The Heartbreaker director talks to LWLies about the international languages of love, laughter and Dirty Dancing.
Heartbreaker is a witty love story with a twist. With the help of his sister and eccentric brother-in-law, Alex (Romain Duris) is the front man of a heart-breaking enterprise. Dark, handsome and with a romantic spiel that could get Maggie Thatcher in bed, Alex can make any woman fall at his feet. Until one job he's hired to do makes him fall victim to his own heart breaking techniques. With Duris and Vanessa Paradis on top form, Heartbreaker looks at love from an unconventional, rather French, angle. Here director Pascal Chameil talks to LWLies about the international languages of love, laughter and Dirty Dancing.
LWLies: Heartbreaker is your feature film debut. Is the romcom a genre you've always wanted to try?
Chaumeil: Well, it's one of the genres I really like. It's one I like to see at the movies. I love some of them: some very famous; some British; some Hollywood romantic comedies. I was not thinking this would be the first movie I would love to do, but when I got the proposal for this film I thought there was something that was special in the way the story was told and a very good concept with this guy who's hired to break couples. So I thought, okay, it's a rom-com, but we have a special angle on it.
Romain Duris's character, Alex, is almost the opposite to Will Smith's Hitch. His job as professional heartbreaker seems like quite a cynical look at love. Is that the way you saw it?
I know, it can be cynical. We do this kind of film where the first thing we think about is how to make it entertaining and funny for the audience. So what I think is good with this character is he is full of contradiction, and you realise maybe he is doing this job because he can't succeed in his own love story in real life. So, in a way it's cynical, but in a way it makes an interesting character who gets a real conflict inside him. And most of the time we show that it is very easy for him to make a woman fall in love with him. And of course it's not true, but we think how can we make it funny and show that he's always, in a way, using the same trick. Then there is this special girl, Juliette, who, at the start, doesn't fall into all his tricks.
The love story between Alex and Juliette knowingly parallels a lot with Dirty Dancing, but is actually quite a different kind of love story. What sort of influence did this film have on you and your film?
The idea for Dirty Dancing came later, it was not in the original script. The guy, Alex, has to know the girl, everything that she likes or dislikes. Some of these things were her favourite movies, her favourite music and, originally she liked horror films, which was something very different. I didn't like it that much, it was good, but I thought we should find something that tells us something about her. She looks like a very self-confident woman but she still has the taste of a teenager. We looked at several 1980s movies for teenagers and when we saw Dirty Dancing we thought that this was perfect. So the dancing scenes were not in Heartbreaker at the beginning. So we decided it was a good way to tell that, deep somewhere, she is still a teenager. Also he will use the dancing scene as part of his seduction.
It's also a good sort of international touch-stone, because everyone knows Dirty Dancing.
Yes. I think you realise that later. Because dancing is a very good way to have your two characters get in contact; in physical contact, you know, they really touch each other like a love scene, but it's not a love scene. It's good, I think, and also very funny.
You can also feel a really natural chemistry between the couples. Not just Alex and Juliette, but all the couples. Do you have any techniques, as a director, to set the mood?
Well, just, I mean the personality of the actors is something very important to me. I'm not trying to get the actor in a part, I'm more trying to fit the part in the actor. So I like them to keep their own personality real on the screen. I don't want them to play or over-play too much. I'm trying to get them to be as natural as possible. That's why I'm very careful about the choices of the actors. I had a feeling they would all fit together, these actors.
Maybe the French allure helps a little too?
Maybe. I think when you do this kind of film where everything is written at the start it could become really mechanical if we kept the programme of the script. So what I'm trying to achieve is something a bit more natural, more simple, a bit of life and disorder in this well-organised script. That's what I was looking for with Romain, and also with the other two; with Julie Ferrier and Francois Damiens. Something real is happening on the screen, that's what I'm trying to achieve.
Are there any French directors who have influenced you?
For the film...there are some films in the early '70s with Jean-Paul Belmondo and the director Philippe de Broca and the other one was Jean-Paul Rappeneau. All film can be related to this sort of movie that usually we don't really do it any more in France. This kind of mix of romance and comedy and adventure and a lot of different things in the same movie. So those would be the influence, yes.
You're looking at both romance and comedy rather than just doing one or the other. Do you find that, where the language of love is quite sort of international, do you find that comedy translates well overseas?
Yes, I think so. I think so. I mean my influences, in terms of comedy, are probably coming more from your side of the channel, or the other side of the Atlantic. I've seen my movie in a lot of different countries now and I could see that the laughs in the theatre were coming almost at the same stage all the time. So it seems that you can find a way of doing comedy that will be... efficient everywhere, I think.
The film is set in Monaco and is full of expensive handbags and fast cars. With a lot of romcoms set in similarly glamorous backdrops, how do you think this setting reflects the times?
Well, it's easier. When your characters don't have money issues they can be more involved in a love affair. So maybe it's easier, it helps you to concentrate on the sentimental issues of the script. It would be great if you do a rom-com where people have a really hard time to get a job. When I got the script, this background, Monaco, was already there and I never really questioned it. It worked when I read it so I thought let's keep it.
For the audience, it also offers a sort of escapism...
That's probably one of the reasons why it was a success in France. Well, different things, the story, the cast, but also everything that's happened. In Monaco, by the sea, and it's always sunny and Vanessa has beautiful shoes and dresses and they all look good. So it's, yeah, it makes the film easier to watch.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I don't know exactly when it will be shot but we have a new script and it's, again, another comedy. Not a rom-com, it's a bit different. Again it's a mix – there is a love story involved, a lot of action, a lot of different things happening and it will be with Romain Duris as a lead and Marion Coutillard as a co-lead.
A successful pair. And have you got a title yet?
In French, so far, yes, we call it Le Vivre C'est Mieux Que Mourir, which means 'living is better than dying', which is a sort of joke on the James Bond title.
Heartbreaker is out now on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Revolver Entertainment.