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Reporter John Allen

Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter John Allen. He covers the Vatican for the paper and has a regular column, "The View From Rome." This week American cardinals are meeting in Rome to discuss the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States.


Other segments from the episode on April 23, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 23, 2002: Interview with John Allen; Interview with Laurent Cantet.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: John Allen discusses the meeting between US cardinals
and the pope

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Margot Adler, sitting in for Terry Gross.

American cardinals are meeting in Rome to discuss the sex abuse scandals that
have rocked the American Catholic Church. Twelve of the 13 US cardinals are
in Rome, as well as two top officials of the US Conference of Catholic
Bishops. Addressing the cardinals today, Pope John Paul II made his strongest
statement yet on the sex abuse scandal. He said, `The abuse which has caused
this crisis is by every standard wrong, and rightly considered a crime by
society. It is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God. To the victims and
their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of
solidarity and concern.'

My guest today is John Allen, who is in Rome covering this historic meeting.
John Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.
He also writes a regular column called The Word from Rome. I spoke with him
earlier today.

Let's start with what's happening right now. You've been to a briefing.
What's going on?

Mr. JOHN ALLEN (National Catholic Reporter): Well, what's going on is the
American cardinals and the chief executive officers of the American Bishops
Conference are locked in a room with the most senior officials of the
Curia--that's the pope's bureaucracy in the Vatican--and they are desperately
trying to hammer out an agreement on sort of certain core matters of how you
handle accusations of sexual abuse against priests. Because the subtext to
today is what's going to happen in June in Dallas when the US bishops meet.
They're going to adopt, by all measures, some pretty tough new policies. And
the fear here is that if the Vatican and the US bishops are not on the same
page, then the US bishops in June could adopt these new policies to great
acclaim and fanfare in the American media, and then they would come over to
Rome and get rejected. And I think everyone on all sides recognizes that that
would be a public relations Chernobyl. And so the effort here is to try to
make sure that everyone is singing out of the same songbook ahead of that June

ADLER: So I heard there has been already some kind of statement today.

Mr. ALLEN: Yeah. Well, there were actually two things. The pope made an
address to the cardinals and the Curia officials this morning in which he once
again confirmed how heartsick the scandals have made him, how determined the
church is to be sure that people are not put in positions again where they can
be abused. But by the same token, he reaffirmed the sort of traditional
Christian--the notion of Christian conversion, which seemed to suggest that
although there need to be tough policies for priests when they're found guilty
of wrongdoing, that the church, in some sense, wants to leave open the
possibility that they can be salvaged in some way.

I know one American cardinal thought it was quite important that the pope, in
the course of his statement, used the word `crime,' referring to the sexual
abuse crisis as a criminal problem. And, of course, this is a hurdle the
church has struggled to get over. I mean, it has in the past treated this as
a spiritual problem that could be dealt with behind closed doors rather than
as a legal problem that needed to involve the criminal justice system. And so
I know some observers thought that was a step forward.

The other thing we've had today is a briefing involving Bishop Wilton Gregory,
who is the president of the US Bishops Conference, and Cardinal Francis
George, who is obviously one of the American cardinals and has a reputation
for being probably the brainiest of the American cardinals. And these two
guys came out and talked to us after the morning session of meetings. And I
think what was especially striking about their remarks were the unusually--and
I have to say, as someone who follows the Vatican day in and day out, I mean,
the very unusually candid, open and honest nature of their comments.

Bishop Gregory was asked about the debate over homosexuality in the
priesthood, and he admitted, without flinching, that there are certain
seminaries in the United States that have an overwhelmingly gay population,
and that sometimes heterosexual candidates actually feel uncomfortable.

Now this is something that, if you've been following the Catholic scene for
years, I mean, everyone knows but it's been sort of taboo to say that in
public. I mean, I know a priest, Father Donald Cozzens, who wrote a book a
few years ago called "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," in which he said
this very thing and was sort of demonized in many quarters of the church for
saying it. And now you have the president of the US Bishops Conference
putting it on record. I think that's remarkable.

And then Cardinal George acknowledging very frankly today that there is a very
serious disagreement within the Vatican and between certain US bishops in the
Vatican over the proposal for a one strike and you're out policy; that is,
that if a priest abuses anyone once, that ought to be it and he should be
removed from ministering and ultimately defrocked. Some people want that
policy; other people have problems with it.

You know, how these things are going to get resolved, we don't know. But I
think the remarkable thing is how honestly disagreement and the existence of
these problems are being voiced today.

ADLER: You were mentioning that there was a very amazing candor that you saw
today, and one of the things that I think Americans sense is that the Vatican
has a very different sense of media, public relations, time. You know,
they're not on the Internet all the time with us looking at every story. They
seem very distant, and sometimes that comes across as almost seeming
contemptuous. Is that a misperception?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think it can be. I mean, you know, I think this is an
institution--I mean, the motto around the Vatican is, `We think in
centuries,' you know, which means that they're trying not to think exclusively
or have their reactions dictated exclusively by today's controversy, but think
in a sort of unhurried and reflective way about what the long-term
consequences of something might be.

Now that can make for great wisdom because sometimes the smartest thing to do
in a crisis is to wait and see how it develops. But on the other hand, it
also makes them very slow to respond sometimes to things that really do need a
sort of urgent response. And I think that's probably what's happened in this
case. I think the Vatican was slow to realize the depth and gravity of the
crisis in the American church.

But I do think that they have come around, by and large. And I would,
frankly, read this week's summit as an indication of that. I mean, the pope,
if he had wanted to, could have called the American cardinals over quietly.
They could have flown below radar. But they chose to do this in a sort of
dramatic, high-profile, last-minute way, bringing, you know, all of the
American press with them. And I think, in part, that was an attempt to
communicate to the American church, `We get it. We understand.'

You know, when the Vatican looks at this crisis in the American church, what
they see is one part genuine scandal; that is, you know, the sexual abuse of
minors, of course, everyone in the Vatican regards as indefensible. And,
frankly, I have not met any senior Vatican official that, in a quiet moment,
wouldn't acknowledge that certain American bishops--for example, Cardinal
Bernard Law of Boston--have made serious mistakes in judgment.

But they also think that part of what's going on here is an artificial
atmosphere of crisis that has been generated by a couple of factors that are
unique to the United States. One is a very aggressive American press that
they think, in some ways, is anti-Catholic. Another is a very well-organized
sort of left wing of the American Catholic Church that the Vatican would
perceive as taking advantage of this crisis to grind its particular axes,
whether it has to do with clerical celibacy or the ordination of women or

And they also see a certain financial hustle at stake; that is, they see--you
know, we now have a legal subspeciality having to do with clerical sexual
abuse, and it's because the Catholic Church has some deep pockets that these
kind of accusations can tap.

So, you know, when the Vatican looks in on the American situation, what they
see, as I say, is one part a genuine pastoral emergency, one part an
atmosphere of hysteria that they think has been fed by some factors they're
very hesitant to capitulate to. And I think what that means is that, to date,
their reactions have been pretty half-hearted, pretty mixed, pretty defensive.

You know, I think that can come across sometimes as contempt, but I don't
think that's the best way of reading it. I think it's more, on the one hand,
they're reacting as pastors who are concerned for people who are hurting; on
the other hand, they're reacting as CEOs who are worried about their
institution that they see as under siege.

ADLER: What's going to happen to Cardinal Bernard Law? A number of cardinals
have been pushing for his resignation, as I understand. He made a statement
in Rome today. What do you see as the outcome of his personal situation?

Mr. ALLEN: I certainly don't think that at the end of this two-day session
we're going to have a resignation from Cardinal Law, for one thing, because,
you know, he has said clearly to his people in Boston that he intends to stay
on. And I certainly don't think he would have made that kind of statement if
he had not cleared his signals from Rome.

And if you look at his situation from the Vatican's point of view, I haven't
met anyone in the Vatican who would defend, you know, what Law did in either
the Geoghan case or the Shanley case. I mean, they would certainly
acknowledge there have been serious mistakes in judgment. But they would put
that in the context of what they see as several decades of loyal service.

And also there's a realpolitik point here, which is the Vatican is worried
about a domino effect. I mean, if Cardinal Law were to resign, then, you
know, those other men who are now bishops who were his aides, whose signatures
are on many of the same documents as Cardinal Law's, you know, by strict
logic, you know, they should have to resign, too. And then attention would
shift pretty quickly to Cardinal Egan, who has many of the same problems. You
know, before very long, you would have a fairly large chunk of the American
episcopacy wiped out. And certainly from the Vatican's point of view, that's
not a good place to be.

So, you know, I think that at the moment, the sense still is that Law can
weather the storm. The Vatican would certainly like to see him weather the
storm. I don't anticipate any action against him immediately. Whether in the
end it's going to prove possible for him to govern this archdiocese, whether
he can continue, I think, remains to be seen.

ADLER: Now until recently, the Vatican has seen this abuse scandal, as you
said, sort of as an American problem. You've talked about our litigious
society, our investigative journalism being very different. And I think the
Vatican long thought, not only as an American problem, but an Anglo problem.
But we now have incidents in France. There were 30 people accused since 1995.
We have incidents in Austria and Poland, in Nigeria and Germany, in other
places. Do you think that this is no longer going to be such an Anglo
problem, or simply that now there's going to be more reporting of it elsewhere
as there was in America?

Mr. ALLEN: Yeah, I think, you know, to be fair, I don't know many people in
the Vatican that think sexual abuse is an American problem, precisely because
of the examples that you mentioned. I mean, you know, my newspaper broke a
story, which I shared the byline in the story, about the sexual abuse of women
religious--that is, nuns--in Africa and elsewhere by priests a year or so ago.
This is a problem the Vatican has acknowledged and that, in cooperation with
men's and women's religious communities, has been working on ever since.

What the Vatican sees as an American or perhaps, as you say, more accurately
an Anglo-Saxon problem, is the very aggressive media response, which they see
as, to some extent, exaggerated and fed along by things like the culture of
the scoop and scandal in the American press, by a resentment of the very
strong positions that the Catholic Church has taken on issues like abortion
and birth control and so forth, and, you know, by Anglo-Saxon tort law, which
makes it easy to hold the church corporately liable for the misconduct of its

That's, I think, what they diagnoses as an Anglo-Saxon problem. But, you
know, are we rapidly moving into a situation of which the public discussion
and the push for accountability is spilling over the borders of the
Anglo-Saxon world into the rest of the world? I think no question.

I mean, if you look at the reaction to the case of Archbishop Julius Paetz in
Poland, this is an archbishop who recently resigned under the weight of
accusations of sexual misconduct, which it's important for us to say that he
continues to deny them. But nevertheless, he resigned. This really shattered
a taboo in Polish society and, I think, produced a real sea change. And I
think it's entirely realistic to expect that now you will have other cases
like that one discussed in Poland, and I think the same thing will be
happening other places.

So in a way, I think, what you're getting in Anglo-Saxon, and especially
American culture today, is a preview of the kinds of stories the rest of the
Catholic world will be grappling with in the years to come.

ADLER: My guest is John Allen. He is the Vatican correspondent for the
National Catholic Reporter. He's currently in Rome covering the meeting
between Pope John Paul II and the American cardinals. We'll talk more with
John Allen after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

ADLER: My guest is John Allen. He's the Vatican correspondent for the
National Catholic Reporter. His new book, soon to be released, is called
"Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal

You've been touring the country and speaking to Catholics in different parts
of the United States. What did you hear?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I think the most important observation I can offer you is
this, that I really think that this story has shifted on the ground in the
American Catholic Church over the last few weeks. I think this started out as
a sexual abuse story. I think it has become an accountability story, and what
I mean is that certainly American Catholics are outraged by the revelations
that we have seen about, you know, the Geoghan case in Boston, the abuse of
children, the Shanley case also in Boston. You know, I mean, those sorts of
things are indefensible and they would horrify anyone who cares to read the
case files. But, you know, I also think Catholics are realistic enough to
recognize that priests being people, some priests, like some people, are
going to do abominable things.

I think what really has Catholics outraged at the moment is the broader
question of the way their bishops have responded to that misconduct. I mean,
it's the moving abuser priest from assignment to assignment. It's paying hush
money to settle civil litigation. It's the use of retaliatory litigation to
intimidate victims from coming forward. It's all of that that Catholics have
drawn the conclusion that their managers, their leaders, have failed them; not
all, but certainly a number.

And that has a lot of Catholics asking some very basic questions about to whom
are their leaders accountable. And is it enough for bishops to be accountable
only to Rome, or isn't it also important that they be accountable to the local
churches that they serve? Which, in turn, generates other questions like:
How do you get bishops in the first place, and why don't local churches play a
greater role in picking them? And why can't laypeople play a much more
profound role in making decisions about finance and governance and personnel,
all of these things that don't touch upon doctrine but touch upon how the
church is run? And so I think that's the sea change that's going on in the
American Catholic Church at the moment, and I think that conversation is only

ADLER: So you're saying that people want democratization, more lay power, and
in some sense, that's a more possible avenue of change than asking for a
change of doctrine?

Mr. ALLEN: Yeah. I mean, I'm not sure I would use the word `democratization'
because that's a word that, you know, is a very explosive word because the
Vatican will always say the church is not a democracy; American bishops will
say the church is not a democracy. And of course it's true. I mean, nobody's
talking about, you know, getting together in a room and voting on a 50 percent
plus one basis, you know, whether we believe in the Resurrection anymore. I
mean, that's a model that doesn't make sense for the Catholic Church.

But I do think--you know, probably the better word for it is accountability
and perhaps also lay empowerment. I mean, how do you bring laity into a
situation so that bishops are accountable to them? And you're right, in a
way, it's an easier thing to fix than some of the other questions that people
have connected to this sex abuse crisis. I mean, for example, some
commentators in the American press have suggested that if the Catholic Church
were to ordain women, you know, you would have a more sort of balanced, you
know, base of clergy, a larger pool of people from whom to draw, and it would
make it easier to screen out potential abusers.

You know, that very well may be true, but there is a real theological obstacle
about the ordination of women. I mean, this pontificate, that is, John Paul
II, has published documents that insist that the ban on women's ordination is
all but infallible, meaning unreformable. So, you know, you have to jump
through some very serious doctrinal hoops before you can get to a place where
you can talk about women's ordination.

On the other hand, you know, bringing laity back into the governance of the
church really does nothing more than take the church back to its roots. I
mean, in the early centuries of the church and really on into very recent
times--the first bishop of the United States, for example, John Carroll, was
elected by the clergy of his diocese and of the United States, and that choice
was simply ratified in Rome. As late as 1829, when Pope Leo XII died, there
were 646 Catholic bishops outside the papal states, which is the region of
Italy the pope ruled as a secular monarch. Of those 646, only 24 had been
appointed directly by the pope; the rest have all been picked either by a
secular government or by the people, the local community. So there is no
doctrinal obstacle to raising this question of who are bishops accountable to.
And so in a way, it's an easier problem to fix.

ADLER: In America, there's a lot of talk about the Catholic Church and the
culture of celibacy and that as a problem, that the whole question of the
church's teaching on sexuality is at issue here. Is it?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, I mean, from a certain point of view, of course it is. I
mean, you know, sexuality is, you know, one of the most central if not the
most central aspect of human existence, and I suppose the church is always
going to be working on getting its teaching exactly right. And I think one of
the fascinating things just in terms of the politics of this is that on the
sexual questions, my experience in talking to Catholics these days is the same
divisions that existed before this present crisis still exist. That is to
say, you know, the sort of liberal wing of the American Catholic Church still
would like to make celibacy optional, would like to reopen the question of,
you know, gay rights, for example, would, you know, push for a revision of the
teaching on birth control. And conservatives would tend to take opposite
positions on all of those questions. In other words, those continue to be
divisive issues, and this crisis, if anything, has simply strengthened people
in their pre-existing convictions.

On the other hand, on the governance question, on the accountability question,
what I find is this is now an issue that is uniting people from left, right
and center. And so where it used to be a sort of conservative clergy and
conservative Catholics vs. liberal clergy and liberal Catholics on sexual
issues, I think a new fault line that we have today is between laity of all
ideological stripes demanding much greater roles in governance from their
clerical leaders. And so in that sense, I think the crisis is really
reconfiguring the politics of the American Catholic Church in a very
fascinating way.

ADLER: John Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic
Reporter. His new book, to be released in June, is called "Conclave: The
Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election." We'll talk
more with John Allen in the second half of the show. I'm Margot Adler. This

(Soundbite of music; funding credits)

ADLER: Coming up, we continue our discussion with journalist John Allen about
the meeting in Rome between American cardinals and Vatican officials. Also,
we talk with French film director Laurent Cantet about his critically
acclaimed new movie "Time Out."

(Soundbite of music)

ADLER: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Margot Adler, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Let's return to our discussion with John Allen. He's the Vatican
correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter. He's in Rome covering the
meeting between the pope and the American Catholic cardinals. He's also the
author of a soon-to-be-released book "Conclave: The Politics, Personalities
and Process of the Next Papal Election." We spoke to him earlier today.

Various states, John, are passing laws--various states in the United
States--that force the church to report sex abusers.

Mr. ALLEN: Right.

ADLER: Rhode Island passed a law that says a priest has to report what he
hears in the confessional. I found myself--perhaps 'cause I'm 56 years old, I
found myself shocked by that. I still tend to think about priests and
therapists as people who have, you know, the power of total confidentiality.
You know, are we witnessing a change that's going to make the trust of the
confessional a thing of the past?

Mr. ALLEN: No, I don't think so. I think certainly the leadership of the
church will fight that sort of thing, you know, to the last drop of energy
that they've got, and I think the sort of case law is fairly solidly on the
church's side. So I don't see the seal of the confessional being in play
here. On the other hand, you know, the broader question of whether or not
bishops ought to be what's called an automatic reporter--that is, that they
ought to, as a matter of policy, be obliged to report to the police any
credible evidence of criminal misconduct against a priest that comes to them
outside the seal of confessional--I think that question is very much an
unsettled one. You know, there's an enormous clamor for it in the American

On the other hand, the Vatican has very serious reservations, or at least over
the years has had very serious reservations, you know, for a couple of
reasons. One is that they like to think of the relationship between a bishop
and his priest as sort of a father and son. And the notion is that if a
priest knows that if he confides in a bishop that he's done something wrong
and that bishop is then obligated to call the police, the priest is much less
likely to confide in the first place and therefore, that it would compromise
this relationship of trust that ought to exist.

Also, the Vatican believes that there probably are some victims and their
families that would prefer to work these things out, you know, quietly,
confidentially with the church without involving the police. And if you have
an automatic reporter policy, then in a way you take that discretion away from
the bishop. And so, you know, I don't see the seal of confessional being in
any serious jeopardy. I do see this question of what the bishops should be
obligated to report vs. what's going to be in his discretion to report.
That's very much a live issue and I don't think we know yet how it's going to
be resolved.

ADLER: More broadly, do you see a conflict between just the whole notion of
forgiveness of sins and accountability?

Mr. ALLEN: Yeah, this is a tough one and I think you saw this in the pope's
address today. I mean, the pope said, you know, we need to have tough
policies and we need to be sure that, you know, someone who has been an abuser
is never put in a position where they can abuse again. But on the other hand,
really in the same paragraph, he said, you know, we can't lose sight of the
notion of Christian conversion, of repentance. You know, I mean, this is the
problem. Zero-tolerance policies are not a good fit for a church that has,
you know, the sacramental understanding of sin and redemption, the notion that
no matter what you've done, no matter how awful it is, you know, you can make
a fresh start. I mean, you can be contrite. You can ask for forgiveness and,
having received it, then you can begin again.

And I think the church is still struggling with that and I think it--you know,
what is happening at the moment is that it is learning to separate, you know,
the sort of spiritual question of someone's capacity for conversion from the
policy question of what do you do with them when they have committed a serious
offense? And I think that distinction, unpacking that idea, is taking some

You know, the other bit of just, you know, ecclesiastical psychology, I think,
that's relevant here, is that in some ways some of the vices that we're
seeing, in terms of, you know, moving these abuser priests from assignment to
assignment or writing nice letters for them, trying to get them other jobs, or
backing them up when they're in a tough spot--I mean, these are vices that in
some cases are born of an access of virtue; that is that, you know, you have
bishops who really are doing everything they can to try to prop up and support
struggling members of the clerical club. And you know, so far as it goes,
it's a noble intention. The problem is that it's a form of tribal morality,
and by that I mean the moral rules, this moral concern, applies only to
members of the tribe and once you step outside the clerical world, then the
people out there don't count as much.

And so, you know, I also think what's going on right now is that leaders of
the church, those people who have risen through the ranks of clerical culture,
are being forced to redefine, to expand the zone of moral concern to include
not just priests, but the whole people of God, and so that, you know, the
claim the priest has to be supported in his tough moments is now going to have
to be balanced against the claim that the people have not to be put in a
position where they can be abused by this guy. And so I think there is a
learning process that's going on that, you know, to be fair, has begun and in
some places has taken root more profoundly than others. But certainly that
process is going to have to be accelerated as part of the resolution of this

ADLER: You tell a story about Pope John XXIII, that after a difficult day he
said, `I'm only the pope; I'm going to bed.' And then you speak of John Paul
II in a very different way, as almost messianic in his own belief about his
own actions.

Mr. ALLEN: Yeah. Well, I mean, this pope has a very strong sense of
election. You know, usually this comes up in the context--another question
people often ask is, is this pope going to resign? And although Canon law
makes a provision for it--Canon 332.2 has a provision for a pope to resign, I
think it's almost incredible that John Paul II is going to exercise it; one,
because he said he's not going to. I mean, in 1994, when he had his hip
replacement surgery, he told the doctor that `You have to heal me and I have
to get better because there's no room in the church for an emeritus pope.'
And again in '95, on the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, he
said, `It's in the hands of God how much longer I continue.'

But even at a sort of deeper psychological level than that, you know, it's
clear this pope believes that he has been put in this position by divine
providence and he's been kept there by divine providence. And the classic
case in point is he believes that on May 13th, 1991, when Mehmet Ali Agca shot
him in Saint Peter's Square, that the Virgin Mary actually altered the flight
path of the bullet to keep him in office. You know, if that bullet had gone
six inches in either direction, it would have punctured a heart or punctured a
lung and he would have been dead. And May 13th happens to be the feast day of
Our Lady of Fatima. And on the one year anniversary of the assassination
attempt, the pope went to Fatima and placed the bullet in the crown of the
Virgin of Fatima as a way of thanking her for keeping him in office.

So, you know, I think if you believe that the Virgin Mary and, you know, sort
of the divine realm is suspending the laws of physics in order to keep you in
office, you know, I just don't think you wake up one morning and decide,
`Well, you know, I'm finished. I mean, this is enough.' You know, `I'll
just, you know, go into--I'll hit the lecture circuit or something like that.'
It's just not psychologically consistent.

ADLER: Thank you, John, very much for speaking with us.

Mr. ALLEN: My pleasure.

ADLER: John Allen is the Vatican correspondent for The National Catholic
Reporter. His column is called The Word from Rome. We spoke to him earlier

Coming up, French film director Laurent Cantet speaks about his new film,
"Time Out." This is FRESH AIR.

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Interview: Laurent Cantet discusses his new film "Time Out"

There are very few movies about the world of work, but French film director
Laurent Cantet has explored this realm in two films. His first, "Human
Resources," which came out in 1999, explores the world of factory work. A
young man gets a job in management in a factory where he has to lay off
workers, including his own father. In his latest film, "Time Out," Cantet
explores the world of global corporate management. It's the story of a man
who loses his job, but continues to keep his same schedule faking a job with
the United Nations in Switzerland and lying about it to friends and family.

When I began my conversation with Laurent Cantet, I said that if an alien came
down from another planet and was to learn about our world only from movies,
the alien would think that work was only a scanty portion of our lives, not
half our waking day.

Mr. LAURENT CANTET (Director, "Time Out"): Work takes a lot of time, and
also most of us are defined by that word, `job.' And we don't exist if we
don't have a job. You don't ask someone in the street, `Who are you?' You
just ask him, `What are you doing?' And it's very difficult to exist and to
have a place in the society if you are unemployed, if you don't want to work,
if you just consider you as a man who can write words sometimes and sometimes
just take time to leave and to raise his children, for example.

ADLER: So, for example, we don't say to someone, when we are asked, `Well, I
work at McDonald's, but I'm really a poet.'

Mr. CANTET: Yes.

ADLER: You know, even though that may be true.

Mr. CANTET: Right.

ADLER: In "Time Out," you see sort of the global corporate world of agencies,
organizations, bureaucracies. It's a world behind glass doors and business
parks. And you hear a language that one almost never hears in movies, what--I
might call it `globalspeak,' or corporate jargon. Tell me about that language
and how you used it.

Mr. CANTET: So when I work with actors, most of them unknown professionals,
and most of them are people who are working in the same kind of work that they
are playing in the film. So they bring with them their language, their words,
the way to say things. And I don't write it by myself. I just give ideas of
what I want them to say, and then ask them to use the real vocabulary of the
people that they are playing. And I think that's what helps me a lot.

ADLER: Mm-hmm. So you got your--the people in, for example, "Human
Resources," who were not actors, you got some of them from the unemployment
line, correct?

Mr. CANTET: Yes, and also in "Time Out."

ADLER: And in "Time Out," you also got some from what we might call a
white-collar, upper-middle-class suburb of Paris.

Mr. CANTET: Yes. And so most of them were looking for a new job when I met
them, and they were happy to just discover what film is and how it's made.
So, you know, we worked a very long time together before shooting. And it
helps me to write the script. It helps me to understand who they are, and I'm
always trying to use in the film, again, what the actors can bring to me. You
know, when you work with a professional actor, it's quite difficult to have
him with you during five or six months before shooting. And I need this kind
of rehearsal session, and even these improvisation session that we do before
shooting just to help me to write the dialogues that would fit them. And it
also, I think, permits to give a certain sound to the film.

ADLER: Perhaps the man who I found to have the most character in "Time Out"
is Serge Livrozet. He plays a petty smuggler who sells knock-off designer
goods. When I look at him in the film, he seemed both wise in human affairs
and the ways of the street. How did you find him, and what's his story?

Mr. CANTET: Oh, yes. It's quite a long story. In fact, he was a burglar.

ADLER: He was a burglar?

Mr. CANTET: Yes, but it was 30 years ago. And he spent 10 years in prison.
And in prison, he started to read a lot of books and to write a lot of books,
too, and he became militant--an anarchist militant. And when he came out of
prison he met Michel Foucault and Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, who were just
starting the new Liberation newspaper, and he worked with them. And so he had
this past of burglar, but in the same times, he had the distance to it, too.

And it was very interesting for me to work with him, because he could just
speak like someone of this milieu. And his life, in the same times, is really
connected to the subject of the film. When he was 14, he was supposed to
learn a job. He was going to be a plumber. And he realized that he wouldn't
stand it. And he says in one of his books that, `These days I realized that I
was condemned to perpetuity, and I decided to escape.'

ADLER: Mm-hmm. And that's why he became an anarchist?

Mr. CANTET: Yes. And that's why he became--right. He had no--he was not
intellectual at all, and then he decided just to stop his work. And the only
way he found to exist was to go in the south of France and he became a

ADLER: Now in the film, there's a wonderful scene in which Livrozet
(pronounced leh-vor-eh-zay)--Livrozet (pronounced lee-vor-eh-zay)?

Mr. CANTET: Livrozet (pronounced lee-vor-eh-zay), yes.

ADLER: Livrozet takes out a scrapbook of his crimes and shows it to Vincent,
the protagonist. And there are pictures of him in prison. And someone told
me that those are actual photos of him and his real life.

Mr. CANTET: Yes, the photos are real. We just wrote the new text, but the
photos are the real one. You can see him in criminal--How do you say that?

ADLER: In court, in the trial and...

Mr. CANTET: In court, yes. And, right, he gave us the real pictures of his

ADLER: The title of "Time Out" in French is "Lempbidutemps." It doesn't
mean what we think of it in the English sense. In the English sense, it means
`taking a break,' but it means `schedule,' doesn't it?

Mr. CANTET: It means two things, in fact. It's `schedule' and, also, if you
go back to the literal meaning of it, it's `the way you use your time.'

ADLER: Mm-hmm. So--yes, go on.

Mr. CANTET: But interesting for me to use these two meanings because--right,
it speaks of a professional schedule and the way it takes all your life. And
also, it shows a man who is trying to use his time exactly the way he would
like to use it.

ADLER: So in the first scene of the film, we see Vincent in his car. We see
him very happy. We see him racing a train like a little kid. He's singing.
And we learn that he's happiest when he's driving, and that, in fact, he lost
his job not because he was openly incompetent or anything, but he just lost
his focus because he would drive around and miss meetings, you know.

Mr. CANTET: For me, he then decided to lose his job, his responsible of it.
He is not a victim of unemployment, I think. He just decided once that it was
too boring to go on working like that, and he just decided to accept to be

ADLER: But then why does he insist on keeping the same schedule? I mean, we
see a man who essentially keeps the same schedule even though he's fired. He
goes to the UN agency...

Mr. CANTET: Right.

ADLER: ...we should say, and he wanders in, in Switzerland. He walks around.
He pretends to be a worker. He fits in. He wears a suit, a tie. He has a
briefcase. He has a cell phone. He passes most of the time. I mean, there
are guards that stop him and so forth, and they tell him to move on. But most
of the time he passes. And he has all that equipment--you know, the cell
phone, the tie and the suit, etc.

Mr. CANTET: Mm-hmm. Well, I think there are two reasons for that. First,
he likes the image people have from him. And he's even going higher in the
hierarchy by inventing this job in the UN. So he likes his life as a--he has
a bourgeois life and he likes it. He doesn't want to change all his life.
The only thing he wants is to get free of all the constraints of work.

And the new constraints you are speaking of are maybe not exactly the same
because he can invent them. He creates his story. He's writing his story
every day and every hour and he has to play it, too. And we always imagined
him like a script writer who can be excited by lying. And I think everybody
who is listening to--who is looking at the film can recognize himself in this.
I think everybody lied once in his life and found...

ADLER: At least.

Mr. CANTET: At least. And it's obviously exciting to build a good lie.
That can be a sort of creation.

ADLER: And then, of course, once you build one, you have to build more.

Mr. CANTET: You have to go on. And that's what he didn't, maybe, realize at
the beginning of the story, that life is always more complicated than a
script. And when you are starting with a lie, you have to go on because a lot
of people has to be involved in your lie and then you have to be sure that
what you said to one is the corresponding to what you said to the other one,
and it can become very--you can become very busy with that.

ADLER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I'm talking with Laurent Cantet about his new film
"Time Out," playing in movie theaters now. His previous film, "Human
Resources," is also about the workplace. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

ADLER: My guest is Laurent Cantet, director of a new French film "Time Out."
In the film, Vincent, the protagonist, has lost his job and he takes up with a
small-time smuggler of imported designer knock-offs.

In some sense when you look at the smuggler that he works for, for awhile,
when you look at Livrozet and he is showing him the designer goods, there's a
moment when you almost think that those goods, those smuggled designer
rip-offs, are in some sense more than the language that you hear in the UN

Mr. CANTET: Yes. That's was what we decided to--why we decided to make of
Jean-Michel this kind of (French spoken).


Mr. CANTET: Sorry.

ADLER: Yes, to make him this kind of character.

Mr. CANTET: This kind of character, because I thought funny and interesting
that the reality can be brought back to Vincent through fakes.

ADLER: And, in fact...

Mr. CANTET: Can you understand what I said?

ADLER: Yes, I understand that. Yes. In other words, the fake things that
this man is smuggling in and producing are much more real than anything in the

Mr. CANTET: Yes. And...

ADLER: And, in fact, when...

Mr. CANTET: Because, you know, you have this box to carry. You have those
things to--you have to go across the country just to bring back things. And
you--right, it exists. And if you have money in the end you know why. You
know this just because someone brought you those glasses and those boxes you
brought back. So that's suddenly something that can be--right--real.

ADLER: It's tangible. It's tangible. It's real.

Mr. CANTET: Tangible, yes.

ADLER: Hmm. From making these two films about work, do you sense that you
now know some things about work that you didn't know when you began about the
way work works and the way we live? Have your own views changed and grown as
you have done this film?

Mr. CANTET: Well, I know now that a lot of people are working like slaves,
are considering work like slavery. And that I thought a lot more people could

ADLER: You thought more people were satisfied before you...

Mr. CANTET: Were satis--yes. I thought more people were satisfied by their
job. In fact, I realized that a lot of people can understand what my film
says and a lot of people feel a victim of their work, of their schedule, of
this social role you have to play, yes.

ADLER: You know, I once did a radio show, a live radio show, where I took
phone calls way into the night. And one of the things I noticed is that if
you ever approach the subject of people's work and the meaninglessness of most
of it...

Mr. CANTET: Mm-hmm.

ADLER: floodgates open. People will talk about feeling
underemployed, of not doing jobs that engage their passions. They will talk
all night about it. They will talk about their fantasies, what they want to
do. And I've always thought that was particularly American, but maybe not.

Mr. CANTET: No, I think--it's not. Unfortunately, it's not. You know, with
my two films, I did a lot of Q-and-As in theaters in France and all over the
world. And those Q-and-As usually takes, like, half an hour. And with those
two films, I was speaking during one hour and a half, two hours, and people
wanted to go on speaking, and not speaking of the film, but speaking of
themself and speaking of the way they recognized themselves, their life, in
the films. And I think that's the reason why they like the film.

ADLER: Mm-hmm. Your own work, though, your own work as a filmmaker, I would
imagine, is an example of somewhat unalienated work.

Mr. CANTET: Yes. I think that's maybe the reason why I'm a filmmaker. I
don't think I would be able to work like Vincent, for example. And my way to
escape from that was perhaps to try to make film, and I managed it so I'm
happy now.

ADLER: Thank you so much, Laurent Cantet, for joining us.

Mr. CANTET: Thank you very much.

ADLER: Laurent Cantet is the director of the new French film "Time Out."


ADLER: For Terry Gross, I'm Margot Adler.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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