Meeting with Olivier Radot, set decoration director on Queen Margot et Coco Before Chanel

Olivier Radot has designed movie sets for Agnès Varda, André Téchiné, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Patrice Chéreau, Maurice Pialat, Guillaume Nicloux and Michael Haneke.
Set design by Olivier Radot

Olivier Radot, set decoration director revealed at the César Awards

Nominated for Queen Margot et Coco Before Chanel, and winner of the César award for Gabrielle, Olivier Radot immerses us in the design of certain sets in Paris and more widely in France. Meeting.

Olivier Radot, Queen Margot had a budget of 100 million francs (19.6 M€). This is your first collaboration with Patrice Chéreau. The decorations earned you a first nomination for a Caesar. What was the challenge on this fresco centered on the Medici family in 16th century France?

Olivier Radot : I was working on Claude Berri’s Germinal when they contacted me. He was looking for a second head decorator. The set budget was around 10 MFrs (1.52 M€), with Richard Peduzzi’s studio part, which came to 16 million (2.43 M€). Patrice and I hit it off very quickly. He was very intelligent in terms of the interpretation of the time. I don’t care about the period because I start from an idea and build a fantasy about the period. It’s always a matter of intuition. What we did on Queen Margot, we probably couldn’t do today. Nobody notices it but there are lights by Giacometti that have nothing to do with the 16th century. We often shot in 18th and 19th century architecture. In natural settings, we chose what we thought was possible without sending back a postcard image.

How was the reconstruction of the Louvre?

OR: It was a puzzle. The sets were designed in several different locations. The idea was to invent a Louvre that doesn’t exist and to give the viewer the impression that it exists as it is. It was shot in studios in Senlis, Compiègne, Mafra in Portugal, and in the Canal Saint-Martin. It’s like a maze. For the anecdote, Mission Impossible: Fallout, which was filmed in Paris, took over some of the geographical locations of Queen Margot. Tom Cruise enters a tunnel, drives towards the star and finds himself in the underground of the Canal Saint-Martin towards Republic. These are the same sets as for the basements of the Louvre in the film. In Paris, a hostel was also created, which was shot at the Military School, in an improbable room, all in stone, almost without windows.

The wedding scene was filmed in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, and also in the National Palace of Mafra in Portugal, where the galleries were reconstituted with frescoes. The colour of the stone, attacked by fungi, was extraordinary. All the walls outside were black. The execution of La Môle (Vincent Perez) takes place in the Château de Maisons-Lafitte, chosen for its large moat, its quality and its stone colour.

There is also the moment when Isabelle Adjani is waiting for Vincent Perez, who has to meet her on horseback, alone in a large room. It is at the Château de Maulnes, a pentagonal monument lost in the countryside. Some streets, supposed to represent those of Paris, took place in Bordeaux, such as rue du Port and rue Saint-éloi. The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre takes place in these arteries. The sequence where Adjani is looking for a man takes place in the Rue de la Tour du Pin. At the time, this area was not really renovated and had a certain patina, so we repainted the facades in black. Now that would be impossible.

How do you look at this film today?

OR: It’s one of my best film experiences, from the standpoint of the work, the excitement of the work, Patrice’s intelligence and the human experience. Queen Margot is the most radical setting. A manufacturing intelligence, a strong bias. Even for Americans, this film is a landmark. The director Kathryn Bigelow, with whom I almost worked on a project on Joan of Arc, had quoted it to me as a reference. She was crazy about Queen Margot.

Ten years later, you were reunited with Patrice Chéreau for Gabrielle, with Isabelle Huppert, where you won the César. How did you recreate the atmosphere of an early 20th century French bourgeois house?

OR: We were supposed to be in a private hotel in Paris. I built a huge Parisian porch to give that impression. The stage manager Hervé Gransard, who took care of the location of Queen Margot, found a Château in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse. It was a peculiar architecture of the beginning of the century, with a gallery on the first floor, lit by a glass roof. She was extraordinary, original and great. Everything was working to represent Paris. The sets were also reused for Vanity Fair with Monica Bellucci. So we transformed the galleries to give the feeling of a place of wandering, a little strange. Pascal Gregory walks alone in this gallery, with passageways that give the impression of getting lost and leave a feeling of loneliness. As for the streets of Paris, they have been turned around the Parc Monceau, because they are very beautiful. We had cleared the streets, removed cars and redone the floors.

New nomination for you at the César with Coco Before Chanel, with a budget of 19 M€. Like photography, the treatment of the sets remains sober and avoids any opulence. What were Anne Fontaine’s guidelines?

OR: The most difficult thing about this kind of film is the luxury, the idea of luxury: how to make it luxurious without it being expensive? Coco Before Chanel is sober, it is more about elegance, which is not necessarily expensive. We had about €900,000 or €1 million for the sets. There was a lot of work documenting the style and universe of Chanel, inspired by black and white, and other currents, such as the Bauhaus and the Viennese secession. At the time, I had prepared another project, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, which was to be directed by William Friedkin, before being postponed and conceived by another director. Here I had to rethink everything. Some places are in natural settings, others built in studio, like Coco’s first hat sewing workshop, which I then transformed into a design office, and its apartments.

What was the most important setting?

OR: The castle of Boy Capel (Alessandro Nivola) located in the Castle of Millemont. He was the first and most important sighting. We’ve made some changes. They added the porch, redid the interiors, the gardens, the terraces where they can be seen drinking tea, and made the columns that did not exist. It’s always nice to improve existing buildings when it’s possible to do so.

What about the scenes in Paris?

OR: We shot at the Grand Véfour for the dinner scene between Coco (Audrey Tautou) and Etienne (Benoît Poelvoorde). In period films, we often find the same places and this restaurant is always ready for filming (laughs). I love Le Petit Riche in the 9th floor, there are several rooms with mirrors, red velvet, woodwork, but it was complicated and the spaces were not very large. The street that was supposed to be rue Cambon was turned into rue du Pré-Aux-Clercs in the 6th. It was also chosen for Coco’s first shop. There were no possible period shops in the rue Cambon; too many luxury shops, visual pollution, a school, barriers, it’s hard to block.

The rue du Pré-Aux-Clercs was nice, we found a simple shop to transform for his workshop and the entrance to the porch of his apartments. The top part of the Chanel boutique was held in the studio. I had reconstructed part of the staircase with the mirrors for the descent. On the other hand, the final sequence of the parade under the stairs really takes place in the Maison Chanel, for reasons of economy. Shooting also took place on Avenue Foch. It is a wide shot scene, with a special effect, where Coco takes the wheel of the Capel car and slaloms on the snow.

What about the others?

OR: We went to the Grand Hotel in Cabourg for the sequence of his singing audition, which was supposed to take place in Deauville. The dining room is pretty because of its light with large bay windows overlooking the sea. We also shot in the Villa Strassburger in Deauville, where Coco bought a prop, and in the Abbaye Blanche in Brittany for the scenes in the orphanage. It’s a busy and disturbing place in a forest, it smells like the devil (laughs).

What can you tell us about your projects, Olivier Radot?

OR: For the moment, I am working on Eric Lartigau’s next film where a large part of it will take place in Korea and in the southwest of France, in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Article written by Nathalie Dassa

Headed photo credit : Olivier Radot

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Monday, April 8, 2019

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