Note: This interview originally ran as part of our TFF 2011 Faces of the Festival series.
is now available on demand via Tribeca Film
VOD, and will open at the Quad Cinema
on November 25. Find the platform that's right for you.
Tribeca: Tell us a little about Romantics Anonymous.
It’s a romantic comedy, a love story between two very shy people for whom everything in life is difficult, especially falling in love. Luckily, their shared passion for chocolate brings them together.
Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story? Are you at all like your recluse main characters, and or a chocolate enthusiast?
It’s the most autobiographic film I’ve ever made, and the two characters are very similar to me. I have been to Emotions Anonymous
, an organization based on the same principle as Alcoholics Anonymous. People of all ages and all social classes go to their meetings; people whose lives are very difficult because they are emotionally challenged. For example, they struggle with meeting new people, asserting themselves at work and embarking on romantic relationships.
Tribeca: Your main character mimics Maria from The Sound of Music on several occasions. What inspired this choice, and what other films or filmmakers influenced your work on this project?
: I was very inspired by my actress, Isabelle Carré
, who told me that before she faces anxiety-inducing situations, she’d sing that song from The Sound of Music
to give herself courage. It worked well—I love the film, and I really admire Julie Andrews
. Moreover, the words of the song fit the subject perfectly, because it’s about being scared of life’s adventures and lacking in self-confidence.
Tribeca: Beyond its strong characters, the film is also richly aesthetic. Is this a common trait in your past works?
Of the seven films I’ve made for the big screen, the majority of them are more realist, dealing with social themes such as prison in Les Aveux de l’Innocent
and dying in C’est La Vie
. Since Call Me Elisabeth
in 2006, a film about childhood fears, I’ve been more inclined to create a more stylized visual universe and to move away from realism. With Romantics Anonymous
, I wanted to create a little, slightly unreal world: a childlike, timeless place. Through that, I wanted the audience to share what Angélique sees—her invented universe that is comforting and pretty, which she creates to protect herself from the harshness of the real world.
This also stems from my love for certain American comedies like Lubitsch
’s The Shop Around The Corner
, Blake Edwards
’ Victor, Victoria
, Billy Wilder
’s Irma La Douce
and some of Woody Allen
’s movies. Along with my director of photography, set designer and costume designer, I tried to recreate the very Anglo-Saxon charm of those movies.
Tribeca: What do you want audiences to take away from Romantics Anonymous?
I want them to go away thinking they have to succeed in getting over their fears, even if it’s really difficult. Because if they don’t, they’ll always regret they never really lived, and there’s nothing sadder than that. I really tried to make a positive film, a film that does you good.
Tribeca: What’s the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?
I don’t remember a particular anecdote, but what stayed with me from the shoot was the daily emotion I felt when I watched the performance of my two leading actors, Isabelle Carré
and Benoît Poelvoorde
, who put such a lot of themselves into their characters, because actors are often emotionally-challenged people. One of the most moving moments was when Jean-René sings “Les Yeux Noirs” in front of Angélique. It was very difficult for the actor, Benoît Poelvoorde, because to him, singing means really exposing himself. At that moment, he was really at one with his character, terrified at the idea of singing but doing it anyway to prove his love for Angélique. That was what was really incredible during this shoot—to be making a comedy, but at the same time, never forgetting that these characters experience real pain.
Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making Romantics Anonymous?
That making a comedy (this was the first I’ve done) is a difficult thing that requires a lot of rigor, as much in the writing as in the shooting and editing. And that it’s wonderful to hear people laugh when they are watching the film.
Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers? Hopeless lovers?
I think you have to start shooting as early as possible and make shorts (I’ve made eight), because it’s only by shooting that you learn, and you also learn from your mistakes. To make movies, you need to be really tenacious, you must never give up on what you want to do, and you need patience and nerve to deal with every challenge. And above all, to be totally honest, you should only make films you totally believe in, and you have to know exactly what you’re trying to communicate to the audience.
As for hopeless lovers, I wouldn’t dare give any advice—it’s difficult for everyone!
Tribeca: What are your hopes for Romantics Anonymous with American audiences?
I hope the audience will identify with my characters, that they’ll laugh and they’ll be moved by them.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?
Jean-Pierre Améris: Francis Coppola
! But I’d be too intimidated to speak to him. Or perhaps Billy Wilder (because unfortunately, that will never happen…).
Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/TV show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?
One film, Black Swan
by Darren Aronofsky
; one book, Sukkwan Island
by David Vann
and one TV series, Dexter.
Tribeca: What would your biopic(s) be called?
I’m not sure my life merits a biography, but if it did, it could be called A Life For Cinema
or How I Managed to Overcome my Shyness Thanks to my Passion for Cinema
Tribeca: What makes Romantics Anonymous a must-see?
It’s a little pretentious to answer that question, but let’s just say it’s because the theme of being emotionally challenged hasn’t been done that often in movies, and it affects a lot of people. And because I think the film is funny and optimistic. And it is performed by two fantastic actors, Isabelle Carré and Benoît Poelvoorde, who deserve to be better known by American moviegoers.
Romantics Anonymous is now available on demand via Tribeca Film VOD, and will open at the Quad Cinema in NYC on November 25. Find the platform that's right for you.
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