by GREG KING
Folies Bergere is the fourth feature film from French writer/director Marc Fitoussi, who studied English and art history before studying screenwriting at the European Conservatory for screenwriting. He made several short films before making his first feature, La Vie d’artiste in 2007.
Folies Bergere is a romantic drama about Brigitte (Isabelle Huppert), a fiftysomething farmer’s wife in Normandy who is undergoing something of a midlife crisis. She flirts with an attractive young man who has come to an adjoining farm house for the weekend, and then on a whim heads off to Paris to track him down for a liaison. She begins to have second thoughts about her infidelity, especially when she meets a handsome and urbane Danish doctor (played by Michael Nyqvist, best known for the original Millennium trilogy).
The genesis for his new film came about when Fitoussi decided that he wanted to work with Isabelle Huppert again having worked together on the 2010 film Copacabana. “I really liked working with her, and we wanted to find a new way to work together again,” he elaborates.
“It’s always better to work again with people, because the first day is always a little complicated. You don’t know the person very well, you’re looking for something. On this movie it was really simple, Isabelle understood what I wanted very quickly, even if we did a lot of takes. Because we love that, too, it was more for fun to try different things. And it was okay to make mistakes. When you work with someone new you’re very afraid to make mistakes.
“Isabelle has played a lot of things in movies but she has never played a farmer,” he continues. “It was kind of a new challenge for her, and for me, to find a story which could start in the countryside, in the rural world, which is not very well depicted in cinema I think. It’s always very cliched. When I decided to write this film about the rural world I thought that it was a bit old fashioned. But I discovered that even farmers could be modern and even more modern sometimes than people living in the city. And I also wanted to try and make a love story, I’d never done that before.”
Fitoussi collaborated with journalist Sylvie Dauvellier on the script. She was able to do lots of research into the world of cattle fairs to add authenticity to the setting because he also wanted to be very precise about the rural world. “I was having sessions with Sylvie where I was telling her exactly what I wanted, but she was the one who was writing the screenplay,” Fitoussi explains the process of putting the screenplay together. “She was writing all the lines, and she was also doing some research, and I was adding my dialogues. And I could get feedback from her.”
What did Isabelle bring to the character of Brigitte that wasn’t on the page? “Lots,” he responds simply. “But this is why I like working with Isabelle. I write stories and characters, and with her it’s always surprising and unexpected. I expected that Brigitte would have been less funny when I wrote it, I thought she would have been more depressed because she has this eczema problem. But I think it’s due to Isabelle that we really liked her, even if she has some problems. She’s very instinctive, and, as I told you, I like to be surprised on the set.
“And people are surprised by Isabelle, because she has this image of a very cold actress, a very austere one, maybe because of Michael Haneke and The Piano Teacher, but suddenly they discover that she can be very funny and very sweet. And I like the fact that, thanks to this movie, they remember that she can be like this too.”
Jean-Pierre Daroussin was not the first choice to play Brigitte’s husband Xavier. Fitoussi initially wanted Gerard Jugnot, because he was very different from Huppert, and he thought it would be interesting to put together two contrasting actors together because here they a couple who are not very well suited at first. But Jugnot was committed to a play in Paris. As a replacement he found Daroussin. “I sometimes think we are lucky when we have a change of actors,” Fitoussi adds. “If it was my first movie I would have been afraid of that, but when I knew that I had to change actors it was a good thing.”
Likewise, Michael Nyqvist only came on board after Stellan Skarsgaard was unavailable because he was filming Nymphomaniac with Lars Von Trier. This casting was also another happy accident for Fitoussi. “It was nice to have him in this movie,” he says. “I knew that I would need a Scandinavian actor. And big surprise was that he speaks perfect French because his father is French. His character here is very different from what he normally plays – bad guys or tough guys. He’s a very gentle man.”
Fitoussi says that there was no rehearsal period, but a lot of discussions with his actors about the story. “They’re very instinctive and, as I told you, I like to be surprised on the set. With Isabelle we worked a lot on the costume. It was very important for her to know exactly what she will wear as it gives an idea of her character. In this movie she’s a bit eccentric and she always has this hat. It gave a lot to her character who always fantasises about her life, like a character from a novel like Anna Karenina or Madam Bovary. And she reads a lot in the movie, so I think a lot of the ideas for the character came from the costumes.”
One of the more difficult and surprising scenes dealt with the birth of a calf. It was a very complicated scene to make, especially when the cow they had lined up for the scene delivered its calf early, before the crew was ready. A solution presented itself when the farmer who owned the property where they were filming managed to call around to some neighbouring farms and found another cow that was close to delivering. The cow was brought to the farm on a truck, because it was easier than moving the whole film crew.
“And at that point I was not the director,” he recalls. “It was the farmer who was giving all the instructions to the actors, and I was just next to him watching. And we were excited and moved because it was a nice scene to watch. It’s easy when you write it, but when you have to make it it’s a different thing.”
As Brigitte explores the city, there are some postcard like shots of Paris and familiar sights like the Eiffel Tower, and Fitoussi worked closely with cinematographer Agnes Godard on getting this particular look for the film. “Normally you watch a lot of movies and think that this movie has to look like that one,” he explains. “I wanted to present Paris as a very idyllic and romantic city, because she’s going there for romance, so I had to assume a certain cliche about Paris and make scenes like an American director would shoot Paris, with these very lovely images. I don’t really like postcard-like shots from outsiders in general. I didn’t like that Woody Allen film Midnight In Paris, and I love Woody Allen, but maybe it’s just unrealistic and just too beautiful. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to make a good movie about Melbourne because I would do it as a tourist, and would not be able to capture its essence. We had a precise idea of the Paris we wanted to make, which was a postcard Paris sometimes, but also a very cold one, a winter one.”
When asked about the filmmakers who have inspired him, Fitoussi responds: “All the directors who inspired me are dead. In French cinema I really love Francois Truffaut, because he had a lot of stories to tell, and I really love old Italian cinema, old Italian comedies. I like British cinema. I like Mike Leigh. He made a movie called Happy Go Lucky at the same time I was making Copacabana, and I thought there was a link between these two movies. I’m not saying that I’m the new Mike Leigh, but it was the same type of characters and story and I was happy with that.”
Folies Bergere is a romantic drama about a woman who undergoes a midlife crisis. It stars Isabelle Huppert. To find out more about the film, Greg spoke to director Marc Fitoussi.