Emmanuel Mouret • Director
"Virtue becomes entangled with vice"
by Fabien Lemercier
- TORONTO 2018: Emmanuel Mouret discusses the origins of his first costume drama, the very successful Mademoiselle de Joncquières, unveiled in competition at Toronto
Screened in world premiere in the 43rd Platform competition at Toronto Film Festival, Mademoiselle de Joncquières [+see also:
interview: Emmanuel Mouret
film profile] by Emmanuel Mouret dramatises the sophisticated revenge of a woman in the 18th century.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose to adapt an episode of Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist and his Master?
Emmanuel Mouret: I came across the text a long time ago and I've liked it ever since. It’s both tender and devilish. The portraits of the characters are full of paradoxes – virtue becomes entangled with vice. It doesn't focus on ideas about love and morality, instead, it questions them almost to the point of paroxysm. I adapted the text very freely, developing parts that didn't exist in the text and also inventing a character. But I kept the structure. It's primarily a story of revenge. The first part serves to depict the motive for this revenge, which is why I felt it was so important – so that viewers could grasp the Marchioness’ intensity. I really wanted to start with the point at which the Marquis starts courting the Marquise. Bresson's adaptation, Ladies of the Park starts with the Marquise probing the Marquis. However, I wanted viewers to really feel the Marchioness’ resistance and the fact that she gave in, as well as the Marquis running after her, so that we could feel the depth and significance of this event during the rest of the film, and at the end, in particular. The beginning of the film is only described in one or two sentences in Diderot’s text.
The film deals with love with a lot of spirit.
That’s what’s pleasant about this era: the characters are not afraid to exchange witticisms. They are smart, they know how to choose their words, they have a taste for words, just like their love for self-examination. I like it a lot. These days, in screenplay manuals and at film school, you always hear: "have your characters say as much as possible with the least amount of words." It's absolutely ridiculous. It’s silly! Because it’s precisely with words that we contradict ourselves, and that our imaginations and projections are grow into something more complex. I grew up loving Italian and American comedies, Mankiewicz's films, where they speak a lot and where all of a sudden, silence can take on a certain significance.
The revenge portrayed in the film is very cruel, funny and at the same time dramatic. How did you avoid hurtful irony?
Diderot is never mean. The difference with Dangerous Liaisons, for example, is that Merteuil and Valmont are initially cruel, but then the story gets under the surface. In Mademoiselle de Jonquières, we start with very sensitive characters, who aren’t nearly as cold-hearted. Diderot's story is not cynical at all: they are just people caught up in love and desire. What I like about the story is that it asks questions: we can provide answers, but there will always be questions. The two main characters aren’t limited to a psychological dimension and we are able to flit from one to the other and understand them.
What did you do to avoid the major risk of creating a period film and having ‘pasteboard’ decor?
I didn’t want it to smell like dust or old men. Every era is new! I wanted to create a fairly bright film, so we went a little against the done thing with period films. For example, we opted for a lot of sequential shots and somewhat choreographed dialogue scene ballet-style shots, rather than going for the classic shot reverse shot (although there are inevitably some of those scenes at the table) in order not to solely focus on the psychology of the whole thing. Shot reverse shots tend to focus on a character’s eyes and expressiveness. I didn’t just want to see the characters from the front, I also wanted to see them from behind, in profile, moving, appearing, disappearing, so that we were more in search of what was going on inside them rather it not being touched upon at all. And we were also hoping to really make the most of the actors' performances.
People always say that period films are very expensive. How did you finance your very aesthetically successful film?
It was a small budget for a costume drama. We had to come up with ideas. Sometimes not having a lot of money can actually be a blessing in disguise, and also the chance to have a team that has time to devote itself to the film's preparation. But we had our fair share of constraints and I had to get rid of half the scenes from the original screenplay. At the same time, it resulted in a more elliptical, narrow film: so you do end up gaining something, too. Cinema is about constraints, inspiration and creation – all of which blossoms when you have limited means.
(Translated from French)
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