Alexis Michalik • Director of Edmond
“A costume drama which revolves around the theatre, but which moves at a lively pace”
- Alexis Michalik takes his first feature film, Edmond, to the Rendez-Vous French Film Festival in Rome ahead of its release in Italian cinemas on 18 April
Following its on-stage success, the 37 year old French director-actor Alexis Michalik is bringing his comedy Edmond [+see also:
interview: Alexis Michalik
film profile] to the big screen, recounting the mind-boggling genesis of one of the world’s great literary masterpieces, Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand. Touring Italian cinemas as of 18 April courtesy of Officine UBU, the film was presented in Rome at the ninth edition of the Rendez-Vous French Film Festival, where we met up with the director.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea of narrating the genesis of Cyrano de Bergerac come from?
Alexis Michalik: It all began when I saw Shakespeare in Love twenty years ago. For me, the idea of relating the personal circumstances that Shakespeare - who was drowning in debt - was contending with when he found the inspiration to write one of his most famous works, all thanks to a lovely muse, was a brilliant one, and I asked myself why we hadn’t done something similar in France. Later, I read Cyrano which became one of my favourite works, and I was astonished to learn that Rostand had written it at just 20 years old. No-one had believed in him up to that point and the opening night of that play was an incredible success.
How much of what we see on screen is real and how much is invented?
I liked telling this story from a non-documentary point of view. I wanted to pay tribute to the period and to Edmond Rostand, who had taken Cyrano de Bergerac – a character who really existed, a 1600s playwright – and invented a whole story around him; in particular, the love triangle which he was a part of. I did the same thing: I took the story of Edmond at the time he was writing Cyrano to tell my own story. I mixed real characters – authors and playwrights of the time – with invented characters, and I created a love triangle of my own. It was also a way of relating the process of theatrical creation: I’m a playwright first and foremost, I know how the initial idea takes root and how this inspiration can intertwine with real life. I wanted to inject the essence of Cyrano into this film: the romanticism, the heroism, and the memorable balcony scene.
The film portrays a fierce and highly amusing rivalry between Rostand and Georges Feydeau. How much truth is there in this? And why did you choose to play the part of Feydeau?
There was no real competition between the two, but I had to find a nemesis for Rostand. Before he wrote Cyrano, Rostand hadn’t had any successes; he wrote in Alexandrine verse and felt like a failure. Feydeau is his antithesis; he was the author of very popular comedies. In real life, he was a very empathic person, he wasn’t how I’ve depicted him in the film. I made him more arrogant to contrast with Rostand. Feydeau was the star of comedy, I wanted to pay tribute to him and to his style. In fact, this film is something of a vaudeville; in the hotel scene, for example, there are slamming doors, people who come and go… As for my role, I always like to play parts that have a bit of arrogance to them. He’s a successful playwright and I am too, so that was a bit of a game also.
A costume drama film which revolves around the theatre: described in these terms, some might say it’s a risky operation...
Viewers who don’t go to the theatre think that it’s a dusty, boring, elitist place. For this reason, I wanted to make something theatrical, but which moved at a lively pace, like the American comedies of the Fifties. I used the steadicam almost all the time to follow the characters up close. The theatre sequences are filmed like a play - in a single, real-time shot - because I wanted to retain the idea of a troupe and to depict in film the work that’s involved in theatre. It’s a costume drama which revolves around the theatre, but it shouldn’t be viewed as dated or even modern; it’s more of an atemporal work, just like Cyrano.
Finally, Olivier Gourmet, who takes on the role of the first actor ever to play Cyrano, is the actor Constant Coquelin in the film: at last, a brilliant part for him.
It’s not easy to imagine him in a comedy, he always plays hard or nasty characters, when he’s not in dramas by the Dardenne brothers. But in real life he’s the kindest, most amiable person you could ever meet. When I called him, he was over the moon, precisely because he’s never offered comedies. Unfortunately, he’s allergic to prosthetics and he endured eight hours of make-up without ever complaining. He’s an incredible actor.
(Translated from Italian)
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