Home Theater Forum recently had the pleasure of speaking with Anne Fontaine, director of the recent Paramount Pictures film, Adore.
Starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two childhood friends – and current neighbors – who form unconventional relationships with each other’s sons, dares to explore the simplicity of love through complicated relationships. Director Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Chloe) spoke of her draw to the material, meeting Doris Lessing, author of the novella upon which the film is based, and he upcoming film Gemma Bovery starring Gemma Arterton.
Adore premiered on Blu-ray and DVD on December 10th.
HTF: Adore is a surprising film. Rich, complex characters with unconventional pursuits - what drew you to these characters and the complicated relationship story?
Anne Fontaine: I immediately responded to the Doris Lessing novella, when one of the French co-producers (Dominique Besnehard) gave it to me. I then had the privilege of meeting Doris herself in London, and her comments reinforced my fascination for the material. The relationships are indeed "complicated", but the feeling upon which they're based is very simple: it's all about love, and nothing else. Each of the four lead characters loves the other three. I assume that we would all find ourselves in tricky situations if we'd allow ourselves to love freely, notwithstanding any social constraints or conventions.
HTF: In your body of work you appear constantly drawn to characters whose choices bring about dark tidings; characters whose drives appear beyond their ability to control almost as if they are viewers of their lives rather than architects of it. Is that a fascination drawn from experiences with those you have encountered in your life or from questions that you have pondered?
AF: Unless you get to stay (blissfully?) ignorant of your own course, you're always - at some point - led to ponder upon your own experiences, either fully lived on or simply imagined. Filmmakers have a chance to explore those alleys from a relatively safe distance, through fictitious doubles and situations that can be kept under control. But, although my personal experiences are far from being factually as bold as the ones my films deal with, I do not draw a strict dividing line between my own feelings and my creative questions. Both worlds are equally real to me, and one flows into the other, whether I want it or not.
HTF: What I found fascinating about the Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) characters is their surrendering to these young boys and the sexual impulses and how they are then racked by the inevitable crumble of their friendships and their lives that will follow. How did you work with these two extraordinary actresses to navigate the emotionally fragile journey of these characters?
AF: As mentioned before, the "sexual impulse" is more a consequence than a cause. The starting point of this journey belongs to the realm of feelings - again, to be honest, it's love we're talking of. Naomi, Robin and I had a number of conversations about this, of course - some separate, some altogether… Though very different in their inner nature and psyche, both of them had a deep emotional understanding of the situation, and our work was a two-way process - an exchange, really… Also, we were lucky enough to get Christopher Hampton, the lead screenwriter, with us in Australia for a few days before the actual shoot started. This allowed everybody to raise the right questions. I would also add that the process was facilitated, paradoxically, by my own linguistic limitations. When you have to talk to your actors in a foreign language, it enables you to go to the point, as directly and bluntly as possible - which, given the sensitive aspects of the material, was rather helpful.
HTF: Adore is a beautiful film to watch, helped enormously by the Australian location and the wonderful cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne, how did the setting inform how you shot this picture?
AF: I had never been to Australia before - and probably would not have shot the film there if not told by Doris Lessing that the real story upon which her novella is based actually took place there. The strength of the nature - its raw, virtually untouched quality - is obviously part of the equation. As soon as I got there, I realized that such events could not happen in the middle of "civilization". To unfold completely and convincingly, it had to be placed in this powerful and unadulterated environment. Australians (the white part of the population, at least) are a young people, they can envisage their lives as a new start. As for Christophe Beaucarne, he is indeed a wonderful support, and a joy to be with at all times.
HTF: Secrets and trust are two common notions that surface in your work, and how different characters respond to holding secrets or being betrayed (and not always reacting as expected), this leads to some interesting psychologically dark moments in your films, where does that fascination come from?
AF: I completely agree with your choice of words, but I'm afraid I really don't know where the said fascination comes from! Let's simply assume that we are all (or most of us) in constant emotional danger, albeit unknowingly, and that I can't resist the need to look inside the volcano… I'm aware that such an impulse doesn't necessarily lead to filmmaking as "entertainment" in the usual sense of the word, but there are many directors, in Hollywood and elsewhere, who are very good at entertaining the audience. I (and a number of others, of course!) feel more motivated by laying questions out, and hopefully making people wonder about themselves.
HTF: Critical reaction to Adore has, perhaps not unexpectedly, included some responses that were turned off by the subject matter. Exploration of the unconventional is, I would say, the rightful domain or art and Adore falls comfortably in that category. How do you respond to those that balk at your exploration of the taboo?
AF: I believe you're referring mainly to US critical reactions, more than others… I don't exactly know what to say… it seems some critics have seen the film in the context of a social debate, revolving around "cougars", "MILFS", sexual deviations, etc… I can't change their opinion, but I don't think this is what Adore is about, and it's certainly not what I was trying to address. My point was not to establish what is morally reprehensible or not, I have no reason to judge these characters, and pronounce them guilty or innocent. The real question is why do we do things we know will raise issues - to say the least… "Balking" at any human behavior is sometimes needed, of course, but it's hardly the safest way of understanding who we are.
HTF: Tell me a little about your next project, Gemma Bovery, which you are filming now.
AF: No taboo (methinks) in this one, and a much lighter tone! It's a "literary comedy", based on Posy Simmonds' eponymous graphic novel, dealing with a French baker (Fabrice Luchini) who believes his new English neighbor (Gemma Arterton) is the contemporary reincarnation of Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert's classic heroin).
We just finished shooting in Normandy, a few miles away from Flaubert's actual locations. It's been a very happy experience, with a lovely cast and crew - including Christophe Beaucarne again, and the amazing Gemma, who did her part in French with great courage and talent (she didn't speak the language 6 months ago!).