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Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt • Writer, director

Dancing feet

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- Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt • Director Odette Toulemonde

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt • Writer, director

Playwright, multi-talented literary genius, the most sold French novelist internationally and the most widely read in France, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt defines himself as "a storyteller", for whom fiction is “a means to move people, to tell something about the world and reflect”. Now the director has turned up where we least expected him: on a film set. After several literary adaptations for television, but never productions for theatre, he has started filming on his debut feature, Odette Toulemonde [+see also:
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Cineuropa: How do you deal with images, being a literary man?
Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: I had to cut myself off from that world: I decided that I wouldn’t use the skills of a novelist or a playwright. I put aside my lines, for example. For me that was a trap that I risked falling into and one into which I would have fallen very easily when younger. I really tried to use the camera as a pen, as a narrative tool. If there is a metaphor in my writings, it is present before the camera. So, when Odette is happy, she flies over Brussels and Charleroi. I portray the metaphors. I did not become a director. I am, I think, an author who chooses cinema as a means of expression.

Is the film’s universe one of fairytale and magic?
I would prefer to say that it is an enchanted universe. There are constant sequences between the real and the imaginary. The character of Odette, played magnificently by Catherine Frot, has a wonderfully rich soul that helps her view the world without immorality or cynicism. She has kept her innocence. She also has a painting in her bedroom of shadow puppet lovers. While other characters see the shadow puppets as lovers, she sees them move, she makes signs at them, tells them things.

Is this writer character linked in any way to yourself?
Yes and no. I think that people who read my books, after seeing the film they recognise Odette in me (laughs). Everyone has two characters, I think: the dark, depressive side and then the ability to be filled with wonder, to be happy, to have dancing feet. Albert Dupontel plays a depressed young man, a well-known and wealthy Parisian writer, who has everything he needs to be happy but who isn’t because he is out of his depth in his life that is filled with many clichés of happiness that don’t suit him. He has lost sense of what’s important, why he wants to live. Meanwhile, Odette, who has nothing, succeeds in finding the secret to happiness. And she thinks she owes it to him because she loves this writer. She gives him lessons in happiness.

We see that you are extremely attentive to your actors on the set.
That’s the part I like, when we are exchanging things, when we put in place the human logic, that of feelings, the truth of a man, a woman, a situation. The slightest detail has hidden meanings. The editing, the aesthetic organisation of scenes – everything has been thought out in advance. Once we are on set, the actor himself is the reward.

You now live in Belgium. Don’t you think that your involvement in cinema is also linked to this?
Yes, very much so. I believe that Belgian cinema is young while French cinema is 100 years old. I feel that in the teams. This fantasy, this way of blending the real and the imaginary, this type of slight madness seems easier to do here in Belgian cinema, a type of enchanted realism. The reactions on reading the script were also different: the French saw it as a comedy, while Belgians saw the fantasy element. Indeed, the film is right between the two.

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