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CANNES 2019 Un Certain Regard

Christophe Honoré • Director of On A Magical Night

"She finds herself in a room overrun with men who want to speak on her behalf"

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- CANNES 2019: French filmmaker Christophe Honoré chatted with us about his funny and sophisticated movie On A Magical Night, screened within the Un Certain Regard line-up at Cannes

Christophe Honoré • Director of On A Magical Night
(© Jean-Louis Fernandez)

With On A Magical Night [+see also:
film review
interview: Christophe Honoré
film profile
]
, Christophe Honoré puts his name to a conceptual tale that’s reflexive, inventive, fast-paced and funny, focusing on a couple in crisis after 25 years of marriage. His film was presented within the Un Certain Regard section of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.

Cineuropa: Why the subject of a marriage in crisis?
Christophe Honoré:
Because I’m 45 years old and I’m getting to an age where you start to think about how you keep love alive long-term. And it’s a subject running through a lot of films, especially within the type of modern cinema that I really like: the couples you see in works by Rosselllini, by Bergman, by Woody Allen… Bizarrely, I haven’t made many films about couples; I often make films about encounters but rarely about couples who are already living together. So, it was something I wanted to do.

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What made you decide to explore the subject through this style, which verges on absurd comedy?
It came about because I wrote the film for Chiara Mastroianni and I imagined her as a Cary Grant-type character. I found that that particular form of acting, which is very precise and highly amusing, suited her well; where we never forget that the actor is acting, but which doesn’t make it any less sincere. And, as a film-lover, I’ve been hugely influenced by American comedies on the subject of remarriage, like those by Leo McCarey and George Cukor, and I tried to create a crossover between these films and those with more of a French feel about them, like Sacha Guitry’s comedies, but also those of Alain Resnais, who was a great admirer of what we call French boulevard theatre. It was also probably linked to the fact that at the time that I was writing the screenplay, I was also rehearsing for a play called Les idoles (The Idols) which I created last year, and I thought it might be interesting to try to apply a few ideas from the theatre to film as it is today.

Your lead female character exhibits clichéd characteristics usually more closely associated with men; namely a confident sense of her own sexuality, expressed illicitly. Is she really an independent woman?
I don’t think that this female character is as independent as all that. You’ll note that when she tells her husband – the younger version - that she needs to be alone, she finds herself in a room overrun with men who want to speak on her behalf. The film takes this male domination over the female character into account - the fact that the men all want to talk on her behalf. And, as the film is all just a figment of the female character’s imagination, they represent some sort of internalised, paternalistic, male voice which has trapped her into a particular way of thinking. This is - I hope - what makes the film more unnerving than its story first implies. For this lead character, the story is precisely about ridding herself of these intrusive voices. The night works to her advantage because she rids herself of her mother’s voice, which would have her believe she’s a loose woman because she’s had a lot of lovers, and she rids herself of her husband’s voice which tells her she wasn’t actually the right partner for him. It’s a lesson in emancipation.

How did you strike the right balance between the particular form of the story and its very realist elements?
It was complicated. I’d never filmed in a studio and I was apprehensive about it. It was very strange finding myself staring at a studio décor, having to ask myself what I wanted the apartment to look like. You have to invent everything, so inevitably, the mise en scène is also largely worked out at that point too. The fact of deciding that it’s a lengthwise apartment, that it open onto the bedroom, that this bedroom was the back room, etc… All of this then leads to specific ideas on the editing. The film was shot in six weeks, five of which were in the studio. I was lucky enough to have my director of photography Rémy Chevrin, who bizarrely managed to light up the street as if we were in a studio and the studio as if we were in a natural setting. And ultimately, the studio scenes and the on-location scenes ended up matching. There was no green backdrop, for instance; I was adamant that there wouldn’t be any digital involved or any special effects. It’s an old-fashioned, handcrafted film.

(Translated from French)

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