French filmmaker Stephane Foenkinos has made quite an introduction with his directorial debut – alongside his brother David – on the visually and emotionally satisfying Delicacy, a film that marks the next step in Stephane’s ever evolving career which includes a successful 10 plus years run as a casting director on films such as Midnight in Paris and The Visitor.
Based on David Foenkinos’ novel of the same name, Delicacy stars French rose Audrey Tautou as Nathalie, a recently widowed career woman who finds love again in the form of unlikely Swedish office worker Markus (Francois Damiens).
Matt’s Movie Reviews spoke to Stephane Foenkinos on the making of Delicacy, working with Audrey Tautou and the nature of French/Swedish relations.
Where did the idea come from to adapt David’s book into a movie?
We were actually toying with the idea of doing a full feature together. We had done short movies and I think my brother never imagined using his own material. But when I read the book Delicacy - he gave it to me two months before its release –I said “why are we bothering to find a movie when we have the perfect subject here?” So it’s my fault that we did the movie. (laughs)
The adaptation was left up to David. How did he find the process of adapting his own novel into a screenplay?
I think that immediately when we decided that it would be good material, he wanted to see if he had any other things to say about his story. So I think he needed some time on his own, but after a few weeks he was really inspired because to him it was the first time ever that he wanted to stay with his characters. That’s why I think he delivered the first draft very quickly and then we worked together again.
This is your first feature film that you directed after years of working in the film industry. Was the experience everything you thought it would be or were there surprises?
(Laughs) In the movie industry everything is a surprise! Even if you think you know the ropes. But what I love which was the most surprising was the collective adventure. I know it sounds like everyone says that, but even if you have a vision, if you don’t have the right person to fulfil it than it’s worth nothing.
So to me it was really to work together with this great team and all of the actors. Then the other surprise was “Oh my God! I have to be in really good shape to direct a film!” (laughs) It is good to do a film with two people. I would not be able to do a full feature on my own right now.
"It’s very rare to see an actress of her generation who could portray all of these different feelings and emotions." - Stephane Foenkinos
Was Audrey Tautou always the first choice to play the part of Nathalie?
Oh yes. I think there was no question. Even our producers thought we were kind of crazy. Everybody said “What if she says no?” We didn’t want her to say no because there was no other alternative. But if was the perfect combination, because she seems fragile but she’s not and it’s very rare to see an actress of her generation who could portray all of these different feelings and emotions. She is extremely professional, concentrated and the funniest girl. You would not believe it, but she is very funny.
I read that the role of Markus was much harder to cast. How did Francois Damiens get the role?
I think that after doing over 10 years of casting, I think that my brother writing the part of Markus gave me the most difficult challenge because you have to find a non-seductive, French speaking, Swedish actor. So the first thing that comes to our mind was “Ok. Who is he?”
We did casting in Sweden actually and there were great actors, but they could not speak French properly and even that would have been very difficult. But we always liked the image of Franois Damines, which kept coming back and coming back. He’s very famous in France and in Belgium where he comes from, because he did candid cameras. Very, very trashy ones.
He’s a real character actor. He likes to transform himself like this Australian actor who I love, Chris…who does the TV series where he transforms himself a lot…
Chris Lilly! Exactly. To us we loved Francois physically but we thought he might be a little bit extreme in his humour and in the way that he’s acting. The thing is the minute we sat down with him he was Markus. I mean he’s the nicest…he was blushing when we were talking, and my brother looked at me and it was amazing because in his eyes I could see “Look! This is Markus”.
The character of Markus is a Swedish man living in France. Why did David make the character Swedish? And speaking as an outsider, what are the relations like between the French and the Swedish?
I think that there is nothing very particular about Sweden, even in France they didn’t really understand. Everybody asked my brother whether he had grudges against the Swedes, and he said “No. I love them. But have you been to Sweden?” Then usually people will say “No”, and he said “That’s why. Imagine the part of Markus being depressed and the first image of depression he had was Sweden.” But then of course we love to play with clichés with Ikea and Bergman posters.
But the funniest part was that I alone went to Sweden to present the film, and I have to tell you I was really scared and of course neither my brother or Francois Damiens were available, so I was on my own in Stockholm and I think it was the best screening ever! Everybody was laughing so hard. I think they have the greatest sense of humour about themselves and in the end the Swedish guy gets the girl! So that’s not that bad.
"We are also movie buffs and we love movies, so we had so many references and to us it was important to make a film that worked emotionally and visually." - Stephane Foenkinos
I found Delicacy to be a visually rich movie. Do you and David like to storyboard before filming?
We did not, but literally we had it in our head and we worked a lot with our DP Remy Chevrin who did amazing work and is very artistic. We didn’t want to make a film to make a film, so I’m very happy and touched that you noticed this because we really worked hard. We said we might not do another film, so at least we want to make sure this one works.
We are also movie buffs and we love movies, so we had so many references and to us it was important to make a film that worked emotionally and visually.
One of those references I read about was The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. How big of an influence if Michel Gondry on you and your brother as filmmakers?
Oh, he’s a big influence. I think more in his unusual way to describe characters and atmosphere. If you really take a look at his films you see how all the details are so important. The most amazing thing to us was that we know that Michael Gondry saw the film because he just worked with Audrey Tautou, and he came to us at the Ceasar Awards which is like the French equivalent to the Oscars, and he complimented us. We were like “Oh my God! Michel Gondry liked our film”.
In the end we kind of understood why…a lot of our film takes place in an office, we have this really awkward male character and in all of his films you have these kind of elements, and we were not aware of that as much when we were filming it.
Francois Damiens could be a distant cousin of Rhys Ifans, or Jack Black or Jim Carrey, and the fact that we treat the office the way we do…we don’t really know where it takes place, this company even for French people is very strange. So I think he was even much more of an influence than we wanted to admit, but in the end I don’t think we have his creative genes and we don’t vision the same way. But certainly he was an influence, especially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and all its magic.
What I love about the movie is even though it features romance and comedy, it’s not a romantic comedy.
Thank you (laughs).
How important was it for you that the film was not presented as something that people could describe as a romantic comedy?
We will know that in the end if they would, because you have to label things. But it was very important to us to always kind of step back from our film each time and in that matter Audrey Tautou really helped us all the time because she was really involved in her character. So every time we kind of felt that we were going into something that was mushy or too melodramatic, we try to put a little distance in terms of humour or a different angle and the fact that yes, we wanted to be a little off. If it appeared like so then think you, it means it worked. (laughs) At least you saw it.
What does the future hold for yourself and David? Will you continue to direct movies together?
We have a very great and free relationship, so we certainly want to another film together. It’s already written and we hope to get it in the works early next year. But on the side, as we say we each do our own solo projects and after Delicacy I shot 3 short movies between Paris and Montreal and it was great. Also for me to say now that I started to direct I want to experiment with things and sometimes with my brother, but what I really want to experiment things and don’t ask anybody money or anybody advice so I’ll do it on my own.
But definitely we still want to do full feature films together, and for the time being with the energy it takes I don’t see myself doing a full feature on my own and neither does my brother.