David and Sttéphane Foenkinos discuss their debut feature DELICACY
This coming Friday 13 April marks the release of Delicacy, a bittersweet French comedy by the Foenkinos brothers David and Stéphane – and the pair were in London to discuss their debut feature with The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape.
Starring Audrey Tautou and Francois Damiens, Delicacy is based upon the eponymous novel by David Foenkinos, as the successful author dips his toes into directing for the very first time, alongside his older brother Stéphane, who drops his role as casting director to also step behind the lens and attempt directing.
The charming pair share a close bond, evident within their interview together, as they discuss adapting David’s work, working with Tautou, and directing for the first time, all in-between a host of bickering (otherwise known as brotherly love…) present throughout.
When you were writing the novel, did you ever think about it being a film?
David Foenkinos: Not at all. When I write a book I only think about the book. It was my brother who read it and told me, “this is the subject for us”. We made a short film five years ago, it was a love story about feet, where you can only see the feet of the characters.Stéphane Foenkinos: We wanted to more ambitious, and film the whole body.
David Foenkinos: Every time one of my books has had a publisher want to make it into a movie, I always say I don’t want to write the script, or to be involved in any way,. but this time it was different, I wanted to continue my story with this story and not to give my characters to anyone.
When you think about your story now in your own head, do you now picture the characters you created as being Audrey Tautou and Francois Damiens?
David Foenkinos: That’s a good question.
Stéphane Foenkinos: A very good question.
David Foenkinos: It’s a little bit complicated for me. Now you are right, that is the problem with the movie adaptation, because now when you read this book or think about this story, it will always be with them. But it could be worse.
Where did you first get the idea for the story in the first place?
David Foenkinos: It’s my eighth book and it’s a story, not about my life, so it’s difficult to know where the idea came from. But even if it is not autobiographical there is a lot of me in this book. I wanted to write a story about a strange love story and the idea that was most important is the timing that we meet the other half – and what is very important in Markus, the Swedish character, was that he arrived in exactly the right moment in the life of Nathalie, and I love this idea, the time when she is about to live again, when her body decides that she is ready to live again.
When you realised you were going to turn this into a film, what was it you most wanted to achieve with this particular story?
Stéphane Foenkinos: I think the tone in the book we wanted to keep, the spirit is most essential – that’s what I loved when I read the book. I like to laugh and cry in the same sentence, if we could only make this into a film. It’s a dramedy, it’s both. We wanted to keep the spirit.
Can you tell us about the casting process – and what elements in the actors you felt resonated with the characters?
Stéphane Foenkinos: When David wrote the book he didn’t think of the film, so he didn’t think of anybody. When I read the book and we started writing the screenplay, immediately Audrey Tautou came to mind, but the thing is, it was like a dream, it was crazy. Because she only makes one film a year, she hasnt done a film in two year because she was on stage and she hasn’t done a French feature film in ten years so it was a big challenge. I have known her for a while because I was a casting director and I cast her in a film, previous to her Amélie days, so we had this link. She liked the story and after that it was a long process and we went to see her on stage, she was doing A Doll’s House, and she was amazing. You see this little, petite woman, and she seemed like a giant on stage, she can play anything. So for this character to be able to be a young girl, then go through the mourning period and then be an executive woman, you don’t have that many actresses with that much experience and she can pass for 20 and she pass for 35. So we were ecstatic when she said yes. But then around her we had to build it, and of course one of the main questions we had to ask was who was going to play opposite her which was important. Markus is Swedish, but how many Swedish actors speak French – very rare. So finally we went to Belgium and found Francois Damiens, who was physically perfect for the character, he’s extremely famous in France as he is a comedian that does candid cameras and he plays these horrible and outrageous characters, you would never think that he has such sensitivity to him. But we sat with him and it was wonderful as I saw in my brothers eyes that he was witnessing the appearance of the third dimension of his character that he created on paper.
David Foenkinos: For many months we lived with Markus, as in real life, Francois is exactly like the character.
Stéphane Foenkinos: Except he dressed better.
Stéphane, you are often a casting director, so what was it about Delicacy that made you think; I’m going to give directing a go this time?
Stéphane Foenkinos: It was the opportunity to work with my brother. I mean, I didn’t wake up and one day say, “I want to direct”. I love casting and I love writing a lot for other people, but I know that my brother is a novelist…
David Foenkinos: You just wanted to travel. As a casting director they don’t get to travel the world like a movie director does. He just wanted to come to London for free.
Stéphane Foenkinos: We did this short movie and we wanted to have an adventure and I am very grateful to David.
So do you both think you will always direct together, or perhaps go off and do your own thing?
David Foenkinos: Like The Beatles? Yes I think we are going to make another movie together. Because he needs me. I am brilliant, as you know.
Stéphane Foenkinos: And I’m jobless.
David Foenkinos: We are brothers, but we are completely complimentary and I think we didn’t want to make a movie by ourselves, alone.
Stéphane Foenkinos: We didn’t want to make a movie just to make a movie. It was not the intention, we wanted to find a subject and we are very happy this is our first feature. It is David’s book but he was very generous and it became our film.
Obviously making films is very stressful, but did it help as brothers that you could just argue and shout at each other and not have to worry about hurting each others feelings?
David Foenkinos: You’re right. Exactly, the perfect definition of brotherhood.
Stéphane Foenkinos: Exactly. No hard feelings.
David Foenkinos: I can be very strong with him…
Stéphane Foenkinos: And he knows I am always right.
Delicacy is a very distinct love story – would either of you like to branch out in the future into other genres, or more like this one?
Stéphane Foenkinos: Today we don’t know, we are toying with different ideas.
David Foenkinos: We want to make a movie in black and white, mute and with a dog. People want to see these kind of movies.
Stéphane Foenkinos: That would work.
Personally, is writing and being creative something you have both done from a very young age or is it something that happened later for you both?
Stéphane Foenkinos: It’s very strange how it works. We have always said that our family doesn’t come from this background at all, and, I’m the oldest, sorry if you can’t tell…
David Foenkinos: We can see it.
Stéphane Foenkinos: No, it’s why I have to say it. But I loved movies very early and I used to take David to the movies. But then he expressed himself in other ways, he did music, was a guitar teacher and he started writing and me, I was more toying with the idea of acting, but I didn’t know exactly what to do. but it was part of us and it was part of our lives before we even understood it.
David, was it difficult adapting your own work?
David Foenkinos: It depends on the book. I think it would have been very difficult for another book I had wrote.
Stéphane Foenkinos: Written.
David Foenkinos: Written. For this book it was very easy, I cannot understand why. For my other books it would have been very difficult and I would have written a very bad screenplay for sure. But there are many things we had to cut out that didn’t make the movie. For example, in the book we looked into the childhood of Markus in Sweden and in the movie we see only a thirty second scene with his parents which we don’t understand because they are talking to him in Swedish. Also, in the movie there is a new character – Sophie, the best friend of Nathalie. She is not in the book. And there many more in the movie, and music, etc. It’s like two parts of the same thing.
Stéphane Foenkinos: It’s also a question of choices. Even in the film the first cut was two and a half hours, it was impossible. The studio wanted to kill us, so it was very difficult because we had to take away 45 minutes.
Finally, you mentioned about making someone laugh and cry in the same instance, I mean I hold my hands up – I laughed and cried within the same 5 minutes…
Stéphane Foenkinos: That is the best compliment we have receive.
David Foenkinos: You are a sensitive guy.
Stéphane Foenkinos: We love to make men cry with this movie.
Is that a difficult thing to do? To strike a balance between emotion and wit?
Stéphane Foenkinos: Not with Francois. It is a joy, he brings this with him. Even with all his clumsiness and in France he is extremely famous and when he appears on screen people start laughing. But what is interesting is that the laugh is different as the film goes along – you don’t laugh the same way with him. You laugh at him, and then with him, and then you laugh because you’re happy for him, so it’s different degrees of laughing and degrees of sadness.
David Foenkinos: The difficult thing is not to combine drama with comedy, but just comedy. It’s easier to make a drama, but with a comedy, we were laughing on the set but we didn’t know if people would laugh too.
DELICACY IS OUT FRIDAY APRIL 13