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Jean-Pierre Améris Romantics Anonymous Interview

Jean-Pierre Améris Romantics Anonymous Interview

Cast: Isabelle Carré, Benoît Poelvoorde
Director: Jean-Pierre Améris
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Running Time: 80 minutes

Synopsis: Jean-René (Benoît Poelvoorde), the boss of a chocolate factory, and Angélique (Isabelle Carré), a talented chocolate maker, are two highly emotional people. Their shared passion for chocolate brings them together and they both fall in love with each other, without daring to let on.

Unfortunately, their pathological timidity tends to keep them apart. But they'll overcome their lack of self-confidence, at the risk of revealing their feelings. So whether they will manage to get together, join their solitudes and live happily ever after is a guessing matter. A classic French romantic comedy that's truly touching and genuinely funny, with just the right amount of romance versus life, love and chocolate.

Release Date: April 5, 2012

Interview with Jean-Pierre Améris

Question: How did this project come about?

Jean-Pierre Améris: I feel like I've always had this film inside me. It's definitely the most intimate and most autobiographical film I've made. I always knew that one day, I'd tell a story involving emotionally-challenged characters - being one myself since early childhood.

I remember when I was young and I had to go out of the house, I'd open the door a crack and peep through to check there was nobody in the street. If I was ever late for school, I was unable to walk into the classroom. It got even worse in my adolescence and that's when I developed my passion for cinema. Safe in darkened movie theatres, I could really experienced fear, suspense, joy and hope; I could experience great emotions without worrying if anyone was looking at me.

Question: And yet you've made many films and being a director means you're very exposed…

Jean-Pierre Améris: My desire to make films was born from this great affection for cinema, and it was cinema that helped me overcome my fears. As I went on, I tried to make my fear an ally and it became something that drove me. That's how I dared make my first shorts and really got into being a director with everything that comes with that. With hindsight, I see that fear has always been the subject of my films: The fear of commitment in Le Bateau De Mariage, the fear of taking the plunge and becoming an actor in Les Aveux De L'Innocent, the fear of death in C'est La Vie and the fear of sexuality in Bad Company. My characters' fears are a prism through which I observe them, but because I am positive by nature, I also like describing how they get over them and how they pull through.

Question: Did you ever join Emotions Anonymous, the 12-step program for emotionally-challenged people?

Jean-Pierre Améris: I discovered that organisation a decade or so ago and I went along and joined a group at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital where I found other people and other stories, and realised the huge number of people who suffer this unhappiness. The thing emotionally-challenged people fear the most is being with others, in intimate situations. The idea of baring all, both physically and emotionally, makes them panic.

Question: How would you define a typical emotionally-challenged person?

Jean-Pierre Améris: These people aren't shy - this is something else. They are people who live in an almost permanent state of tension, torn between a powerful desire to love, to work and to exist, and something that holds them back and stops them every time. They are often full of energy and are neither depressed nor depressive. It's this state of tension that defines them which drew me to comedy because it often places them in some odd situations.

Question: Your films often deal with characters struggling to find their place…

Jean-Pierre Améris: I've always told stories about solitary individuals who try to integrate with groups of people. They are afraid but they look for the link. That's what I like to recount in my films and in a way, that's the function of cinema - to create a link and bring people together. Being emotionally challenged is something that isolates people a great deal. As a child, I spent a lot of time alone. I've known people who couldn't even leave their houses, although I never ended up like that. Everything becomes a challenge - going out to buy bread, or passing people on the staircase. You fear other people and fear them looking at you.

Question: Why did you decide to make emotionally-challenged people the basis for your new film?

Jean-Pierre Améris: It was a slow process; a desire that grew within me over time. There was one question gnawing at me: What are we afraid of in life? Criticism, teasing, failure, what other people think? When I made C'est La Vie, I spent a lot of time with people who were going to die and they all told me the same thing: "What an idiot I was, being afraid. I should have spoken up, told them I loved them. I should have dared to do it but now it's too late. What was I frightened of?" That feeling is pretty universal. We all regret not having tried, and it's often silly. You just need to go for it, not be afraid of failure, not be afraid of reaching your limits. It's not success or failure that's important; it's trying. We're too afraid of failure. We're living in an era where everyone is chasing performance and that adds an extra layer of pressure that brings nothing. You feel you have to succeed, you have to be beautiful and young, but this is crushing people. Nobody manages to be as successful as the role models we are presented with. And that's also what I was trying to say with the film: I wanted to tell a story involving this fear but with a light-hearted approach that could inspire confidence in people who share the characters' suffering to different degrees.

Question: How did you structure the story?

Jean-Pierre Améris: I have been thinking about making this film for years so it is imbued with the people I've met and my own experiences. Things really came together when I realised we could tackle this subject as a romantic comedy. The potential for funny situations between two emotionally-challenged people was huge. I started by making notes and writing things down. I also read a lot, notably the book by Christophe André and Patrick Legeron, "La Peur des Autres" (The Fear of Others). In the end, I put together over 100 pages of notes and thoughts but it was my encounter with Belgian scriptwriter Philippe Blasband that really helped me construct the plot. I encouraged him to write a romantic comedy involving two emotionally-challenged characters neither of which realises the other shares their problem, drawing on all that autobiographical material. Together, we worked on the story. Lots of the tales I'd heard in discussion groups involved people at work so I wanted their meeting to take place in a work environment. Perhaps Philippe and I came up with the idea of chocolate because we were in Belgium, in a Brussels tearoom, but its more likely because chocolate is wrapped up in a lot of emotional associations. They say it helps you feel better, it has an aroma and a taste linked to childhood and emotional types tend to abuse it. Hence the idea of the chocolate factory in which he is the boss and she is a chocolate maker.

Question: How did you choose the actors?

Jean-Pierre Améris: I discussed the project with Isabelle Carré before I even started writing it. I had just shot Maman Est Folle with her for TV and discovered that we had a lot in common. I felt exceptionally relaxed around Isabelle. It was like I'd met an alter-ego. We talked about the subject and she immediately expressed an interest. And working a lot together early on in the process meant we were able to give her character lots of little things that came from either Isabelle or myself. She is an actress with whom I have a real affinity and I hope to work with her again.

I also thought of Benoît Poelvoorde very early on. You can feel that tension with Benoît. When he acts, he throws himself into a scene like a highly-emotive person throws himself or herself into life. He does it without a second thought. He's a comic genius and like all artists at that level, flaws and emotions are never far away. He can be incredibly moving whilst being funny. The idea was also to show him in a new light, finely poised between his emotion and his comic talent. Writing for him and for Isabelle really drove us.

Question: Your film revisits a lot of mandatory scenes from the romantic comedy genre, but from an unusual, off-beat angle, which takes them a step further…

Jean-Pierre Améris: I like the idea of films with a clearly identified genre and for this one, I was inspired by some of my favourite films, mainly English-language ones. I like the idea of a universe in its own right; a coherent, separate little world. The metaphor of the theatre is absolutely perfect here: People going on stage, others waiting in the wings, the majority preferring to be in the audience. They remain in the shadows, there are more of them, they are the most modest and I find them touching. Those are the ones I'm interested in. Jean-René and Angélique are modest people but they can still find their place in the world and in a romantic comedy. They are heroes who win a lot of small battles, but they are mostly fighting against themselves.

Question: Do you remember the first scene you shot with Isabelle and Benoît?

Jean-Pierre Améris: The first real scene was the one in the restaurant, their first dinner date. We were right at the heart of the subject, their relationship composed of impulses, desires, impediments, doubts, with each one thinking they're the most terrified, and with all the compromises that involves. It was also very emotional, shooting this scene. The choice of the restaurant we used was no coincidence - it was the Cintra in Lyon, the city where I was born and where we shot most of the film. It's one of the most popular restaurants, a place my father dreamed of going to, with quite an English look to it with wooden panelling and a warm feel. Isabelle and Benoît immediately found the right tone, a combination of humour and emotion. They were funny and immensely moving.

Question: Your film has quite a stylised, almost timeless universe. At times it is like a fable. How did you define its visual style?

Jean-Pierre Améris: That aspect corresponds perfectly to the perception emotionally-challenged people have of the world. I wanted the audience to be immersed in their subjectivity. In my first films, I was more in favor of reality. I shot Les Aveux De L'Innocent in prison and C'est La Vie in a real palliative care unit. My idea was to bring fiction into reality. Since Call Me Elisabeth, I've been more daring in attempting to create different worlds. With Romantics Anonymous, I was surrounded by a crew that I really love working with: Gérard Simon for the lighting, Sylvie Olivé on set design and Nathalie du Roscoat for the costumes. For Isabelle's character, my reference was Ginger Rogers who was an actress I adore. Benoît has a touch of James Stewart in Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around he Corner. This involves a palette of colors, reds and greens, a style of clothing that makes you think of the 1950s but with the energy of today, an architecture that's more London than Paris, with bricks, small windows and warm lighting. I also wanted to find and transmit that pleasure which made me fall in love with the movies and enter into another universe, leaving the real world behind.

Question: Was it that spirit that made you have the actors sing in the film?

Jean-Pierre Améris: I've always loved songs in films. The little song that Isabelle sings, "I Have Confidence", is taken from Robert Wise's The Sound of Music. Julie Andrew's character sings it when she wonders why she's so afraid when she's about to embark on a huge adventure. For Angélique, Isabelle's character, humming that tune is a little like cuddling a teddy bear. It reassures her. Benoît's character sings too, but for another reason, just as believable in terms of the psychological point of view of highly emotional people. Benoît sings "Les Yeux Noirs" and I think it's enormously moving. It wasn't easy for him. What his character does is pretty symptomatic of highly emotional people. He's scared of everything. He trembles when he finds himself alone with the woman he loves, but suddenly, he throws himself on the microphone and sings a song in the middle of a restaurant. The way Benoît sang it, what he reveals at that moment is one of my greatest memories of this film. I was really moved.


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