Bertrand Tavernier • Director
by Fabien Lemercier
16/05/2010 - Flanked by his young actors (Mélanie Thierry, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Gaspard Ulliel and Raphaël Personnaz), screenwriter Jean Cosmos, DoP Bruno de Keyzer, composer Philippe Sarde and producer Eric Heumann, Bertrand Tavernier talked at a press conference about the genesis of The Princess of Montpensier [trailer], shown in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.
When did your love for this love story The Princess of Montpensier begin?
Bertrand Tavernier: The project was offered to me by producer Eric Heumann, who gave me an initial treatment. I then read the short story by Madame de La Fayette and I saw in it the opportunity to make a romantic film which really touched me. I then went to meet Jean Cosmos so we could launch into this adventure, write and explore that era (which we knew nothing about) and its characters.
Was the love story the only aspect that interested you?
I was attracted by the complexity of the characters involved, in particular the Count of Chabannes, played by Lambert Wilson, and also the opportunity for discovering that era and its characters. All my films have been made with the aim of discovering something. But the love story was the core of the film.
Could the film be described as a feminist reinterpretation of history?
I was very moved by the fate of that woman, I wanted to defend her and understand her. The film had to adopt her point of view without imposing it. In that sense, it is undoubtedly rather feminist. As we were writing the screenplay, to our horror we discovered how brutally women were treated during that era and we wanted to show this.
The film’s subject matter is very contemporary
I didn’t have to change anything, just seek out the truth of the era. We can see straightaway that most of the emotions in the film are not outdated but are very contemporary. Just like the religious wars and the way women are still treated in certain countries in the world. As William Faulkner said: "the past is not dead, it’s not even past". There is still as much intolerance in present-day France as there was in the 16th century, it just takes a different form.
Was it particularly difficult to adapt a short story that is very concise and elliptical, compared to adapting a novel, as you have previously done?
It’s different, especially as this short story has practically no dialogues. But what’s important when writing a screenplay is finding the inner truth of the story and a dynamic. I tried to keep and respect the feelings and events, whilst at the same time showing the world that surrounded these events. But for example when Marie rebels against her marriage, in the book it was written: "ses parents la tourmentent" (“her parents torment her”). In our present-day language, it would imply torture and I had to show this violence. We had to seek the roots of the characters’ emotions and, with that sole aim, we made up some events.
The elegant direction is accompanied by suspense, so that it is almost thriller-like. How did you combine these two aspects?
I hoped to achieve suspense at the point where the feelings are juxtaposed, and capture on screen the energy, the seething of the characters, who are as if electrocuted. And we had to do the lighting like in a film noir, not imitate paintings or pictorial reconstruction, but find an atmosphere. The emotional tension recalls that of film noir. The film could be described as a romantic thriller set in the 16th century.