The directing brothers sit down to chat Delicacy, romance and sibling rivalry.
If Audrey Tautou is the Meg Ryan of French romantic comedy, then David and Stéphane Foenkinos are the Nora and Delia Ephron – except, y’know, French and therefore much cooler. Their new film, Delicacy, adapted from a bestselling novel by David Foenkinos, stars Tautou as a glamorous widow who finds love again with a spectacularly unlikely partner. The bickering brothers sat down with LWLies recently to teach us a thing or two about romance.
LWLies: Where did the idea for the story come from?
David Foenkinos: It’s very difficult to answer, because it’s not a personal story. I don’t write about my life, it’s not autobiographical. I like the idea of there being a good moment, the right moment when you meet somebody. This is, I think, the most important thing. It’s not only about the character of the person you meet, it’s about the right time. This woman, I was thinking about her, she was closed to her feelings and at the right time this kind of strange, Swedish guy arrives in her life and three or four years before, she would have never seen him
When you’re adapting a book for the screen you must necessarily leave things out. Which omissions from your novel do you miss the most?
DF: Obviously there are some losses from the book, but I am a very positive and optimistic person so I see what is new. What is amazing to me about making a movie is you meet in real life the characters and you hear the music. I try to be the closest possible, to be very faithful to the art of the book, but it’s different and if somebody feels there is something missing from the movie, they should read the book.
Stéphane Foenkinos: That’s a good, right? That’s how you promote both things at once. He is very clever.
We'll put it the other way round then. What’s the most pleasing detail that’s new to the film?
DF: Oh, many things. For instance, in the book there is all the childhood of Markus the Swedish character over twenty pages. [In the film] we decided to make a short scene with his Swedish parents instead. We found real Swedish parents, not professional, and they talk in Swedish, nobody understands them.
SF: We don’t want them to, so there are no subtitles. It really worked. Now they have become a cult in France. Maybe they will have their own film. In a way, you understand what they are saying, even if you don’t understand.
You obviously get on well now. How did you get on when you were growing up? Who beat who up?
SF: David is going to say I’m so much older than him that we didn’t grow up together.
DF: Yes, it’s that exactly. I met my brother, like, 10 years ago [laughs]. He’s so much older. No, we don’t belong to a cultural, artistic family and there were no books in our house.
SF: [To David] Stop saying this, because they will get upset.
DF: So my older brother was a good influence on me.
SF: We’re six years apart, so between the ages of 12 and 18, you don’t look at your little brother, but later in life I think we started to have common interests and, yes, I think we got along enough. He started writing books, I was an English teacher and became a casting director and one day Jacques Doillon, who's a French director asked us to write a screenplay, so it didn’t come from us, someone else asked us to work together. I think we would have done it eventually, but it just accelerated it.
Did you have any embarrassing sibling rows on set?
DF: We have prepared a lot the movie, so we’d discussed everything and agreed before we arrived on set
SF: Exactly, and it’s always the one who has the best ideas [pointing to himself] who prevails.
What qualities you were looking for when you cast the part of Markus, the Swedish love interest?
SF: It was probably the biggest challenge in terms of casting. We were so happy that Audrey came on board and then we said, 'But who is going to be Markus? He’s Swedish, for god’s sake!' So we tried to do a casting in Sweden and it didn’t work out. It was impossible to find a French-speaking Swede. Francois Damiens' face would come back to us regularly, and then we realised Audrey was very interested in working with him as well – he’s very famous in France as a comedian – but at the same time he had never done this kind of part, a romantic comedy lead
Were you hoping that casting an actor who doesn’t look like a conventional leading man would make the film more appealing to men?
SF: We didn’t think about that, but it’s interesting that people would notice that and it’s true that a lot of men reacted to that and were very happy to be touched by the story and to cry. We didn’t intend to, but yeah, it’s a romantic comedy for men. It’s interesting also that when we offered the part to Francois he basically thought it was a prank, 'You really expect me to seduce Audrey Tautou?!'
What about this magical thing, 'chemistry', that’s very important in romantic films. Did you worry about that?
SF: No, but it’s very important. We were happy to see that the two actors got along very well in real life. I think for the magic of these kinds of situations it’s really important. They really appreciated each other. He was impressed, of course, because it’s Audrey Tautou, but she was is normal and laid back and nothing like a diva or anything, although she could be with her status. She was impressed by him because he makes her laugh and without trying too hard. He always does little jokes and pranks on the set, but he’s very subtle.
This film is very chaste by the standards of modern romantic comedy...
SF: Exactly. You don’t see a tit!
DF: [Pointing to the certificate on the film’s poster] That’s why we don’t understand why you have to be 12 years old to see the film! You’re right, it is, but this is what the subject is about. It’s about sweetness and delicacy.
There’s a line in the film where he criticises her for being American. He says, 'You sound like an American. That’s bad.'
DF: Yeah there were laughing a lot when we screened it in New York. It’s the way she turns a romantic situation into something legal. It’s not passionate or a passionate way to think about things – almost like Bill Clinton talking about Monica Lewinsky: 'What I did was not appropriate'. Of course it wasn’t but it is his private life... This is the difference between romantic comedy in France and in America. In France everybody says 'Wow she’s great! She kissed a guy!' And in America everyone says, 'Oh, you cannot do this in the office.' It’s a big difference.
What’s your favourite scene in the film?
DF: I think it is when they go to the office and he gives her the present and they listen to music from when he was young.
Why? Is that what you do to seduce women?
SF: He wouldn’t play that kind of music, anyway.
When Nathalie [Audrey Tautou’s character] kisses Markus it seems to come from nowhere – for Nathalie, Markus and the audience...
DF: At the beginning of the film her life is like a fairy tale. Then after she looses her husband, it’s tragic, but a little bit common. We’ve seen this many times, so we can imagine that we have already seen this kind of movie, then suddenly there’s this guy, they kiss and we stop following Natalie and switch to his story. It becomes strange and it stays strange until the end.