(French title: Mon Meilleur Ami)
Idea for My Best Friend
Patrice Leconte: The idea was born before we shot French Fried Vacation (Les Bronzs), the day Jrme Tonnerre called me to say that he had in his hands a well-developed outline written by Olivier Dazat for Fidlit Productions. They needed a director, and Jrme immediately thought that I would be interested. With good reason I loved the premise. Although I had some concerns about the plot, I went to meet with the producers. After this fruitful meeting, we began to work in tandem from this starting point, in order to go in a direction that both of us liked.
Olivier Dazats Story
PL: The issues in his screenplay: the story of a guy who is said to not have any friends, who lashes out in violence and who, to prove the opposite, makes an absurd and abstract gamble: to show others this friend he doesnt have! I found it novel to gamble on such an impossible thing, and so it allowed me to deal with friendship and the lack of friendship. In my mind, its like telling a love story. All you have to do is change their names! But if this project immediately attracted my attention, its also because I felt that the subject resonated within me. It is definitely not an autobiographical film, but if you asked me point-blank who my best friend is, I would really be at a loss to answer. Except that, contrary to Franois, played by Daniel, it doesnt prevent me from living.
Writing with Jrme Tonnerre
PL: This is the second time weve worked together, after Intimate Strangers (Confidences trop intimes), and we worked together in precisely the same way. Our method as a duo is simple. We see each other for a whole afternoon, we talk a lot. Jrme takes notes and understands where I want to go. Hes a real chameleon. And I find myself directing a film that he wrote, one that we both discussed, but one that I feel is very close to me, since he went along with me without forgetting to add his personal touch.
Blending Comedy and Drama
PL: When we began writing, we thought we were doing more of a comedy. But I was not satisfied with such a light treatment of this subject of friendship that I found so fascinating. On the contrary, I liked the idea of a movie that turns on its head. Like a plane in an air show that takes off normally, but after going into a tailspin, ends up flying upside down.
Sense of Adventure
PL: When Im making a film, I usually know what I will be shooting afterwards without having an exact career plan in my head. In any case, I knew that My Best Friend was to be the movie that would follow French Fried Vacation. And it worked out well, because I no longer want to do overly serious movies. Life is serious enough as it is So I was delighted to dive into a movie about relationships that plays out on a provincial note, with unsophisticated people, even though it takes place in Paris. Without being among the best of my previous films, much of my inspiration is found here.
Two Lead Actors
PL: I thought of Daniel Auteuil right away. He seems so open, affable and benevolent that I found it novel to see him play a guy who has no friends. If we had chosen an actor who would have overplayed the role, and we could picture this as a plausible situation at first sight, the story would not have worked as well. The dice would have been loaded from the beginning. Subsequently, we had a lot of trouble finding the actor who would play Bruno.
A lot of ideas crossed our minds. But Id had Dany Boon in mind for a long time. After seeing his different shows, I wanted to work with him early on, only at first; his name did not strike a chord with the producers. So I abandoned this idea, grieving inwardly. But then, after we endured many rejections, and Dany was starting to be more recognized through Joyeux Nol, I went back on the offensive. All the more, as Daniel had pushed me in this direction after finding Dany so superb in The Valet (La doublure). For him as for me, that was the actor and the man we needed for this project. So we got him. But Ill say it again, in my mind and heart it was him from the beginning.
PL: For me, Dany Boon is someone who is wonderful in the straightforward sense of the word. Someone luminous, someone open. And I needed this simplicity, this down-to-earth side. You see in him this simple–but not nave–sense of wonder at the world, this unique relationship he has with people elsewhere in his life, and that is exactly what was required to play his character. I might add that he stepped into the role of Bruno like one would step into a nice warm bath.
Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon
PL: Their enjoyment of working together was obvious right away, because they immediately had admiration, friendship and respect for each other. Each of them also has this generosity that makes all the difference. There was not a single moment when one was trying to see if he could outdo the other. They worked together.
Attraction to Buddy Movies
PL: I realized, in hindsight, that in nearly all my movies, my duos were composed of people I had used previously and completely new people, as if I needed the reassurance of people whose talents I knew while facing the unknown. That was the case with The Man on the train (Lhomme du train), where I knew Rochefort but not Johnny Hallyday; in The Widow of Saint-Pierre (La veuve de Saint-Pierre), where I knew Daniel Auteuil but not Juliette Binoche; in Intimate
Strangers, where I knew Sandrine Bonnaire but not Fabrice Luchini.
Few of my movies stray from this rule. The ones that do stray are not the best ones I made. And recently, a student who was doing a thesis on the couple in film made me notice something incredible: in all my features or nearly all, I always direct characters who meet for the first time during the movie. Its the case here with Daniel and Dany Boon, The Man on the train (Lhomme du train), The Girl on the Bridge (La fille sur le pont), Intimate Strangers Only Tandem strays from this rule. So my work as a filmmaker consists of setting up meetings. I would never have been able to write The Cat (Le chat) with Signoret and Gabin about a couple that has been living together for years. I wouldnt be able to deal with the threads of their relationships, because then I would need to feed on what happened before the film began. I like setting up meetings in the films now, since all you have to do is observe what the characters do. Serge Frydm an said to me one day that the real screenwriters in a film are the characters. Hes right. The moment the characters are sufficiently sketched, all thats left is to watch them be alive. Like a chemist.
Casting Julie Gayet
PL: A few years ago, I made a promotional film for France Inter in which a young woman was cycling. We were looking for an actress and I came out with Julies name in a meeting. Everyone agreed. So I met Julie for the first time on that occasion and explained that I was going to film her in black and white while she rode a bicycle wearing a red dress. She trusted me, and I got along well with her. I stored her face in a corner of my memory, waiting for the movie where I could call upon her. And for this Catherine character, the most lucid of the group who is always a step ahead of the rest, I thought right away that she would be absolutely perfect, since she has this form of intelligence that is never over intellectual or studied. So I offered her the film and she accepted.
Third Outing with Daniel Auteuil
PL: Daniel puts more faith in a look or a smile than in 1,000 words. He is not one of those actors who need to be spoon-fed psychology. All the better, because Im not the type to take actors by the hand to explain to them where their characters come from and where they are going. What interests me is doing things, feeling them. When a screenplay is well written, the actors must be in there naturally. And Daniel is like that. Before the film, we only saw each other for wardrobe fitting, and we only had to call each other two or three times up to the first day of shooting. It was the scene where Drouot and Julie were misbehaving. Its always a bit stressful to begin acting with a director you dont know, an actor you dont know, but who himself knows the director. Its simple: I had the impression that Id just left Daniel the night before. Its what we say of all the people we love and lose track of.
Newcomers and Oldtimers
PL: Its all about balancing. One day, I made a major gaffe. On The Girl on the Bridge, I was shooting for the first time with Daniel and I had just directed Vanessa Paradis in Half a Chance (Une chance sur deux). The first day, I gave all my attention to Daniel as the newcomer, abandoning Vanessa somewhat. And I know she took it very hard, because that evening, she told me that it wasnt because we had already made a movie together that I had to abandon her. She explained that she needed me as much as the first time. I realized my mistake. It was a lesson for me. Since then, in the first days of every film Ive done, obviously Ive paid more attention to the new ones, but I never again abandoned the veterans. In both cases, my basic principle for directing actors is identical: the confidence I place in them. An actor who acts without sensing the confidence of the director who is watching them is like a bird without wings. He cannot fly! He just flops out of his nest onto the ground.
References to Game Shows
PL: Its very simple. When we were putting together the screenplay with Jrme Tonnerre, we knew that the Bruno character was to take part in a game show. And one fine day we had the revelation: one of the wild cards in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (Qui veut gagner des millions) is the call to a friend! From that moment, we were worried that the producers of the
game show would say no to us! I couldnt imagine making up a fake game. It had to be real life; the people had to have their own references. And I found it amazing to film Jean-Pierre Foucault playing himself. I was acquainted with him before. There was goodwill between us. I simply asked him to follow the written text, to be himself and not an actor. And it was a real treat.
PL: Since the movies I do are all different, I try each time to have, in a small way, a directing plan. But when I started work on My Best Friend, I have to admit shamefully that I didnt ask any of these questions. I had enough confidence in the screenplay and the characters to do without it and not worry. So I directed this film from day to day without any visual concept, except the one I never forget: the concept of the actors, the characters. For the setting as much as for the directing, I wanted a film that had all the appearances of naturalism and where uncomfortable, strange, or darkly humorous things happen to us without warning. I did not want my directing to be out of sync with that because that would have meant overdoing what the screenplay proposed. Obviously, I hope that its better directed than a bad TV movie. I didnt want to draw attention to myself.
PL: I called on a group called Lattirail, headed by Xavier Demerlac. I met him a few years back, when I was looking for a score for The Girl on the Bridge. I happened across their first album. I loved it, I met him, and I went to their concerts. And I told him that one day, if I had the chance, I would ask him to write the score for a film. I found that My Best Friend could be a perfect match for him, because he wasnt going to go in the direction of easy emotions, and his music, sometimes bordering on fanfare, has something very joyous about it. His tones can be exuberant, all the while having sad accents. This unconventional mixture appealed to me. And in the end, I was overjoyed, because there is a certain unique musical flavor that did not exist in this film at the outset, but blends in with it perfectly.
PL: This film was rewritten in the editing, but in an unexpected way. In all my films, the evocative power of this or that image made me change their structure. Here, it was more unusual. The first version of the screenplay was pre-timed at 2 hours and 5 minutes. Right away, Jrme Tonnerre and I told the producers we were going to do the pre-filming edits. But (it was a great luxury because it costs a lot of money) they asked us to film the complete version and to see in the editing what works best. I accepted, and my first complete edit came in at 2:05. From then on, with my editor Joelle Hache, we discussed the questions of how and why we would cut. It was like a Lego set: a lot of fun to do.
Give up Filmmaking
PL: This decision was not born out of disappointment over this or that film. Its not because making My Best Friend has thrilled me to bits and could make me go back on my choice. I havent lost the taste for filmmaking. I still love making films as much as before. I would just like to stop before losing my freshness. In a way, Im acting like Anna Galiena in The Hairdressers Husband (Le mari de la coiffeuse), who, realizing that the extraordinary love that bonded her to Jean Rocheforts character would not last forever, chose to throw herself in the canal while she was still in the clouds. After My Best Friend, I wont make more than three feature films, and I know exactly what they will be. So there wont be room for any more! By announcing it publicly, Im not looking to shout it from the rooftops, but to push myself to keep my word, and to really do it. Without, however, joining Anna Galiena by throwing myself into a canal