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François Damiens • Director

"Nobody can act better than someone who doesn’t know they're acting"

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- We met up with François Damiens, whose directorial debut, Mon Ket, is released this Wednesday, 30 May in France and Belgium

François Damiens • Director
(© Cinevox)

Discovered a few years ago thanks to the colourful character of François l'Embrouille, the hero of a hidden camera TV series, François Damiens has since built his career as a top-billed actor in increasingly melancholic and complex films, as was the case lately in Just to Be Sure [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
. With Mon Ket [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: François Damiens
film profile
]
, he throws himself into the role of director by giving himself a new challenge: creating a feature film using hidden cameras. We met up with him on the eve of the release of the film in France and Belgium.

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Cineuropa: Where did the idea for this project come from?
François Damiens: I've wanted to combine reality and fiction for a long time. I've been using hidden cameras for 20 years, and I love it. When I was asked to get involved in film about ten years ago, I immediately thought that it would be interesting to combine the two! It was also a bit of a fantasy, especially since no one can act better than someone who doesn’t know they're acting. Logistically, it's complicated, but you forget about that pretty quickly, because this method means that you can tell a story using real people! I am the only common thread. I am the switch, and they are the light. I'm the wingman.

How did you write the screenplay for a film using only hidden cameras?
The screenplay was about thirty pages long, it was a succession of situations with a common thread. We started from the character, and we imagined life on the run. After that, there are plenty of little gaps to fill during filming. It's the encounters that do or don't happen that help write the rest.

Was the device very different from the one used in television?
Yes, we used 7 cameras, sometimes even 11, and a lot of microphones. But to fully make best use of the person with whom I was acting, they needed to be free to move about, and not be limited by the device, so that they could be natural in the role.

How many shots did you take, and therefore how many "actors" did you have to cut in the editing phase?
We did a dozen shots on average. We shot chronologically for over a year, to keep some consistency. And we observed things as time went on, to know which "actors" to keep, so that the rest could be filmed accordingly...

You were also faced with the challenge of finding the limit between a character with no filter and a real feeling of benevolence towards the "actors" in spite of themselves...
Things must always be done with respect. I wanted to show people's reactions, and for that we needed to push them a bit, but you must never be mean, condescending, or mocking. When we show the film, especially in France, the audience is dazzled by our humanity in Belgium. In Paris, it's more complicated. People can't give you as much of their time. Here, a few people gave me half an hour of their time. Even when the “actors” have something to say to my character, they always manage to say it frankly but delicately.

The father-son relationship at the heart of the film also gives it a certain tenderness.
Fatherhood was a good way to show the character’s sensitivity, to feminise it in a way and make it more touching. It's so sad to see a father who is trying to raise his son in the best way possible, and who misses out on the opportunity. He still gives him the essential, love and time. But in terms of values, let's say he’s a bit off the mark.

How did you direct the few "real" actors around you?
While we were filming. I directed them while I acted. To a certain extent, they were booby-trapped too, because no one knows when you are going to enter with a hidden camera. I'm used to it, but it was not easy for the young actor Matteo Salamone, for example, who showed great maturity. If he laughed, if he had a half smile on his face, we couldn’t redo the shot. So, I directed him in real time: “Stop smiling." “Don’t talk at the same time as the adults." "Speak louder, we can't understand you," and it just unfolded naturally...

Have you always had the desire to direct?
It’s not a desire I had before the project. In fact, I actually intended on writing the film, and then acting in it. I never thought I would end up directing it. That decision came rather late on, when I realised that I had been working with hidden cameras for a very long time, and that a director who had never used them was going to take control of the project, and so I’d have to explain to him or her how to do it...

(Translated from French)

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