Francois Ozon is back in the director’s chair this week with In The House, a big screen adaptation of the play The Boy In The Last Row by Juan Mayorga.
We caught up with the director to chat about the film, adapting a play into a movie and reuniting with actor Fabrice Luchini.
- In The House is released in the UK this week so can you tell me a little bit about the film?
The film is about a teacher and his student. The teacher has lost his pleasure to educate but because of a new student he rediscovers this pleasure and he is excited again about education.
- The film is based on the play The Boy In the Last Row so what was it about this story that made you want to turn it into a film?
When I discovered the play I had a feeling that it was really about m own work; my process of working and my ideas on story telling. So it was very interesting for me. I had a feeling that by adapting this play could give me the chance to speak about my own work.
But I would be able to that in a very playful as it poses questions about storytelling, questions about what do you do with the character? In what direction do you go? What kind of genre?
It was satirical but it was very easy to understand, I think and very entertaining for the audience.
- You have penned the screenplay so how challenging was it adapting this play into a film? And what were the key aspects of the play that you were keep to keep in the movie?
When you do an adaptation you have to admit that it is a betrayal because you cannot keep everything - especially when it is a play because the cinematic and the theatrical language are completely different.
You have to cut many things because some times with just one look or one frame you can express many things - more than in two pages of dialogue. I decided to keep what I liked and what touched me directly in the play.
The good thing was that the Spanish author Juan Mayorga let me to tell the story freely he said ‘I trust you, do what you want’ and so it was great for me as I felt totally free to make my own film.
When he saw the film he liked it and he didn’t feel that I had betrayed him and I had kept the spirit of the play.
- Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ernst Umhauer are all on the cast list for the movie so can you tell me a little bit about the casting process?
It was quite obvious to cast Fabrice Luchini in the role of Germain because here in France he is very popular and well known and he is obsessed with French literature.
I have wanted to work with Kristen Scott Thomas for a long time and I just felt that chemistry would work between her and Fabrice because they have the same theatrical background. They also have great comic timing and I think that it works incredibly well.
I had in mind the couple of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan - an intellectual couple who are always speaking about intellectual things - and I thought that it would really work between those two actors.
- Ernst gives a particularly great performance as Claude so what were you looking for when you were casting this role?
It was quite difficult because the character of Claude has a big part of the film on his shoulders and so it was so important to have the right person.
When I discovered Ernst Umhauer I was very happy because he looks sixteen or seventeen but he was actually twenty one when we were shooting the movie.
But that was a good thing because I needed someone who had a real maturity to support such a part and to be in front of Fabrice Luchini.
- You have slightly touched on my next question as this is only his second big screen acting role but this is such a pivotal part in the film so how did you find working with quite an inexperienced actor?
It is another way of working as you don’t with him in the same way that you would work with Fabrice, for you example.
We did a lot of readings together and I explained many things to him about the film before we started shooting. I wanted him to be comfortable before meeting Fabrice Luchini and so we did readings together.
Because there is a lot of voiceover in the film and we recorded all of that voiceover before the shooting and so he was already in the part of Claude and by the time he arrived on set be had already done something and he wasn’t totally a virgin.
- Speaking of Fabrice this movie reunites the pair of you after you worked on Potiche so how did you find working with him again - he is such a fantastic actor?
I think in Potiche he wasn’t very happy because he had the bad part and he was the mean character.
So I wanted to work with him again and he was really happy with the character of Germain because the character is close to him and because the character is always talking about literature it was perfect for him.
He really trusts me - usually Fabrice likes to take the power on the set - but he said to me ‘I trust you, do what you want with me as I am your doll’. So it was perfect.
- How have you found the response to the film so far?
In France the film was very successful, it was released back in October, and we did more than one million admissions; that is quite a lot for such a film because it is not totally a comedy film and it is quite intellectual.
I think it is because Fabrice is very popular and people enjoy seeing these actors. But also I did try to involve the audience in the story.
- How have you found the early response to the film here in the UK?
The journalists that have seen the film do seem to understand my work and they are excited about the story.
But they are also very happy because I have worked with your national treasure Kristin Scott Thomas (laughs). I hope that the film does go on to be a success in England.
- The film has also had a great run on the festival circuit playing at the likes of San Sebastian Film Festival as well as in London so how was your festival experience?
It was great because I picked up man prizes: I won a prize in Toronto and after that in San Sebastian.
So it is always a pleasure when you realise that your film is liked by the festivals and by the juries.
- We are always hearing about how difficult it is for older actresses to land great parts in Hollywood and yet French film seems to totally buck that trend. You have worked with Kristin Scott Thomas and Catherine Deneuve so why do you think that French film is a little more open minded?
Because we are not obsessed, like in the Anglo-Saxon market, by the success of the film as we do not think in the commercial terms first. It is art and so we try to defend a story and what we want to say - after that we hope that the film will be successful.
Maybe because the films are not as expensive like films in America and therefore we are able to take risks and give parts to older women.
For me it has been quite obvious since the beginning of my career when I did a movie called Under The Sun wit Charlotte Rampling.
It was a story about a woman who was fifty years old and nobody wanted to give us money to make the film as they said she was over and it will interest no one.
Actually the movie in France was a huge success. I think that there is a real interest as there are many women of fifty years of age who want to see women of their age on the big screen.
- You are reuniting with actress Charlotte Rampling for you next project so can you tell me a little bit about that?
The film is called Jeune et Jolie, which means young and beautiful, and it is about a young girl of seventeen who discovers her sexuality and Charlotte Rampling has a small part in it.
- We have talked about your extensive work in French film already but does Hollywood have any allure for you?
I have had many propositions from Hollywood, especially after the success of Swimming Pool, but it is another system of working.
In France I am totally free, I don’t make big budget movies and I have the final cut. The director is the boss on the film. In America it is a completely different system as the producer is the most important person and the director is just a technician.
I am not sure that I would be able to work in these conditions - but you never know, maybe one day (laughs).
- Finally what is next for you?
I hope some holidays, that is what I need (laughs).
In The House is released 29th March.
Tagged in Kristin Scott Thomas