Delicacy: An interview with directors David and Stéphane Foenkinos
Discover this behind-the-scenes interview with the writer and director of the French comedy Delicacy (La Délicatesse) David Foenkinos and his charming brother and co-director Stéphane Foenkinos, who also cast the film.
David Foenkinos had with him an English version of the book on which the movie was based and expressed happiness about it having been translated. The original version, La Délicatesse, is a bestseller in France.
Did you translate it yourself?
David Foenkinos: Talk with me for five minutes and you will know the answer.
Stéphane Foenkinos: Bruce Bendersen translated the book and he did a very good job.
DF: I hope so. [David did not read the English version.]
When you wrote the book, did you already have in mind making a film out of it?
DF: No – each time I write a book, I only think about writing. This time it was my brother who, after he read it, said we must film it ourselves, no matter who we get a phone call from, be it Woody Allen… It seemed like a dream in the beginning. We really wanted Audrey Tautou in it, we love her, but she only does one movie a year and she hasn‘t done a first feature film in ten years but she read the script and liked it.
SF: Audrey sets the tone to the film, with her it‘s not the usual rom-com. We had very precise ideas about the looks of the film, the aesthetics, the office, and she liked how we had envisioned the whole thing; but the big question was really who was going to play Marcus. I have been a casting director for a very long time but it wasn‘t easy to find a Swedish actor who would speak French… We did a casting session in Sweden, but it did not go well. And then there was this Belgian actor who we really love, François Damiens, and Audrey wanted to play with him. He is very famous in France, he’s doing a lot of pranks and candid cameras, always playing these outrageous characters… So when we asked François to play in a romantic comedy with Audrey, he first thought it was another joke.
Was it very important to have a Swedish actor playing Marcus?
SF: No, but it was very important the actor looked Swedish, and even though François is Belgian – the audience thinks he‘s Swedish. Our biggest pride was that even Swedish people thought he‘s Swedish!
Why was Marcus‘ character Swedish in the first place? A lot of puns are based on that in the movie.
DF: Because I wanted to write a depresive character and the first country that came to my mind was Sweden.
SF: Have you been to Sweden?
SF: Well then, you wouldn‘t know. [laughs]
DF: Have you ever seen a Bergman movie?
SF: So then you understand.
DF: Of course, it‘s a joke, a cliche… I don‘t claim it to be truth, that‘s just the way I think about Sweden.
SF: That‘s why we have IKEA jokes!
DF: I also wanted to make the character special, as if from out of nowhere… And I thought, if I say he‘s Swedish – the most of my job is already done. I don‘t have to imagine too much. Sometimes only the country is enough, it‘s very helpful.
SF: David doesn‘t describe his characters that much, he often only gives them citizenship.
DF: The first sentence of Delicacy is about Natalie, and it says: “Natalie was rather private, a kind of Swiss female.”
SF: …and in France, everyone was surprised we picked Audrey Tautou for the role, because she isn’t blond! It was a bit scary, the book became a bestseller literally while we were shooting, and sold one million copies… So we had to be very faithful to it but in the end, people must understand that there are brunettes in Switzerland too!
Do you think some puns in the film are lost for those non-French audiences who have no idea about François Damien’s comedian persona in other movies?
SF: Of course, in France, the minute François appears on screen, people love him. But Marcus’ character is different from what François usually plays and it was also hard for audiences to accept that, as well as for him to act. Sometimes he would come up to us and say: “But I’m doing nothing!” And we would say, “No, you’re brilliant”, because he was the character so naturally, especially with not being at ease about how he was dressed. He would say: “Oh please, not another beige sweater, how can I seduce Audrey Tautou dressed like that…” So yeah, there is a link between him and French audience that exists. But we showed the film in Russia and in the States, and people loved him in the same way; although they don’t know who he is, because there is tenderness to him.
Can you talk a bit about the process of the adaptation, translation from one medium to the other?
DF: I tried to be very faithful to the tone and the heart of the book but of course, the film is very different – there is one character which is not in the book, the best friend of Nathalie. Also in the scene after Marcus is kissed by Nathalie, he sees all these beautiful women on the street… It is not in the book but it is exactly the same spirit. You have the whole childhood of Marcus in the book – it wouldn’t be possible to show that in the movie, so we decided to only put a short scene of a dinner with Marcus’ parents, in Swedish, without subtitles.
SF: They were real Swedes, the parents! And they were non-actors.
DF: Yes, and in only 30 seconds you can understand all Marcus’ life and childhood. I tried to show very concisely on screen what I have a lot of time to explain in my book.
How did you merge the sadness of death with the comic approach of the film?
SF: We simply followed the book. Our producers said: “You have one of the biggest comedian in the country starring in your film and he makes his entrance at the 30th minute!” But we told we cannot change that, it would have been cheating the audience. The mourning period is a vital part, even though we did not want it to be too heavy overall.
DF: A lot of people in France actually came to see François Damiens. Before he is introduced in the film, there is a meeting scene in Audrey‘s office, where we can see François from the back, but not his face. During the premiere, I could hear people whispering: “Is it him? Is it finally him? Where is François?” So this was one small joke we played. But when you see Audrey mourning, you actually forget that he will be in the movie at some point at all.
SF: In a way, the audience is waiting for François the same way Nathalie is waiting for Marcus.
The last question – what was it like working with Audrey Tautou?
DF: She was brilliant.
SF: She is very normal in real live, not a diva at all. She hates everything that is associates with being a star. If she could, she would run away from the media… Audrey simply loves her job. And to us, being witnesses of her being so solemn, it was fantastic. She is extremely generous to other actors too, which is very rare for someone her status. Audrey completely trusted us. And sometimes she would give David remarks, like “I don’t think Nathalie could call Marcus now, because she did it in the last scene,” and David would agree.
DF: Yes, that happened three or four times, she said those little thing that were completely right. And her continuity was brilliant – I could speak about that forever…
SF: Her mind is like a computer! Yet everything she did seemed spontaneous.
Thank you very much for sharing all that.
Delicacy, a very French film full of Swedish jokes, will be released nationwide on 13th April 2012. Read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Delicacy here: