"Incredibly moving and intense"
by Fabien Lemercier
- An ambitious screenplay, difficult subject matter and a young child at the centre of the film. Cineuropa looks at a daring production and a challenge that paid off for Les Films Pelléas
From Pierre Salvadori to Mia Hansen-Love, as well as Serge Bozon, the Larrieu brothers, Catherine Corsini and Jean-Paul Civeyrac, Les Films Pelléas have always backed high-quality auteur films. This reputation was further reinforced when the company – founded by Philippe Martin – chose to support Pierre Schoeller’s debut feature Versailles [+see also:
interview: Geraldine Michelot
interview: Pierre Schoeller
film profile]. Fabien Lemercier met with the film’s producer Géraldine Michelot.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to produce Versailles?
Géraldine Michelot: Another producer at Pelléas urged me to read the screenplay – it was very powerful, incredibly moving and intense. I must say that I even cried, which is rare when reading a screenplay. There was also real dramatic ambition, for the film covers almost 10 years in the life of a little boy. I also liked the way the film combines storybook and almost fairytale aspects with realism. At the same time, the story has a popular edge. As I had never met Pierre Schoeller, we then had to take the time to get to know each other and I also watched the TV drama that he made for Arte.
Did getting the film off the ground financially prove straightforward?
The financing stage went very well on the whole, for all the funding we received from our partners was accompanied by a real desire to see the film get made. We were granted an advance on receipts from the National Film Centre (CNC), as well as backing from the Centre and Ile-de-France regions, Canal +, Ciné Cinéma, Sofica Banque Postale and Cinémage. We also received valuable support from Les Films du Losange, who are handling domestic distribution and international sales.
On the other hand, despite high hopes, we didn’t manage to secure backing from a television network. The film thus had to make do with a rather fragile budget (€2.6m), which you have to keep an eye on at all times during production and this can be risky. I should also mention the film summer school Emergence, which was a very worthwhile experience because Pierre – who won the 2007 edition – took part in it four months before the start of the film’s shoot.
A debut feature, difficult subject matter and a very young child – the shoot presented many unknown challenges.
All the apprehensions we may have had beforehand dissipated as the shoot progressed. But we knew we were taking risks. Casting a child of that age involved a very long shoot because we were only allowed to film (make-up and waiting included) for three hours a day. This had an impact on the funding because we needed a minimum budget. We had to obtain permission from the DASS and then ensure that the child’s parents didn’t leave us in the lurch mid-shoot. We also had to hire a special coach and private tutor because filming took place almost entirely during the academic year.
Moreover, there was no guarantee that the relationship between Guillaume Depardieu and this child would result in a wonderful story, but Guillaume really supported and helped him. All this, added to the fact that it was a debut feature with an ambitious and rather dense screenplay, meant that the shoot involved a certain amount of acrobatics.
After a surprise selection at the Cannes Film Festival, what are your hopes for the theatrical release?
For this type of film and with the market as it is today, Cannes is a real opportunity to stand out in terms of exhibition. Versailles has a popular edge and, as it has been well received by audiences so far, I think it may well appeal to viewers.
In any case, the film fits in with Pelléas’ line-up, which puts the emphasis on a certain atmosphere and, as well as the film genre, a certain type of director, as for our two projects that will shoot this summer: Mia Hansen-Love’s Le père de mes enfants (“The Father of my Children”) and Axelle Ropert’s La famille Wolberg (“The Wolberg Family”).