Vincent Perez as he appears in The Edge Of The Blade: 'It is like a choreography. I wanted to shoot it with wide shots to make it as realistic as possible' Photo: Gaumont
He co-wrote the script for duelling historical drama The Edge Of The Blade (Une affaire d’honneur) with his wife Karine Silla who have been together since he made his first short film L’Echange shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992.
The first time he clashed swords in a major way, he recalls at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, was on stage in a production of Hamlet directed by the late Patrice Chéreau, an influential figure with whom he went on to work on three films.
He explained: “I had always wanted to make a film on the subject but could never find the right way in. It all just fell into place once I found AdolpheTavernier’s 1885 book. The author who is played in the film by Guillaume Gallienne, was written for all the duellists of the time and it detailed all the protocols and rules of the game that had to be observed.
“I started working on it with my wife, and in a way seemed to write itself - it was certainly much easier than some of the other feature films I have made as a director. The film company Gaumont gave it the green light but we went into Covid lockdown and it was postponed. Now, though, the film is out there and getting attention in Festivals before its release in France just after Christmas.”
Perez, 59, says the horse-back action and all the duels were challenging because most of his cast including Zem, had had no experience of the craft. “It is like a choreography. I wanted to shoot it with wide shots to make it as realistic as possible. The cast involved in these sequences had to train to hone up the right techniques which was incredibly tough for them physically. And for me it was also challenging in the sense I was both directing and acting on a horse with a sword in my hand.
Vincent Perez in Karlovy Vary: 'Showing the film to an audience is a powerful experience for me' Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
"The shoot only lasted 39 days so logistically we had to be very precise. We pre-filmed all of the fights with small cameras then edited them before we began on the real shoot. That way we knew exactly what we wanted to do. Looking now at the completed film it is fascinating that the story seems to echo the world in which we are living,” he said.
He managed to put together a dream cast in that all his first choices for the various characters responded affirmatively almost immediately. “There are not many actors who have the charisma possessed by Roschdy and the part seated that weight. The background of the war in 1870 is very much linked to the impending start of the First World War. For the part of the feminist Marie-Rose Astie I had Doria Tillier in mind because she seemed very similar to the character of a woman who was ahead of her time. She is fighting for things that today would seem normal. She wanted equality, equal paying the ability to wear trousers which were forbidden at the time, a 200-year-old law that bizarrely was only officially repealed in 2013.”
When Perez was making such high profile films in the nineties as Chéreau’s Queen Margot and Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Régis Wargnier’s Indochine, and Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac as well as productions with Ettore Scola (The Voyage Of Captain Fracassa) and Antonioni (Beyond The Clouds) he was observing masters at work.
“They are part if my DNA but you cannot make a movie being influenced by other directors. You have to find your own voice,” he said. At the time his first short appeared in Cannes, Roman Polanski gave him call to say he would it to be screened before one of his feature films. “So I suppose he also gave me a little of push,” says Perez, smiling at the memory. The pair worked together on Based On A True Story with Emmanuelle Seigner and Eva Green in 2017.
He scored international attention when he replaced the late Brandon Lee in the sequel to The Crow, The Crow, City of Angels in 1996.
Vincent Perez and his wife Karine Silla, who co-scripted The Edge Of The Blade, in Karlovy Vary. Perez: 'I started working on it with my wife, and in a way seemed to write itself' Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
At an earlier point in his trajectory, having romanced on screen Emmanuelle Béart, Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Adjani, journalists were keen to describe him as “a nice piece of European crumpet” and the readers of Paris Match at one point selected him as “the World’s sexiest French speaker” (possibly because certain directors had a penchant for requesting full frontal nude scenes).
He would rather we moved swiftly on. He's a bit of a polygon, having been born in Lausanne, Switzerland, as the middle child of a German mother and a Spanish father.
He recalls being an imaginative youngster, spending the majority of his time drawing pictures and composing stories. Perez idolised Charlie Chaplin and soon became interested in writing and producing films. He began putting on shows at school, in which he would star in and direct.
The director of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival Karel Och clearly is a fan, introducing the film at its screening thus: “You will see a charming combination of a very sophisticated period drama with a strong message to the modern world. The old and the new beautifully intertwine.”
Perez equally was over the moon at finally revealing the film to an audience in the Grand Hall. “Showing the film to an audience is a powerful experience for me, and I have to admit my heart is pounding,” he said.