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“I wanted to respect Chaplin's spirit”

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Xavier Beauvois • Director


- VENICE 2014: Cineuropa hears from French actor and director Xavier Beauvois, who presented his latest movie, The Price of Fame, in competition at the 71st Venice Film Festival

Xavier Beauvois  • Director

French actor and director Xavier Beauvois presented his latest movie, The Price of Fame [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile
, in competition at the 71st Venice Film Festival. Cineuropa hears from him.

What encouraged you to film this story?
I saw Limelight again for the 15th time and I remembered this story about Chaplin’s stolen coffin. I mentioned it to my incredulous wife and the more research that I carried out online in order to convince her that the story was true, the more I persuaded myself that I had some incredible stuff there for a movie. For me, Chaplin is as sacred a figure as the subject of my previous film, Of Gods and Men [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile
. The same theme continues here. The main characters steal a coffin, but it’s not so much about desecration. The idea for the movie comes from a man who exits the darkness at the beginning to come into the light at the end. 

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The tone is light and the movie is kind of a fable. What’s the fictional part of this story?
We filmed in real locations: the cemetery, the manor, the police station… There are things said in the movie that are in fact words spoken during the trial or in the demand for ransom. The coffin was certainly found in the field in which we filmed and it was indeed two immigrants who did the deed, although the perpetrators’ nationalities are different to those of the protagonists in the movie. The family didn’t press charges against the perpetrators like in the film. Moreover, the circus story, Osman’s granddaughter and the funniest scenes were invented to suit the screenplay. This movie isn’t set in reality. It’s a tale. The subject is real, but it’s treated as fantasy.

How did the collaboration with the Chaplin family go?
I met with Eugène Chaplin after the police and the authorities had refused to help us without prior consent from the family. Initially, he was very suspicious, but when I explained the movie and my intentions to him, he understood what it was that I wanted to do and he agreed to move on from this bad memory in order to turn it into a comical tale. His help proved indispensable in finding the circus for example. He really became part of the team. 

The heroes are also criminals. How do you yourself see them?
To quote Jean-Luc Godard, they’re heroes, but also zeros. Except that I don’t consider them as numbskulls. That’s too severe. I really like them even if they have desecrated someone who, for me, is a God. I’m fond of them. I see them as the stooges and I want to present them to the audience without a black or white filter. That’s the essence of Chaplin’s cinema. I wanted to respect the maestro’s spirit in order to also understand what they did.

Why did you choose Michel Legrand for the music?
It’s always the film that requests the music or not. In The Young Lieutenant [+see also:
film profile
, there’s no music because the movie didn’t require any. The Price of Fame called for a lot. I’m a big fan of Michel. I listen to his music at home and when I showed him the film, he fell in love with it. That was one of the nicest encounters I’ve had, it wasn’t just a work meeting. We didn’t work in the studio, but at his home and he composed music specifically for my film, in total respect of the work that was enhanced by his talent.

(Translated from French)

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