Liza Benguigui • Producer of Invisibles
"A certain closeness, full of laughter, tears and emotion"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Producer Liza Benguigui talks to us about the surprising popularity of Invisibles in France and the film’s international sales, on the eve of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York
Despite his first feature, Discount [+see also:
film profile], attracting its fair share of attention, no one could have predicted the enthusiasm for Invisibles [+see also:
interview: Liza Benguigui
film profile] by Louis-Julien Petit (with 1.27 million admissions in French cinemas in nearly seven weeks) and the sheer number of worldwide sales it secured at Berlin (Spain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Portugal, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Quebec, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East and Taiwan, which were added to Benelux and Switzerland). We spoke to the film’s producer, Liza Benguigui, who runs the Parisian company Elemiah, on the eve of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York (organised by UniFrance from 28 February to 10 March), where the film is due to be screened.
Cineuropa: How did the Invisibles adventure start?
Liza Benguigui: It started with the book Sur la route des invisibles by Claire Lajaunie, who had made a documentary about homeless women in Paris and then documented the experience in writing. Given that we all knew each other, she gave me and Louis-Julien Petit a copy of her book before it was published. Louis-Julien told me that there was something incredible about these women and that we had to adapt it into a film. I came to the same conclusion, because the stories contained so much humour, and a certain spirit, in spite of everything. So Louis-Julien started writing. The first version of the screenplay was a social chronicle, that stayed very close to reality – just like the film – but was very dark and abrupt. Louis-Julien delved further and further into his research and we fell into the idea of creating a fake documentary about daily life at a reception centre, but without the spirited and vibrant characters seen in Discount. However, Louis-Julien was still able to bring the characters to life and slot them into a human-focused adventure that was full of hope, despite the film’s subject matter. He then started a second draft, which formed the basis for the screenplay. It is the desire for reintegration portrayed in the film that gives it its comedic value. The daily lives of these homeless women also gave the film its starting point, but what interested us the most was what happens afterwards. How do you try to get out of those circumstances?
How did you finance the film?
Thanks to the TV channels France 3 and Canal+, which had already worked with us on Discount. They immediately understood where Louis-Julien wanted to go. On the other hand, more than one distributor totally misunderstood what we were getting at. We were told that the film contained too many characters, that its tone was elusive, that we did not know if it was a documentary or a fiction film, etc. I hadn’t even thought of pitching it to Apollo Films, which had just started working on family comedies, because Invisibles didn’t really seem to be a film for the general public. But due to a highly improbable set of circumstances, I sent the project to François Clerc, not really expecting much back. However, within two days, he was at my office with his associates, all of whom were very motivated and had perfectly understood the screenplay and the spirit of the film.
1.26 million viewers in France in just six weeks is a huge surprise, far beyond even the most optimistic forecasts. Apart from the film’s intrinsic qualities, how do you explain its success?
I think it’s down to a slightly puzzling alignment of the stars, but I also believe that we are in a society that is suffering and that wants to watch films that reflect our current state of being, and that we feel close to: a certain closeness, full of laughter, tears and emotion. And the key to this film is its women, the actresses obviously, but also these homeless women, who are models of resilience, survival, humour and hope and who demonstrate that anything can happen in life. I think that going back to the human being and attempting to improve ourselves by focusing on what’s important also had an impact on the film’s success.
Is Invisibles emblematic of Elemiah's editorial line?
Yes, because it is neither a comedy nor a drama, but a film in which social backgrounds are portrayed with a certain realism, while still remaining humorous. Beyond Elemiah’s role, the film’s success is good news for French cinema in general because it shows that it is possible to succeed with certain themes, and with reasonable budgets. I think it might result in the production of projects that might have initially scared financiers away. On paper, a film about homeless women wasn’t exactly simple, and it was potentially a bit scary. But in the end, it wasn’t that scary after all, and that's what’s great about it.
(Translated from French)
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