’t think I was happy at that moment. I was trapped in Octave’s reputation, with everybody judging me, liking me, and hating me.
Now, 20 years later, I’m not that famous, my books don’t sell as they did, and I spent all the money a long time ago. So I feel I’m like an old rock star, unemployed and broke; a singer who made one hit a long time ago.
What do you think about the film adaptation of 99 Francs?
The movie is fun. Jan Kounen is one of the craziest French directors. It could have become a pale comedy and I think it’s not. It’s a dark comedy. I was lucky because Jan asked me to collaborate co-writing the script, I was invited to the shooting, and I acted in the movie a little bit. We are still good friends.
How much of you is reflected in the characters of your novels?
I have no imagination. I am very bad when I try to invent, so I copy reality. I’m like a spy; I listen to people around me and when I write a book it’s like an imitation of life. Maybe sometimes I only choose the funniest parts. I try to write books that are entertaining, so I leave out the boring things. But it´s not really fiction. It’s my life improved. I try to make it sound more brilliant than it is. It’s the story of a man today, in this world, where everything is changing: masculinity is becoming toxic. Men have to change, have to evolve, and sometimes they can’t, and sometimes they don’t know how.
What do you think about the current literary scene?
I’m very curious about contemporary fiction. I’m a literary critic in Le Figaro, so I read books every day. Literature is disappearing, it’s getting destroyed by Instagram and TV. This new era is ignoring literature. But, on the other hand, it´s very rich. There are many interesting writers and many important books. For example Sérotonine by Michel Houllebecq is a very important novel about how love is impossible today, and about how France is dying.
Many American writers are excellent, also English and Spanish, of course. So literature is dying, but it’s good. Even young writers are more energetic, more dynamic, crazier than ever, because they all have access to the culture of the rest of the world, mixed with influences of music and cinema. We are the orchestra of the Titanic. We are still playing music but everything is sinking.
In which projects are your working recently?
I am shooting a movie in autumn, it´s called The Elite. It’s a dark comedy, about the period when I was studying in the political institute in Paris, and going out every night. I like to film young men and women who are becoming adults, who are afraid of becoming adults. They party a lot and during the daylight hours they pretend they are going to be prime ministers of France. I wrote the script and I’m also directing it. It’s my third movie after Love lasts three years and L’Ideal.
I’m also working on another novel, but I have just started.
In 2008 Lagerfeld appeared for the first time wearing a yellow vest in a traffic campaign dictating “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn´t match with anything, but it can save your life”. Ten years later, part of the French population has made of the yellow vest their war uniform. Will yellow vests save French people?
It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn´t fit with anything, and you can loose your teeth or your eye, or you can be shot by the police in the testicles. So it doesn’t save your life. Does it save France? I always like when people are protesting, and complaining, and hoping to change the world. If France was perfect, everybody would have a job, everybody would have enough money to live decently, so I think it’s totally normal why they are fighting. But some of them are aggressive, homophobic, racist; so they made the movement seem less popular. But they have succeeded because the president gave a salary raise and diminished the taxes.
We love revolutions. France is the country of revolutions.
What do you think about democracy, as we understand this term nowadays?
Pedro Sanchez is a handsome man. It has been possible that a socialist has been elected in a country like Spain. So there is hope. I still believe in democracy. Like Churchill said “it’s the worst form of government, except for all the others”. We have to trust people and we have to hope that demagogy will not destroy democracy.
Many important philosophers and intellectuals during centuries said the same thing: the problem is demagogy; people who lie, fake news, stupid, violent, aggressive people, and haters. Today that’s the threat to democracy.
I like the system of Monarchy with Democracy, because then you have someone who is the Head of State and symbolizes the country. We killed our king and now we regret it. We should have kept the king just to go to parties, or to open a new museum, or to make a prayer when Notre Dame is burning. But there must be also an election for the real power. Monarchy with a Constitution. That’s a good balance.
The fire of Notre Dame has shown us the importance that symbols have for French people. Once again, the main luxury firms have come to the rescue of the European historical heritage. What do you think about that?
I believe in symbols. For a novelist symbols are very important. When the World Trade Center was destroyed in 102 minutes by two planes, it was a symbol. Victor Hugo wrote a beautiful novel about Notre Dame and maybe that’s the reason why it touched us more.
Notre Dame is also a very important religious place. It’s the cathedral of Paris. There is a strong memory of Christianity in France. Most people are brought up in catholic religion, so it was both a cultural and religious shock. And it was a relief to see that it resisted.
The fact that big luxury companies pay for the reconstruction is good. Usually they refuse to pay their taxes, so it’s a way to bring some money back to their own country, instead of keeping it in Switzerland.
Some people are criticizing the fact that suddenly there is a lot of money for a cultural thing when there is no money for other things; and that’s typical demagogy. Creating jobs, raising salaries, helping the poor, all this is very, very important, but the memory of such a holly place that is 1000 years old is also mankind, it’s the history of generations of people who built it; millions of people who visited this place; books that were written; movies that were made… All this was made by humanity. It’s important to give money for the history, and the memory. The culture must not disappear.
In your opinion, what is luxury?
Few years ago I would have said “it’s to have a private jet, and going to a beautiful 8 star hotel, or to an island in the Bahamas, or in Maldives”. But now for me luxury is time to sit down and talk. My time left on earth is very short; if I’m lucky, I will still have 25 years left. So what I treasure the most is to keep my time for only beautiful things and refuse all the rest. It’s the main rule of my life now. Every moment must be important and beautiful. I see life like a countdown.
If you are in a place where you are not enjoying the moment, surroundings are ugly, and people are not interesting, you have to run away, quickly.