In Jérôme Bonnell's engaging Just A Sigh, the lovely Emmanuelle Devos plays actress Alix, who catches the eye of a stranger on a train to Paris, played by Gabriel Byrne (as a combination of the mysterious and the tangible), and decides to follow up on the first alluring glances.
Escape from everyday life becomes a tempting promise, while the characters overcome sheepishness and shame. During the Tribeca Film Festival, I had a conversation with Devos and director Bonnell (who previously collaborated on Waiting for Someone (J'attends quelqu'un) in 2007), about not performing Ibsen, not casting an actor to look like Michael Haneke, the invisible stars of Jean Eustache and Quentin Tarantino, and not being aware that Alice and Snow White can inhabit the same Paris Wonderland.
Anne-Katrin Titze: Theatre is obviously very important. The opening sequence reminded me of The Place Beyond the Pines. Instead of Ryan Gosling as the stunt driver, we follow Emmanuelle Devos as an actress onto the stage.
Jérôme Bonnell: Yes, I saw it two weeks ago and thought, ah, this is the same.
AKT: Emmanuelle, you are doing an Ibsen play in the film but we never see you on stage. Did you think about the play that you were not performing? It is The Lady From the Sea.
Emmanuelle Devos: I read the play! It's the same sort of theme. It's about a woman who has to choose between two men and two lives, just like my character.
AKT: There are two important characters who are not in the film, the mother and the boyfriend. We only hear their voices on the phone with you. Did you imagine them and your relationship?
ED: I saw them! The actors were actually physically around. Both of them. Although they were not on screen, they were physically on set. It was really important to have the two of them there. The boyfriend [Denis Ménochet] was in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and the mother is a mythical French actress [Françoise Lebrun] who was in Jean Eustache's La Maman et la Putain (The Mother And The Whore). It was very helpful to have them there.
AKT: Speaking of helpful. In the movie there are several characters who are very helpful and at the same time very annoying. First, the stranger on the train gives directions nobody wants, and later on, the professor at the funeral is the fifth wheel.
JB: I wanted the film to be full of obstacles. So I imagined characters who would be precisely that - obstacles. So I sprinkled them all over the film and I thought it would be a funny counterpoint to what actually happens to them.
AKT: The annoying colleague at the funeral looks a bit like Michael Haneke. Did you cast him [Gilles Privat] for that resemblance on purpose?
JB: No. He is a great Swiss actor who works a lot in theatre in France. In real life he doesn't have a beard or glasses. And once we used the beard and glasses, we realised that he did look like Haneke and it made us laugh.
AKT: One of the most daring scenes is when your character shows up at the funeral she knows nothing about. It is the perfect imposter moment. A bit like Cinderella.
ED: Yes, there are some elements of fairy tales and there are many moments where my character finds that she must come up very quickly with a character for herself. A new way of being. At the same time she has that true deep desire to go and find this man. It is kind of a metaphor for the actor's job as such. We act but at the same time what makes us go ahead is a true feeling.
AKT: The scene with the sister comes as a surprise, an enchanted place out of the blue. In the middle of Paris, we suddenly enter into this magical garden with a woman we didn't know existed.
JB: The fairy tale character of that location escaped me, but I like this comment very much. I like that scene a lot and it does feel like Alice in Wonderland with plenty of tunnels and doors that open and it takes you to a world that is bigger than you are. There is this movement from childhood to adulthood. In the end, what needs to be discovered is actually true love which is an element in many fairy tales. Now that I think of it, the sister could be compared to the evil stepmother in Snow White or other fairy tales. Maybe to deal with her is part of the journey.
AKT: Were you surprised by the questions at your international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival? Was the reaction different from the one in Paris, where the movie just had its theatrical opening?
JB: Yes, most of the questions here were about the funny things in the film - much more than the love story.
AKT: Will you be making another film together?
JB: Of course, if Emmanuelle agrees. All good things come in threes!
Three times a charm.