At Cafe Cluny in the West Village Fabien Constant, director of the meticulously dashing portrait of Carine Roitfeld in Mademoiselle C, is back in New York this time for the Tribeca Film Festival world première of his début feature film Blue Night starring another style icon Sarah Jessica Parker. Shot beautifully by Javier Aguirresarobe (Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, John Hillcoat's The Road, Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her) and with a supporting cast including Simon Baker, Jacqueline Bisset, Common, Renée Zellweger, Taylor Kinney, Gus Birney, and Waleed Zuaiter, Blue Night attaches us for 24 hours to the life of a woman who has just learned the news that she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
On Sarah Jessica Parker as Vivienne in Blue Night: "For me it's about a lady facing a tsunami in her brain."
Over brunch, I asked Fabien if a clip with Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi seen in Blue Night is from Alain Renais' L'Amour à mort or La Vie est un roman. He shares a childhood memory of Lio's Si belle et inutile, a song that Sarah Jessica Parker listens to, and praises the star and her team of women who are behind the making of the movie.
Vivienne (Sarah Jessica Parker), a successful singer in the middle of planning a tour, is thunderstruck, understandably so. If you don't tell anyone, maybe it doesn't exist, is as logical a reaction as any under such devastating circumstances. Her heightened awareness of the city with all its noisy, rude carelessness as well as its calm friendly beauty attack our senses through her. Who will be a confidant? How does she really feel about her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) visiting from France?
What is her relationship with her ex-husband (Simon Baker), her teenage daughter Lucie (Gus Birney), an old friend she hadn't seen in years and runs into on the street (Renée Zellweger), her manager (Common), a fling who drums (Taylor Kinney), and a Lyft driver (Waleed Zuaiter) who first drives her mad with his music only to make up for it with Django Reinhardt later on?
The next morning, Vivienne will have to show up at the hospital for the operation. Someone will have to accompany her and sign her in. This is an intimate film about success, loneliness, complacency, filling the voids and the many things so casually adjourned and what happens when the inevitable point arrives and the façade cracks.
Fabien Constant on Blue Night during brunch at Cafe Cluny: "It's true, it's a real New York movie. It's the portrait of a lady and a city." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Anne-Katrin Titze: Blue Night is a New York film and at the same time it's super European.
Fabien Constant: Thank you! Because that's exactly what I'm trying to achieve. It's true, it's a real New York movie. It's the portrait of a lady and a city. And at the same time there's a huge European feeling, coming from me, I guess. Because I can't help myself, I'm very French. The background we put in this project stems from European cinema.
AKT: You developed it together with Sarah Jessica Parker?
FC: Yes, Sarah Jessica is also the producer of this movie. And it's just ladies together, I was the only man on-board forever. The production company of Sarah Jessica is only women.
So her and her partner Alison Benson worked with three other ladies. And we had another lady, our writer [Laura Eason], put all of this together to make a script out of this. I loved being the only guy on board.
AKT: You worked well together as a team?
FC: You have no other choice when you have sixteen days of shooting. You better get along with your team or you won't make it.
AKT: The clip of the film Simon Baker is watching shows Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi. So it has to be Alain Resnais. Is it L'Amour à Mort or La Vie Est Un Roman?
Spider on the ceiling of Cafe Cluny - Fabien Constant: "The background we put in this project stems from European cinema." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
FC: L'Amour à Mort! You're good, you're really good.
AKT: Which is, of course, about death.
FC: It's about death and what happens in this scene that I love so much, is Sabine Azéma yelling at Pierre Arditi because he just died. And she yelled at him, if you remember the movie, so long and so much. "You can't be dead!" with all her emotions.
And then he wakes up. From the dead. Because she loves him so much that he can't be dead. I love what it meant. I love this movie. I hope people don't think it's super pretentious to use Alain Resnais' footage. It's so the opposite. It's the admiration I have for this director. He was the best editor in the world.
AKT: It fits thematically so well into your film because the whole time we are hoping that something like this will happen here too. When your film ends, we can say, well, maybe.
FC: You got it all. There's also very personal things in the movie. The French song in the kitchen when she [Sarah Jessica Parker] fights with her mother [Jacqueline Bisset] was my first record when I was three years old.
AKT: That is Lio?
FC: Yeah, it's really personal. French pop from the Eighties. I don't like to call it that but the mixing of high culture and low culture is exactly what I like to do.
Sarah Jessica Parker's brave performance in Fabien Constant's Blue Night is an essay on mortality
AKT: Si Belle Et Inutile is the title of the song? I noticed it in the end credits. Beautiful and useless?
FC: Yes, Beautiful And Useless, which is a good title. She [Lio] was 16 when she was singing this song. Maybe it's about the fact that people judge her as beautiful and useless that makes the people judging more useless than her.
Which is what the song is about, which is really deep for a 16-year-old's sweet song. It's very French, I guess, a melancholic philosophical approach with everything. I've always loved Lio and I've always loved this song.
AKT: The film takes place within 24 hours more or less, so she is going through the different stages of her life. At the start we hear about the horrible news and she has to come to terms with mortality. In a way Sarah Jessica's performance is an essay on mortality. I thought she was really good.
FC: Thank you! It's a really muted performance. She is in every shot but she doesn't speak in every shot. The main point for her and for me was, how do we show someone mentally processing this kind of news? For me it has never been a movie about a cancer. For me it's about a lady facing a tsunami in her brain. And how do you stand on your two feet when your brain is upside down?