MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON Interview with  Stéphane Brizé

Q: How did you discover the novel by Eric Holder upon which MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON is based?

A: I read Eric Holder’s book in 1999 and it really touched me. In particular it was the story between these two simple, pure and honest human beings but especially the silences which the author gave to his narration. It was as if Eric Holder had told me : this is what you should be able to shoot : the power of silence.

Q: Did you see its cinematic potential upon your first reading or did the idea need to gestate within you?

A: To be honest, when I discovered that book I knew at the time that as a man and as a director, I wasn’t mature enough to tackle this adaptation. Since then I had time to make several movies, see many others and to ask myself some questions. As for the man, life did its job…


Q: Jean-Claude Carriere said that when he adapts a novel into a film he simply ‘starts again’ from a clean slate – as opposed to ‘adapting’ each page of the book into a screenplay – what method did you apply?

A: I do agree with him. My job is not to please the author, his story becomes mine. For a good reason at first : We don't have the same technique to build a story. With Florence Vignon, the co-writer I worked with, we changed a lot of things compared to the novel. You can't imagine how the film is different from the novel. The novel is developed from Mademoiselle Chambon’s point of view. I immediately thought the story would be more powerful if we wrote it from Jean’s point of view, if he were the one to decide to leave or to stay. Since he has much more to lose than she does, the stakes are higher for him. I had a model of dramatic tension : the ending of Clint Eastwood’s movie, 'The Bridges of Madison County', the moment when Meryl Streep, with her hand on the car’s handle, has to decide whether to leave with Clint Eastwood or to stay with her husband. I wanted my movie to make people cry at least as much as 'The Bridges of Madison County'.

Q: Casting is so vital in a film like this – how did you come to choose Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain – did their real-life prior relationship have much to do with it?

A: I chose Vincent Lindon first. Then we spoke extensively about the actress who could play the part of Mademoiselle Chambon. We were subconsciously avoiding the name of Sandrine Kiberlain who was obviously perfect for the part, but who happens to be Vincent’s ex-wife. One morning, I called Vincent and dared to mention her. He immediately agreed that she was the best choice, but that it was impossible for him. Too complicated to handle emotionally. I understood and did not insist. The very same night, Vincent called me back and told me that he still thought it would be difficult, but that he could not bear the idea of depriving Sandrine of such a beautiful part. Then I called Sandrine Kiberlain, she read the script and accepted to play the part.

Q: Does your understanding of the characters evolve once the actors begin to speak the dialogue in rehearsal – ‘bringing them to life’ as it were?

A: Not really as I spend many months on the script and because I know exactly why the story happens. Because I know how many brothers, how many sisters they have (even if we never speak about it during the film), because I know many invisible things about their lives… But there's one thing I don't exactly know… the music of the actors. Of course, I choose them, I meet them during the auditions, but before shooting the film, I don't know many things about who they deeply are. So, I'm listening to their music and I can change dialogue for example. In fact, I don't mind about my dialogue and the actors know they can change what they want. I just ask them not to add new information.

Q: What was your main objective in rehearsals?

A: I never rehearse, instead I give the dialogue almost one hour before shooting and I don't give the actors much direction on set or during pre-production. I try to make the right choice and then things are fairly simple. For example, I wanted Mademoiselle Chambon to have an ethereal aspect compared to the more down-to-earth husband. That guided my choice. I never discussed that afterwards with the actors--I let them be themselves. I always need to work with actors who have aspects of the character within themselves. Even if it isn't very obvious. I detest artifice, so I make do with what already exists. I invent nothing. I'm just looking for the truth inside the actors.

Q: When shooting, is there still the the opportunity for discovery or do you like to have everything mapped out?

A: The door is always open for new things on the set. I know where I want to go, most of the time I know the way but sometimes, I discover with the actors on the set that there is a better way. And I take it. It means that sometimes I stop the shooting and I completely rewrite a scene.

Q: Do you shoot a lot of takes, hoping for a surprise to happen or are you more aware of not exhausting an actor’s natural spontaneity by limiting their number of takes?

A: Most of the time, I don't shoot a lot of takes. When it happens, it often means that there's a problem in the scene.

Q: What informs your choice of cinematographer – Barbet Schroeder once said the DP is the most important creative person on set for the Director?

A: Yes, it's true. If the DP doesn't understand what you want, how you see a scene, you can't find your film. Because this person must reveal your vision. It's an incredible wedding and you have to find a good partner.

Q: The music is a key part of the film – how long did Sandrine Kiberlain spend learning the violin and what made you choose the little know Valse Triste by Franz von Vescey?

A: Sandrine worked everyday for 5 months before the shooting. We had to believe that she could play the violin. And there is no secret… you have to work at it. A lot. And the violin is certainly the most difficult instrument to fake. For the music, I listened to many, many pieces of violin music. And when I listened to Valse Triste, the piece of music that Mademoiselle Chambon plays in the garden, I heard these words : 'I'm sad my love but I do not regret what happened. Life goes on without you. But life goes on'… It's exactly what Mademoiselle Chambon is thinking at that moment.

Q: When you embark on new projects are you looking to push yourself artistically as a journey of self-discovery or are you refining your existing concerns as an artist?

A: It's a mix of that, I think. I start with something which is important for me and during the writing and the shooting, I discover many things about myself. Making a film obliges me to watch things very frontally with no lie.

Q: You mentioned in a previous interview your love of the work of Maurice Pialat – does his work continue to inspire you and which directors of the present day do you particularly impressive?

A: Oh yes, Maurice Pialat is still very important for me. But Ken Loach is very important for me too. Because these men are always looking for the truth with the actors. And it touches me very deeply. Lars Von Trier is a master too. And of course Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. And many others...




MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON is available on DVD and VOD through AX1 Films.