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Grégory Magne • Director of Perfumes

"It’s a case of underplaying things and placing faith in a look"


- French filmmaker Grégory Magne discusses his highly engaging work Perfumes, propelled by Emmanuelle Devos and Grégory Montel and released in French cinemas by Pyramide

Grégory Magne • Director of Perfumes
(© Pascal Chantier)

Perfumes [+see also:
film review
interview: Grégory Magne
film profile
is French director Grégory Magne’s second feature film on the heels of L’air de rien [+see also:
film profile
(2012). This social comedy full of charm and great humanity, and starring Emmanuelle Devos and Grégory Montel, is distributed in French movie theatres today, 1 July, courtesy of Pyramide.

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for such an unexpected meeting between “a Nose” and a chauffeur come from?
Grégory Magne: There were two ingredients involved in this. The first, clearly, was the idea of scent. I’ve also been fascinated by the power of olfactory memories, how a particular smell can bring back a face or a place buried deep down, forgotten even, like the smell of a certain cleaning product which reminds me so strongly of my nursery school. One day, in the metro, as I was drawn to a perfume, I asked myself how someone endowed with a far more sensitive sense of smell than the average person would perceive the world, and what effect it would have on their character. It was exciting in terms of the screenplay and mise en scène: having to suggest smells and identify situations which would allow the viewer to understand what the character was experiencing.

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The second ingredient, just like in L’air de rien, was a friendly encounter. In the same way that a romantic encounter is rather coded and marked out (a look, a sense of excitement, a restlessness to know whether the other person will like us, etc.), a friendly encounter, in my mind, is something we never see coming in life. Sometimes we even become friends with people we didn’t particularly like or who we actively disliked on first contact; and then, through shared moments, good times and bad, comfortable silences, like the ones you might share in a car, one day, over something small, you look at one another and realise that you’re friends. I think that’s interesting to talk about and portray because these are things which are less obvious, less marked and a bit more subtle than stories about love

The chauffeur element also allows the film to open up, to change location, to become a road movie of sorts.
First of all, I like to film the provinces. Then there’s the fact that being trapped with one another in a car is always a fertile situation, especially when you don’t get along particularly well or you don’t have a lot in common. I also had this memory of a real-life person who was a chauffeur to Daniel Balavoine, Nathalie Baye and the French minister Jean-Louis Borloo. It was an incredible situation which made me wonder what this man, who was from a rather modest background, would have made of these people as they covered all those kilometres together, what they said to him, what he saw in his rear-view mirror, etc.

There are obviously twists and turns in the story, but you’re careful to avoid dramatization. Why?
It comes from the documentary form, which I’ve explored and which I like. In documentaries, you can’t get a handle on everything, so you’re obliged to tell the story with what you have, and you realise that the viewer is more than able to read between the lines and the ellipses, and that they understand a lot, far more quickly than we often believe. What’s more complicated with cinematic works is that a film has to pass the screenplay stage in order to get funding and in order to make clear what’s required of people (actors, technicians, etc.), so you have to emphasise things a bit more: it’s difficult having a lighter-weight script! Afterwards, it’s a case of underplaying things and placing faith in a look which conveys the right thing purely because it lasts the ideal length of time.

Are you now an odour specialist? What research did you carry out?
I did the bare, legal minimum (laughs). I was a journalist before, so I’m used to picking up on something here, and something else there, then six months later you realise there’s a story in it. As for odours, I’d seen a certain scene in a documentary by Werner Herzog, I’d read a certain article about a Scandinavian artist who’d recreated the smells of First World War trenches, etc. When I wrote the first situations, I did it on the basis of the few personal, inner archives I had, and then I offered them up to two different “noses” who provided me with coherent technical terms and made a few remarks, though not that many, not on the character of the “Nose” in the film, either. It’s quite surprising, but what we imagine is never too far from reality.

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(Translated from French)

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