François Emmanuelli talks about his work on the Parisian sets of Good Old Daze, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Intouchables...
François Emmanuelli, Good Old Daze, released in 1993, is the first of your five collaborations with Cédric Klapisch. How was the process of working on this very low-budget film, set in the 1970s?
François Emmanuelli : We were all postmasters, in our thirties, and had passed our baccalaureate at about the same time. Klapisch and the scriptwriters had studied at the Lycée Rodin, Voltaire’s first assistant, and I had gone through Charlemagne. We were all Parisians, so the references were the same. The shooting lasted four weeks. Small budget, handmade work but ambitious project for Arte which wanted to tell the high school years on three periods: in 68, with Un Air de Liberté directed by Éric Barbier; in 75 by Klapisch; in 84, with Attention, fragile by Manuel Poirier. The action takes place in the same invented place, the Montesquieu high school, which in reality takes place in the Chaptal high school, Boulevard des Batignolles.
The exteriors have been turned in and around this school towards the Place de Clichy; when they are on a moped, do the demonstration or sit on the bench. Indoor or courtyard scenes, such as the apple brawl, take place at the Lycée Montaigne, behind the Luxembourg Gardens. The spotter gave me the location. I then prepared drawings, perspectives, depending on the locations. I never work on references. All the furniture comes from Emmaus Bougival. We’ve mixed periods and styles to give it a ’70s feel. The most difficult part was really the lack of money, time and experience, but Good Old Daze remains a moment of grace and one of the greatest pleasures.
What were the most important sets?
François Emmanuelli: The real place is a building that we found between rue du canal Saint-Martin and rue Meslay. These are the interiors of the parents’ apartment, Chabert’s (Vincent Elbaz’s) room and especially the squat where the walls were repainted and graffiti was done. We have operated about 100 accessible apartments, with two courtyards, on 6 floors. This was our base for the preparation, our offices and the decorations.
Today, the building has been renovated; we were able to take advantage of a building before works. There was also the rock bar Le Piano Vache on Laplace Street, in the 5th. It’s a sequence shot where Jacky Berroyer, who plays Jo, a drug dealer from Barbès, offers drugs to Tommasi (Romain Duris). He brings him into the café and takes him to the back of the room by a wandering in total improvisation. Ten takes were made so much fun. When I see the film again, this sequence is spontaneous and lively. We also filmed at the Flemish Organs.
Two years later, you will find him again for When the Cat’s Away, a fascinating wander in a Paris in mutation, with the Bastille district as an anchor point. How did you think of the sets?
François Emmanuelli: At the beginning, the film was a short film. The producers wanted to bring together several directors of the moment for a “Paris seen by”, as the New Wave had done. In the list were Philippe Harel, Mathieu Kassovitz, Cédric Klapisch, etc. It all started finally with Chacun cherche son chat de Klapisch, which gradually became a medium and then a long 1h15. The story takes place in the rue des Taillandiers, between the rue de la Roquette and the rue de Charonne, where his scriptwriter, Marie Vermillard, lived and where Renée Le Calm (Madame Renée) lives, who celebrated her 100th birthday in September 2018.
At the time of the film, in 1996, she was 78 years old. Her place is crazy! She has chickens, dogs, cats. This woman is a real figure! She used to be a Balajo pee-pee lady and has a crazy life. We didn’t touch anything at her place. The only addition was “Death to the Vixen!” which I wrote on her front door. The locations really make up the whole film for a shoot that lasted 4 weeks. The cafés Entre Potes and the Pause Café, rue de Charonne, were chosen because they were the places where Marie Vermillard and Cédric Klapisch used to go.
What was your biggest intervention in terms of decor?
François Emmanuelli: The apartment of Michel (Olivier Py), the artist friend and roommate of Chloé (Garance Clavel), located in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. We visited several workshops to finally invest this place on the 2nd floor. His interior was built and fitted out, while giving the Clavel character a little corner behind a curtain on a straw mattress. It is in this space that the most sequences were shot, even though the story takes place between the rue des Taillandiers and the rue Keller. Romain Duris’s apartment, which was painted and furnished, is located here. In the story, they make believe he lives on the side of the Rue des Taillandiers.
The most important thing was to show Paris which is changing, the social links, the change of population and the life of a district. With Klapisch’s dexterity, and that was his strength at the time, he managed to capture some very strong moments: in the axis of the rue des Taillandiers, rue de la Roquette, there was a church and he filmed its destruction. That moment is in the film; it has since been rebuilt into a modern church. But whether it’s Good Old Daze, When the Cat’s Away, The Spanish Apartment, shot in Barcelona, or Family Resemblances, shot in a studio to make a suburban café, these films are exceptional. Especially the first two that talk about Paris. It’s about inspiration, spontaneity, lightness, something he may have lost a bit today.
Maybe it’s also taking place in Paris. What did you create in this science fiction comedy, François Emmanuelli?
François Emmanuelli: The decorative budget was 11 MF (1.67 M€) for a total of 90 MF (13.72 M€). In the excessiveness of this type of cinema, it was a turning point for me, the biggest difficulty and the biggest budget. The largest intervention, for 3 weeks of shooting, took place on rue de Penthièvre, a stone’s throw from the Champs-Élysées, in a second-floor apartment where Jean-Pierre Bacri lives and whose children are Léa Drucker and Vincent Elbaz. In this building, many rooms have been managed which are deteriorating as time goes by.
We organized the whole Y2K wandering and party. The ceilings were pierced so that we could go from one floor to the other, which we then sanded down. In the specifications, it was necessary to choose a sand fitting, as there are all kinds of them. The sand comes from Douz in Tunisia. It’s very thin, very white. The Tunisians, who were working on the studio part with me, offered to deliver them to us in plastic bags of 2 kg each. They were installed in containers, loaded into semi-trailers, and placed on a ship that landed in Marseille,
In 2005, you will meet Jacques Audiard for The Beat That My Heart Skipped, his fourth feature film, winner of 8 Césars, including best film and best director. What was the challenge in this drama centred on a history of filiation and heritage in Paris at the dawn of the 2000s?
François Emmanuelli: I was working on drinking with his wife when he contacted me. Jacques is amazing. It is also very particular, difficult to define. He is demanding but also waits to be destabilized because he wants to break the models. The shooting lasted nine weeks. The major sets were the apartment of the piano teacher, Miao Lin, in Rue Rébeval in Belleville, and that of Romain Duris at Porte de la Chapelle, where he composes. The Hotel Saint James and Albany Spa in Via de Rivoli is also important. When Romain Duris comes to see the prostitute from Minskov in the locker room, he meets him for the first time. The scene is in slow motion. We had to make five locker room connections because we had to be able to get over it.
In Belleville, rue Dénoyez, we also shot some scenes where thugs break the floors and the windows of the apartment to prevent the squatters from entering. In Barbès, we had to deal with a dozen rats in a scene where characters put them down a stairwell. I had reconstructed the floor and the door. We put them in a cage and, with a broom, I pushed them with a trickle of light under the door. It’s complicated to film rats, you had to piss them off to get them to walk around. There was also the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, where Duris attended a recital by Miao Lin, but I did not make any intervention in that setting. The space, the stage, the backstage, everything was taken as is. Just like the Notary’s Office.
In 2011, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano bring you The Intouchables, a big success with 19.4 million tickets sold. What were the choices of the Parisian sets to tell the story of the relationship between a rich quadriplegic aristocrat and a man of Senegalese origin who becomes his home helper?
François Emmanuelli: Out of ten weeks of shooting, the first difficulty was finding the apartment of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, played by François Cluzet. We couldn’t shoot at his place. We visited a lot of places and ended up mixing two places: the Dutch Embassy, installed in the old Hôtel d’Avaray, and a mansion in Mortefontaine, 50 km from Paris, the castle of Joseph Bonaparte. These two mixed locations allowed us to reconstruct his apartment. We shot the job interview in rue Saint-Dominique, and Omar Sy and François Cluzet’s rooms in Mortefontaine.
We also filmed a sequence near the Comédie-Française for a love meeting, another in the Parc du Luxembourg, at the Boucheron jewellery shop on Place Vendôme, on the Léopold-Sédar-Senghor footbridge, at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra Comique and at the Théâtre National de Chaillot where he bought the spotted paint. All these places were taken as is. Personally, the strongest moment is when Omar paints his picture. He put on his headphones and, live, painted as if he was drumming on the canvas. It was so incongruous, it was getting awesome. Nakache and Toledano are twirling. They are able to interrupt the actors during the scene to give stage directions, when normally no one is talking.
At the beginning of March, you start shooting Daniel Cohen’s third feature film, A Friendly Tale. What can you already announce about this film which takes place in Paris, François Emmanuelli?
François Emmanuelli: It’s a comedy with Vincent Cassel, Bérénice Béjo, François Damiens and Florence Foresti. For 6 weeks of shooting, we benefit from 350 000 € of set budget. We will shoot in Colombes for Damiens and Foresti’s house, in Montreuil for Bejo’s apartment and at the Beaugrenelle Shopping Center for his workplace. It will be 3 days of shooting for this one.
We’re going to do some work in a clothing store. In the film, she also signs autographs in bookstores in Paris, Le Merle Moqueur and Les Guetteurs de Vent. The key scene of A Friendly Tale will take place where we are, at the Café de l’Industrie. It’s a highlight on the indecision at dessert. It will be a day of filming for this opening scene where four people are around a table in a place that represents the Bastille’s sores the most and is also the most cinematic.
Article written by Nathalie Dassa
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