Toronto 2011: Remi Bezancon Hopes For a Very 'Happy Event' (Q&A)
The French auteur discusses adopting a feminine point of view for his ultra-realistic portrait of birth.
The Toronto Film Festival will be A Happy Event for Remi Bezancon. After Ma Vie en l’Air starring a pre-Oscar Marion Cotillard in 2005, Bezancon followed in 2008 with The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, which earned him three Cesar nominations, including best film, best director and best writing. Bezancon makes his first trip to TIFF with A Happy Event, an adaptation of prolific author Eliette Abecassis’ best-selling, account of pregnancy and motherhood that stars fresh French faces Louise Bourgoin and Pio Marmai as a couple expecting a child. Bezancon talks to THR about babies, breast milk and his bundle of joy being screened in Toronto.
The Hollywood Reporter (THR): Why did you decide to adapt this particular book by Eliette Abecassis?
Remi Benzancon (RB): I realized that in the last scene in The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, the actress is filmed pregnant and that’s exactly the same as the first scene in this movie. It’s a logical continuation of my work. I’ve wanted to make a movie about the metamorphosis of pregnancy and how it can change a couple for a long time — I hadn’t seen another movie that really talked about it before. Twenty-five percent of couples in France break up within a year after having a baby and yet the topic is still very taboo. Eliette Abecassis’ book was talked about a lot when it came out in France because it addressed these taboos. Eliette’s book was perfect for an adaptation in that it’s pretty short, but filled with philosophical reflections about being a mother. She talks a lot about life before and life after having the baby. It allowed me to write my own story based on these reflections.
THR: It’s a book about motherhood written from a female perspective – as a male did you find this challenging ?
RB: I loved putting myself into the skin of the women in The First Day of the Rest of My Life and I wanted to do that for an entire movie. Eliette’s book is very rich in its feminine point of view. I also co-wrote this with Vanessa Portal and we’re together in real life so it was interesting to write the adaptation as a couple. In the movie, the story focuses more on the couple whereas in the book, we’re mostly listening to the woman’s point of view.
THR: How would you describe the film? It’s described as a “tragicomedy” – what does that mean to you?
RB: “Tragicomedy” sounds great to me. I want to make comedy, but also evoke pure emotion. I like emotion when it’s simple, and when it’s close to us. I hope A Happy Event will touch people because we all have parents, we all have a mother and a father and some people may even be fathers or mothers themselves. We can identify with the film whether we are parents or we have parents. It’s interesting for parents of divorced kids to understand why their parents split when they were younger. In many scenes, we laugh and then we’re ashamed afterwards. There are very emotional scenes and then comes laughter that allows us to evacuate the emotion we just had. That’s the kind of movie that I personally like to see and that I want to make my version of.
THR: Why the choice of Louise Bourgoin for the lead role?
RB: Louise is pretty new to the game in that she hasn’t made 35 films already and she doesn’t come from a film background, but from an artistic milieu and the TV world. She hasn’t yet had the big role that will change her life. It was important to me that the actress who played this role give me everything she had. It’s a very intense and physical role and I needed someone who could give me everything and that’s what she did. I didn’t want a famous French actress to star.
THR: How did you make her pregnancy seem real on screen even though she wasn’t pregnant at the time of shooting and a pregnancy lasts nine months and you filmed for three?
RB: I wanted the entire pregnancy to be realistic. We see Louise naked and pregnant several times during the movie. After a screening in Paris, a few people asked me if she was really pregnant. We see the birth and we see her nursing – all of that was very complicated to shoot. She really nurses. I’ve never seen any images like this in films before. It was important that these scenes were irreproachable in terms of how realistic they are since it’s the theme of the movie. We used a prosthetic stomach and fake breasts for the nursing scenes.
THR: Perhaps we’ve never seen images like this before on screen because it’s too complicated to film, especially in terms of legal rights to shoot infants. How did you manage to get around this?
RB: Often, movies about maternity take place before the birth. I know of very few where we really follow the first days and weeks after the baby is born. It is quite complicated to shoot. We usually don’t see that. What interested me were those first moments. I wanted to show the first time a mother nurses for the first time – it’s a beautiful scene in the film. That first contact is very intense. We shot the first scene of nursing with a baby that wasn’t even a day old. The night before, we didn’t know if we’d be able to shoot – our scenery was an actual maternity ward. We only had 10 minutes.
THR: As the baby grows, how did you manage to keep things realistic?
RB: There were a lot of babies on the set. We had more than 20 in total including several sets of twins so we could have two at the same time. In the film, we don’t realize that the baby has changed. Having a baby on set brought only happiness. Even if the baby cries, there’s a lot of emotion. Everyone is happy when there’s a baby around. We needed a lot of people to take care of the babies – it wasn’t easy, but we have so many great memories.
THR: Have you been to Toronto before?
RB: No, this will be my first time in Toronto. I like that there’s no jury and no prizes and the fact that the public is present is more interesting. I’m looking forward to the gala screening. I’ve heard it’s a nice theater so that will be great to talk to the audience and meet people. I also hope to meet some agents. Even though I don’t want to work in the U.S. – I still have things to do in France – it will be interesting to have an open door to the U.S. to perhaps adapt American books.
THR: What message do you want audiences to take away from the film?
RB: I want people who don’t have kids to want to have one. The book is very harsh and destructive, but it’s filled with optimism. I want people to leave the theater and say “let’s have a kid right now.” And I want people who already have children to look back on their memories and say “it was great, even if it was hard.”
THR: So people with kids won’t see the film in the same way as those who don’t?
RB: There are two categories of people when they leave the movie – those who have children and those who don’t. The world is divided in two.