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CHRISTOPHE HONORÉ Director & Screenwriter
Filmography as writer
2004 LE CLAN a film by Gaël Morel
2002 NOVO a film by Pierre Limosin
1999 LES FILLES NE SAVENT PAS NAGER a film by Anne-Sophie Birot
2004 BEAUTIFUL GUYS Editions de l’Olivier
2001 LE PIRE DU TROUPEAU Editions de l’Olivier
1998 LES DÉBUTANTES Ecole des Loisirs
2001 TOUT CONTRE LÉO
2005 LE LIVRE POUR ENFANTS Editions de l’Olivier
2002 SCARBOROUGH EDITIONS de l’Olivier
1999 LA DOUCEUR EDITIONS de l’Olivier
1997 L’INFAMILLE Editions de l’Olivier
2005 NOËL, C'EST COUIC!
2005 TORSE NU
1999 MON COEUR BOULEVERSÉ
1999 LES NUITS OÙ PERSONNE NE DORT
1998 JE NE SUIS PAS UNE FILLE À PAPA
1998 UNE TOUTE PETITE HISTOIRE D'AMOUR
1998 ZÉRO DE LECTURE
1997 L'AFFAIRE P'TIT MARCEL
1997 JE JOUE TRÈS BIEN TOUT SEUL
1996 C'EST PLUS FORT QUE MOI
1995 TOUT CONTRE LÉO
The origins of LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR lie in pre-existent musical material: the songs written by Alex Beaupain...
- I’ve known Alex ever since we were both twenty. He has composed the music for all of my films, I myself have written a few lyrics for him. After the warm reception given to DANS PARIS i was allowed to work quickly on another project, I asked him if I could use his songs - some from his latest album, others that were much older - and I placed them within a screenplay that told a fairly painful story that we both shared. I subsequently adapted some of his lyrics and asked him to write a few new songs.
This is the first time that you have dealt so directly with the emotions of love...
- In DANS PARIS, I dared to present people who felt love for each other but it was above all brotherly love, I still felt embarrassed about the emotions of love. For me, it was a big step to place emotion at the heart of a story, I’ve never been able to do it before. This led to the idea of a film in which the characters start singing as soon as they are in a state of love because they are incapable of expressing it otherwise. I have always loved songs, the way they allow you to express a strong emotion in a fleeting manner, with a permanent need for lightness. I have always been a huge fan of love songs, I can be moved by a French popular song that, in theory, holds no interest for me musically, simply because I am touched by a chorus, a voice or an emotion that I find expressed in a pertinent manner.
Had you wanted to make a musical for a long time?
- Yes, but I wanted the choice of the genre to be justified rather than make a lampoon of its codes. Irony is often very flattering because you feel you’re being smart but it is totally devoid of interest. There was no question of me making a parody of the genre. I simply approached it by saying, "This film is a musical because the characters can only express their feelings by singing." I like the spirit of musicals, which resembles that of pop music: never complain, never dwell on things, offering the possibility of lyricism with its roots in everyday tragedy.
Did the fact of using pre-existent material alter the way in which you approached the screenplay?
- LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR tells such a personal story that I knew it by heart. The issue of the story was never raised in fact, only the idea of how to deal with it without becoming petrified, how to tell it and make it work in a musical structure that reflects on the whole film. The settings, such as the parents' apartment, return like a chorus, with a different tone according to what happened in the previous verse. And, as in a song where certain instruments return or vanish while others are added on, the secondary characters give fresh impetus to the story while others are ejected from it.
How did the musical work on the film unfold?
- We re-arranged Alex’s songs with Frédéric Lo, who has worked notably with Daniel Darc - never losing sight of the fact that we didn’t have a whole year ahead of us, nor the budget to bring in an orchestra. We tried to match our desire to our means and I think that this has ended up creating an aesthetic approach and a form of precision. People often talk about the precision of an actor, about the right distance adopted by a director but the general aesthetic approach of a film has to be just as precise. Alex and I did not want the songs to sound "cheap". The actors rehearsed a great deal with Alex. We did the first readings all together in early November, then recorded the songs just before Christmas so that the actors could lip-synch to them during shooting that began in early January.
Did filming characters who sing change your approach to directing?
- Filming characters who sing is very complicated in physical terms. You have to make sure that the changeover from speech to song, then the return to speech again, looks completely natural... but, at the same time, something that is "not natural" takes place. Direction has to take a step back from realism, but without becoming a music video. The fear of turning my film into 13 music videos made me come out in a cold sweat. To the extent that the first song I filmed was shot as a single take and I refused to break it down into different shots. However, I saw right away that this was a very bad idea because I was going to end up in the cutting room with a series of single takes that I wouldn’t be able to cut. I therefore opted for increasingly complex direction and shots depending on the songs or according to the emotion that they express.
"The departure", "The absence", "The return"... A three-part structure...
- It was during editing that I realized there were three parts to the film. This is the classical structure of any romantic comedy or drama. In LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR, the return of the emotion of love comes about through a third party exterior to the tragedy and through the appearance of a ghost. In fact, perhaps the basic idea of the film was to allow that ghost to return to earth just long enough for a song.
Each character reacts differently to the sudden arrival of tragedy...
- I have the impression that they react above all at different speeds. Ismaël (Louis Garrel) walks along blindly but he keeps walking in spite of everything. From the very beginning of the story, I have filmed him in motion and I refused to halt that motion in spite of the sudden tragedy. And then Erwann (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) quickens his pace a little. Jeanne (Chiara Mastroianni), on the other hand, is condemned to be immobile: she remains a fixed point. The tragedy freezes her. As for Alice (Clotilde Hesme), she walks alongside Ismaël, then she turns away from his path to follow another story with this Breton guy that she meets. In my previous films, tragedy arose from the expectation of disaster. LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR is more about the consequences of it and how to resist. It’s a film more rooted in the present in fact. Here, the tragedy opens up new lands to explore.
Does our period have a right to its own tragedies?
- Tragedy arrives unannounced, we don’t need the Trojan War for it to burst into our lives. The idea was to physically locate the story in the city... Without necessarily making a documentary or militant film, I wanted a topical dimension, resulting in the idea of Ismaël being a newspaper editor, in order world someone in charge of the fold’s news. The end of his idyll and his carefree days does not take place outside that world.
You are gaining a reputation as a filmmaker of the early 21st century who films today’s world and is fully implicated in it...
- Yes, I feel this need to deal with the modern world very strongly. I believe that this need is also linked to the production conditions of this film and my previous one. Very little time went by between the moment when I expressed the desire to make these films and the moment when we shot them. Paulo Branco can make very quick decisions, deciding in October to make a film in January. As a result, you don’t have time to build up another world in your mind, you can only deal with what you are experiencing personally in the present, the present lives of the actors, the city, society...
This grounding in reality is all the more striking since the film has elements of the musical...
- In musicals, you often have the impression of being in a fairly kitsch bubble, with slightly acid references and songs that create a distance with reality. When the exterior world is present, it is there as a guest. In LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR, I treat the real world as a partner more than as a guest. I think that the fact of filming the city where I live has its importance. In DANS PARIS, it was a "museum" Paris. With LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR, on the contrary, I opted to stick to the 10th arrondissement of the city. The 10th is one of the few neighbourhoods where people work out in the open, with men unloading delivery trucks... There was no question of blocking streets to shoot: I wanted life to slip into the shots as much as possible and, at the same time, respect the geography of the setting. I forced myself to abide by this constraint, not so much as to produce an effect of reality as to prevent myself from toppling into fantasy.
How did you go about casting the film?
- The first obvious choice was Chiara. I had wanted to work with her for a long time and I had heard her sing. Working with her was a revelation. I had the impression that I had found my female double and I plan to make many other films with her. As for Ludivine, I met her in an unexpected manner, I had heard her sing too. On a human level, something resembling a form of trust quickly fell into place between us. But I still didn’t have the male lead at the time of our meeting and so I couldn’t really commit then. That didn’t bother her: she simply told me, "Remember, I’m here if you need me." And, of course, I needed her. Needed and wanted. I had worked with Clotilde Hesme on stage a long time ago, even before she made LES AMANTS RÉGULIERS. I found it amusing to reform, in a totally different manner, the couple that she created with Louis in LES AMANTS RÉGULIERS. And, above all, I wanted to make her perform in a livelier register. Her character continually turns up to refuel the story. In my opinion, Clotilde will soon be making her place in French cinema with the force of a dainty bulldozer.
This is the third time that you have worked with Louis Garrel...
- Yes, but I nearly didn’t pick him! I thought that he couldn’t sing. And, in the beginning, I was looking for an Ismaël older than Louis. And so I started seeing other actors and I realize that the way in which the character spoke was that of Louis, his specific music. During that time, Louis was calling me regularly to ask how the casting process was going and to suggest actors. Then he asked me if he could read the screenplay. He left me messages on my voice-mail: "You know, I sing a little too..." I never considered making a third film with him but he kept insisting! So I sent him one of Alex’s songs, suggesting that he prepares it. One day, he came to my place to present his work to Alex and me. He asked us to turn round so that he could sing without seeing our faces and he took the plunge... His voice was quaking with fear but, for Alex and me, he was the obvious choice. In fact, the role was his from the beginning, I think that I had written it for him without realizing. Something has been built up between us with all these films, something that eludes us but that has helped us to grow and change. He has helped me to find my style, my identity as a filmmaker.
And Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet as Erwann?
- He was in André Téchiné’s LES ÉGARÉS. I remembered his voice well; it has a very specific quality like Chiara’s or Ludivine’s. Indeed, we found out later that André had spotted him in a choir. Grégoire represents a certain idea of youth without falling into the clichés or sexual fantasies of our times. His beauty has an open and unostentatious side to it. I wanted the character to be a young man who has no doubts about his homosexuality but who hasn’t had an affair yet. Erwann isn’t tormented by his sexuality but by his feelings. Grégoire displayed a form of simplicity and kindness that quickly convinced me that he was the right actor for the part.
These days, it's still possible to die of love...
- Yes, the feeling has its dangerous side. I belong to a generation for which the idea of "dying for love" was necessarily linked to Aids and I wanted to relocate this danger in the realm of the emotions without the sexual side. Aids is still there, but the danger also lies in the way in which you don’t feel loved or don’t know how to love. With the idea of finding your own rhythm too. "Love me less but love me for a long time," as Ismaël asks... In the 1980s, one of Carax’s characters asked: "Is there such a thing as love that moves fast but that lasts forever?" Twenty years later, LES CHANSONS D’AMOUR expresses this same feeling but with an extra shot of lucidity. Ismaël isn't asking for proof of love, he would rather be loved in a covert manner but with doggedness. In fact, today, I think contrary to Cocteau: "Proof of love doesn’t exist, only love exists."