Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre • Directors of Little Nicholas - Happy As Can Be
"This is an ode to the joys of childhood, to the ability to play and to grow, to the wonders of storytelling and the ease of the child’s gaze"
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2022: The universe of the classic French children’s book gets a tender love letter with this film
The animation feature Little Nicholas – Happy As Can Be [+see also:
interview: Amandine Fredon and Benjami…
film profile], premiering in the Special Screenings section at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, is the story of Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny, who created the classic children’s character in the 1950s. Co-directors Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre shared a heartfelt talk about their recreation of a nostalgic era.
Cineuropa: The universe of Little Nicholas is very much of the 1950s and 60s. What were your thoughts on bringing it to a contemporary audience?
Amandine Fredon: There’s certainly a nostalgic look at this era with things that are long gone, like school classes with only boys or only girls. On the other hand, relations between kids and parents or grandparents remain the same. We tried to preserve things like that, while trying to delete some things that no longer respond to our times.
Still, in many ways, it’s a love letter to France and to the 20th century, with the lives of the creators Jean-Jacques Sempé and René Goscinny in the forefront, isn’t it?
Benjamin Massoubre: Very much, very consciously. We wanted to convey the atmosphere of a Paris of Saint-Germain, of de Beauvoir and Sartre, of the Olympia theatre, all in the collective consciousness of this world back then. Jacques Tati was a huge reference, when Nicholas goes to summer camp we even copied some sets from Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. Another tribute is to The 400 Blows, when Nicholas and his best friend Alceste skip school. If you look closely when they pass a cinema, we even put the poster there.
What kind of audience did you have in mind when it comes to age?
BM: It’s a family movie that you can watch from seven to at least 77. My grandfather read it to my father, my father read it to me, I read it to my kids. All audiences, in France or abroad, can find something, from the fun stuff for the kids and the deeper things we tried to tell with adults in mind, like the holocaust that affected Goscinny’s family or the abusive childhood of Sempé. In the film, we have Sempé and Goscinny telling their stories to Nicholas, so it’s essentially an adult talking to a kid in an accessible way. I think it works well.
Considering their own childhoods, Sempé and Goscinny created something very different for Nicholas – their own perfect childhood, perhaps?
BM: Exactly. The dream of a childhood they never had. It helped them to overcome their own traumas. For me and Amandine, this is an ode to the joys of childhood, to the ability to play and to grow, to the wonders of storytelling and the ease of the child’s gaze.
AF: And to emphasize the innocence of childhood in terms of the ability that each of us has to have in order to live with our inner child, to never forget it and always keep it inside of us.
How have the two of you divided the tasks on this project?
BM: We have walked back and forth, but I am originally an editor, also a screenwriter, so let’s say I’m more on the narrative side.
AF: I’ve been on the drawing and the art direction side and supervised the sets and characters. Then, when we started to film…
BM: …we did it together. Really easy.
What was the involvement of Jean-Jacques Sempé and of René Goscinny’s family?
AF: Sempé’s turning 90 soon, but he came and advised us of some characters who were too ugly or good-looking so that we got it right, great fun, very emotional. Goscinny’s daughter Anne let us into his study, and we saw the original artwork of the stories. This access was priceless, as was Anne, who of course knew them both since childhood.
When did you yourselves first encounter Little Nicholas?
AF: As a teen I got this book where he’s on holiday. I’ve had it by my bedside the whole time while working on the film.
BM: I think I was six, or even five. I come from a family of schoolteachers where each generation have gotten Nicholas in order to learn how to read. My grandfather recently passed away, but he knew I was making this film. He was very pleased.
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