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CANNES 2019 Out of Competition

Nicolas Bedos • Director of La Belle Époque

"A character who has a bit of my own ambivalence in my relation with progress”


- CANNES 2019: We sat down with Nicolas Bedos to discuss his second feature, La Belle Époque, a film which mostly talks about our times, screened out of competition in Cannes

Nicolas Bedos  • Director of La Belle Époque

Screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, La Belle Époque [+see also:
film review
interview: Nicolas Bedos
film profile
is Nicolas Bedos’ second feature as director (after Mr & Mrs Adelman [+see also:
film profile
), though this time he does not step in front of the camera. We sat down with the playwright, screenwriter, actor, and comedian to discuss this film, which he also wrote, and which stars Daniel Auteuil, Fanny Ardant, Guillaume Canet, Denis Podalydès as well as a panoply of actors playing actors, including Doria Tillier and Pierre Arditi.

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Cineuropa: In our highly virtualised world, the call for a return to the corporeality of things, to the need of living in a more physical way, seems to be getting louder and louder. It’s what the time travel agency set up by Guillaume Canet’s character is offering.
Nicolas Bedos: Yes, I’ve noticed, no doubt instinctively, this kind of return to physical immersion, which is conducive to the success of certain festivals and theatre productions. As if an excess of one thing was calling for its opposite. Indeed the film, rather than go for the Spielberg treatment which would be closer to Black Mirror, returns to the past via theatre: if you set aside the earpieces and headset, the set-up seen in the film could well have been made fifty years ago, because it’s just words, documentation, costumes, and a few sets. I like the idea that, as a solution to his despair, Daniel isn’t given an electronic chip or a pill, but instead receives what I do everyday at work: a crew that works hard and with very little to come up with things that will make him dream.

Theatre stage direction is indeed at the heart of the film, with the sense of vertigo and jubilation that it carries, but also with the play with desire it implies — Antoine in fact recalls Cyrano.
There are interlocking games at work, most notably between the two couples that interlock into each other: the young borrow from the old, if I may say; and on the other side, Daniel Auteuil’s character will gift himself a bath in the fountain of youth and self-esteem with this young actress, who is also his memory of his wife. There is this interlocking that could evoke some of Marivaux’s plays, or even the Italian theatre of the 17th century, or indeed Cyrano. I was very interested in this kind of bittersweet flirtation.

Where do you place yourself in relation to the character played by Daniel Auteuil, whose point of view is also the film’s?
I think that this character has a bit of my own ambivalence in my relation with progress: I’m an enthusiastic — even opportunistic — user of technology, Instagram, social media, Twitter… All of that is part of my daily life, but at the same time, there is a part of me that is an “old fart” who feeds on books, is furious about the gradual disparition of the printed press, appalled to see newstands vanish, worried that the young generation are eating up TV shows like they’re candy without knowing at all who directs and who writes. So my tantrums and my pleasures follow each other close. That is why the film does not judge, but instead observes all of this, through the story of a man who is both my father — who is totally terrified by all this and has ultimately decided that this world wasn’t his — and myself, because there’s still hope. 

The film combines a light tone with a deep topic. It is in turns moving and wildly entertaining, sometimes both simultaneously.
If it doesn’t appear as a clear cut comedy or drama, that’s because of the way I am and the way the people I love are. In my family, we are extremely sentimental people, but we’re also very sarcastic, out of some kind of modesty, which is why we always oscillate between teasing and kissing. This tone — in which there is humour, cynicism — is a kind of lifeline for the script, for me: it prevents the film from falling into sentimentality or melodrama. It’s also a way of telling the viewer that I don’t want to force them to be moved. If they are moved, if they want to cry, it’s only because the situation in the film deserves it.

If I had to find some references, I could of course cite a ton of filmmakers I love who work in that register, but it wouldn’t be very interesting because, for me, cinema is life, so there is no prior theory.

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(Translated from French)

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