- Where did you get the seed for the idea of the story in the first place?
D: Sometimes it’s difficult to know where the idea came from. Even if it’s not autobiographical, there is a lot of me in this book. I wanted to make a story about a strange love story, and about the idea that what is most important in a love story is good timing. And I think that what is very important in the Markus character is that he arrives exactly at the perfect moment in the life of Nathalie. I love this idea.
When you were writing the novel, did you think about it being a film?
D: No, not at all. My brother, when he read the book, told me, “This is the subject for us.” And each time some producers wanted to make one of my books into a movie I always said, “I don’t want to write the script or to be involved in any way.” But this time it was different. I wanted to continue a story with this story and not to give my characters to anyone.
Do you think anything was lost or gained in the adaptation process?
D: Yes, of course. It’s very difficult. There are many things in the book that you can’t have in the movie. For instance, there’s Markus’s depressive childhood in Sweden that was in the book. And in the movie you see only a thirty-second scene with his parents; you don’t understand it because they’re talking in Swedish. In the movie there’s also a new character, Sophie, the best friend. She is not in the book. There’s more in the movie, the music and everything. It’s like the two parts of the one thing.
S: And also it’s a question of choices, it’s always the same thing. Even in the film, the first cut was like two and a half hours. And it was impossible, like, “Ah it’s our first feature, two and a half hours.” They would have wanted to kill us. Studio Canal would have shot us. So it was very difficult at first because we had to take away forty-five minutes, but in the end you know that because of these choices, it’s different – and yet, it’s very close to the book.
There are a lot of books getting made into films – particularly at the moment. Do you think that literature is a good springboard for films?
D: No. What is important is a good story.
S: I think also that producers are lazy. So they will instantly buy a story that already exists. To have an original story is very difficult. And I mean original, in terms of trying to do something that hasn’t been done. And we know that with big studios today movies are about prequels, sequels, triquels and remakes. That tells a lot about the state of creativity, when you remake films that have been remade two or three times. I understand when they do remakes of, say, The Picture of Dorian Grey. But when they do another Spiderman reboot when the last one was made eight ago? This is insane! This is just to make money. There’s nothing creative about it.
This is a very distinct love story. I was wondering whether or not you had any plans to branch out into other genres?
S: You’ll see, you’ll see. You never know. The most important thing is to surprise yourself.
D: We want to make a movie in black and white, mute, with a dog. That would work, I think. [Laughs.]
Stéphane, you’re often a casting director. Could you tell me a bit about the casting process, and what elements of the actors you felt resonated with the characters in the book?
S: Of course when David wrote the book he didn’t think of the film, he didn’t think of anybody. When I read the book and when he started writing the screenplay, immediately Audrey Tautou came to mind. The thing is, I think it was crazy because she only makes one film a year, she hasn’t done a film in two years because she was on stage. And she hasn’t done a first feature film in ten years, so it was a big challenge. I had known her years before because I was a casting director and I cast her in a film, on her pre-Amélie days, and we had this link. But she liked the story. And we were ecstatic when she said yes. And around her we had to build it.
François Damiens was physically perfect for the character [of Markus]. He’s extremely famous in France because he’s a comedian who does candid camera, and he plays these horrible outrageous characters. And you would never think that he has such sensitivity. When we sat with him, it was wonderful because I saw in my brother’s eyes that he was witnessing the appearance the third dimension of his character, the character he created on paper.
D: In life he is exactly like the character.
S: Except he is dressed better.
Do you think that you two will always direct together? Or do you think you will go off and do your own thing?
D: Like the Beatles? But where is Yoko? I’ll have to find someone… Yes, I think we are going to make another movie together. Because he needs me, I’m brilliant – as you know.
S: And I’m helpless!
[They both laugh.]
D: We are completely complimentary.
S: It’s strange but it’s true.
Obviously making a film is very stressful – does it help that you two can just argue and shout at each other and not have to worry about offending anyone?
D: You’re right.
S: There’s no hard feelings.
D: I can be very strong with him –
S: And he knows I’m always right!
It’s interesting that we love films by siblings. You know, at the Césars this year in France, it was the first time ever that sisters and brothers were nominated for first feature films [the Foenkinos brothers for Delicacy and Delphine and Muriel Coulin for 17 Filles].
It’s easy. I do everything. That’s all you need to understand. [Laughs.]
Do you have a comeback to that? A final word?
D: Well… I wrote the book!
Studio Canal, London (23rd March 2012)