Dialogue with Riton Liebman

Riton Liebmann @copyright Séguier editions
Riton Liebmann @copyright Séguier editions

Riton Liebman, published, in 2024, La Vedette du quartier (The Star in the Hood)Séguier, 288p., 21€.

In 1979, Academy Award winners are The Deer hunter, Midnight Express and Préparez vos mouchoirs (Get out your handkerchiefs), with Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere and Carole Laure. Sergio Leone wanted Depardieu and Dewaere for the roles of Max and Noodles in Once Upon a Time in America. Do you remember the Oscars ceremony?

Riton Liebman: Well, no, I remember it very well because I wasn’t there at all. I found out later, after the shooting and the promotion. I was already disconnected from the film, well, that they were going for the Oscar, but there wasn’t a big event regarding myself.

Do you realize the film couldn’t be made today?

Riton Liebman: Yeah, that’s what they say, but I don’t really have an opinion on the matter because my opinion isn’t very interesting. I don’t really care much because what interests me are people’s stories, rather than having a political or sociological opinion on things. I have a very interesting opinion when I’m alone in the shower, but when I express it publicly, it’s not incredible. I’m much more interested in people’s experiences than what they think of the period.  I don’t give a damn about the fact that i was a child actor. It didn’t bother me at all. Afterwards my life became more complicated because I became the Star of the Hood, and I was a somewhat public child, but the film itself, the script, I never had any problem with that.

You made a short film with Edouard Baer .

Riton Liebman: He doesn’t interest me. I’m totally self-centered. What interests me about Edouard Baer is my own frustration with a guy like Edouard Baer, and turning it into a story. I really like Edouard Baer, he’s a genius, but I used him to tell the story of a guy who wonders if Edouard Baer is really funny, I always tell the same story ultimately.

As Edouard Baer, do you like Woody Allen ?

Riton Liebman: I’m much better looking than him and I didn’t date my… adopted daughter. No, what can I say about Woody Allen, there are some films that I really like. He has a somewhat Jewish, somewhat Ashkenazi humor, where he mocks himself a lot, and in that sense, I could feel quite close to him. It’s true that the first person I talk about is myself, and the first person I drag through the mud a bit, is also myself. It’s a bit the essence of my creation. I’m not tender and make fun of myself a lot.

Has psychoanalysis helped you ?

Riton Liebman: Not really, I’m more a fan of support groups for addicts, if you know what I mean. That’s what helped me.

Florent Pagny dedicated you a song.

Riton Liebman: When I was alone in Paris, we bumped into each other, started in the business, and hung out for a few years.

You also appeared in Polisse, Maiwenn’s film.

Riton Liebman: It was just half a day of shooting, it didn’t last long, All the stars were in front of me, it was really nice, a bit improvised, we had to dive into the scene, it wasn’t very scripted but she made something great out of it.

You bear your uncle’s name who died in the camps.

Riton Liebman: I’m a funny guy so I always take these questions lightly, I take it seriously and at the same time not at all, but in my film, I’m a Standard Liège supporter, the protagonist, so me in this case, has an ingrown “nail” (“ongle” in french), he goes to the podiatrist, and he realizes it’s an ingrown “uncle” (“oncle” in french). He bears the name of his uncle like “Henri,” my incle deported to Auschwitz at fifteen.

Was his Hebrew name Herzl, often becoming Henri ?

Riton Liebman: No, he didn’t have a Hebrew name because they weren’t religious, in my family they didn’t have Hebrew names, my father’s name is Marcel, his uncle Léon, and Jean-Claude.

They were from Belgium?

Riton Liebman: well, they were Belgian Jews, my father, yes, a little Jew, their parents, my grandparents, came from Poland, in fact my mother’s father was completely different from my father’s father because my mother’s father was a Bundist, left-wing, not Zionist, and in my father’s family, on the contrary, were quite right-wing, religious, and very supportive of Israel. They were two very different Jewish families. And when my father met my mother, they were quite young and that’s when he discovered socialism, etc. In fact, my father is a well-known figure in Belgium, he’s been dead for a long time now, but he was one of the first Jews to defend the Palestinian cause.

What are the films of Benoit Poelvoorde, François Damiens, and Bouli Lanners you like the most?

Riton Liebman: Poelvoorde, there was Man Bites Dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous). For Damiens, it’s not his films, but hidden camera pranks, as for Bouli, he’s a very good director and a painter. Their careers have taken off more than mine but that’s the mysteries of life.

Have you ever seen Bertrand Blier after that?

Riton Liebman: yes, we went out to eat together years later. I can’t blame him. If I had made a film with a fourteen-year-old kid, I would have done exactly the same thing, “being in love with him” for a while and then my career, my own issues, would have made me move on. I wasn’t Bertrand Blier’s child. He worked, he loved me a lot, and then he had other films to make. Naturally, he moved on. It was me who felt abandoned and had to go through those years. Afterwards, it’s true that at the time, I’m encouraged a lot to excuse myself, to take myself for a victimized child, but I don’t see it like that at all. I take it for myself and it was up to me to do things. You can’t blame Bertrand Blier for moving on. He had his own issues.

What happened to you has a name: child grooming.

Riton Liebman: no, because I was completely consenting, I wanted to act in that film, I was very happy to do it and honestly, I regret nothing.

But consent doesn’t exist in law for a minor?

Riton Liebman: well, I’m not a lawyer, or a specialist. Are you saying I was abused?

Child grooming is to induce a minor to engage in obscene or pornographic acts or attitudes.

Riton Liebman: either I’m in denial, or it’s really sincere, and I couldn’t care less.

Have you ever seen Carole Laure again?

Riton Liebman: from time to time, we crossed paths, she was very nice but she was into her own stuff, interested in music with her guy, and less focused on her own personal career. She wasn’t French, and looking to make a career in France. I feel like she was a bit sensible and composed. But I could be wrong… I’m not in her head.

Who are your favorite authors and film?

Riton Liebman: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cholem Aleikhem, and Barry Lyndon.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.