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March 2004
Bon Voyage: An Interview with Jean-Paul Rappeneau & Virginie Ledoyen

By Julian Roman

Bon Voyage: An Interview with Jean-Paul Rappeneau & Virginie Ledoyen

Bon Voyage is an intelligent, clever film. Itís a stealth French history lesson draped comically in satire. I recently had the honor of interviewing its renowned director, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, and star, Virginie Ledoyen, in New York City for blackfilm.com. They were very friendly and not afraid to discuss the French surrender to the Nazis. Virginie was stunningly beautiful in her casual outfit. Her last American film was The Beach with Leonardo Dicaprio. The film was mediocre at best, but her performance really stood out. Hopefully she will return to American cinema.

How much of this movie about the government, the way they acted, they way they fled, etc. is based on real and actual events in French history?

JEAN-PAUL: Everything in the film, and the historical background of the film, is absolutely accurate even down to the exact chronology, the timing, and the details. Everything is historically correct.

Was there really a French hard water scientist?

JEAN-PAUL: Actually, this is really where my story departs a little bit from history. The two scientists, who were the Pol and the Russian, were working on hard water at the College of France at the time.

Were you able to flee France at the time like they did with the English soldiers?

JEAN-PAUL: At the time, I was a very little boy and I fled with my family on the road just like this. People were fleeing like that, yeah. The idea of the government fleeing to Bordeaux was actually something that was established by the French government during the first World War. It was where they would evacuate the government to, and the reason was that Bordeaux was a port and so they could flee from Bordeaux, elsewhere, out of the country if necessary. So this is a French tradition, if you will. Also, this was the same thing that was true in the 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. So three times, the French government has found itself fleeing to Bordeaux.

Was Gerard Depardieu's character of the minister based on an actual person?

JEAN-PAUL: No, he's really a composite of several people. The backgrounds of the story are historically correct but the four leading characters are fictional characters.

Virginie, how much research did you do for your part?

VIRGINIE: I didn't have to make so much research because the script was so already detailed and also, Jean Paul wanted for Gregory and I to make it as natural as possible.

Did you like playing the role in your film?

VIRGINIE: I hated it, no just kidding! I loved it.

Could you relate to her? Do you think you would have reacted in the same way in the same situation?

VIRGINIE: I hope so, I really hope so. It's always hard to say. Of course, everybody now says that during the war, we would have chosen the Resistance. You can see now, especially in France, that most of the people didn't choose that direction so I hope and I guess that I will have done the same choice as her.

Was that a shameful thing that a lot of people chose to run away and not fight?

VIRGINIE: I think so, yeah.

JEAN-PAUL: This is a history that France has not really come out of yet, or has not emerged out of yet. That's why everything that is connected with this period remains to be a very difficult subject. This is actually a period where people in my generation ask themselves, or I ask myself this question, "What would I have done at the time? What side would I have been on?" It's still a question that preoccupies a large number of people. And there were a large number of options at that time. For example, some people decided right away that they would not be a part of this and they wanted to continue to fight. They could leave France either by going to England or escaping through Lisbon to Portugal out of France to the United States. Or, some went to North America. These were the people who decided right at that moment that no, they weren't going to give in and be part of the defeat. The second group of people were people who were just "wait and see." This was a majority of the people in France because they had to stay in the country and they had to populate the country. But these were the people who waited and were interested in seeing what was going to happen. And of course, there were people who decided that they would collaborate with the occupiers. Finally, there were people who said "No" and were part of the resistance in France.

The script has several different characters, from an actor to a politician to scientists to regular people... how did you go about developing the story of multiple storylines?

JEAN-PAUL: My original idea was to follow the story of a young man and to follow the story of somebody who's a little bit of an outsider and hasn't found his identity yet, with a fixation of this love for an older woman that he's had for a long time. Just to really follow his path as he encounters all these other characters during this historical and fateful weekend. These things kind of happened as we were developing the story and it became a sort of club sandwich of episodes that developed as the script developed. It was only later on that we had this idea that it would really be a kind of polyphonic film where there were other stories, that it wouldn't be just this story of a young man, but that there would be other characters.

You mentioned that the subject matter in this movie is still very much on the minds of people in France. What was the reaction to the movie when it opened in France from the public, the politicians, or the media?

JEAN-PAUL: The film actually received sensational reviews in France. It did good box-office but not the kind of big box-office that we were hoping that it would do. The reason for this is that it might have something to do with this collective unconsciousness of the French that are still hesitant about going to see something that deals with a very painful period in their history.

VIRGINIE: It's also because a film is a comedy. There are people who are also hesitant about going to see a film where they may laugh about a period which, for them, may have been a very sad period of time. It may either be this hesitance of not wanting to see what was happening or wanting to laugh what was happening. All of this may have played a part in the lower box-office receipts.

This is an all-star cast of French actors. Did you have these actors in mind when the script was being put together?

JEAN-PAUL: The screenplay was written without thinking of any particular actors at the beginning. This is really a polyphonic kind of film. Regarding which actors were going to play which roles, there was a lot of traffic going on various roles. There are a lot of French actors that I like and that I'm interested in working with. For example, with Depardieu, the role that he played was not the original role he wanted to play. I directed him in "Cyrano de Bergerac" and he got a bit part in "The Horseman on the Roof" and he said, "I want to be in this film." Originally, he wanted to play the young man, Frederic, but it's not his role anymore. It's not his type of role anymore. But then, he was cast in the role of the criminal who escapes with Frederic, the part that was played by Yvan Attal. But then, somebody else was scheduled to play the minister but he was out, and so Depardieu moved into the part of the minister. Of course, with Virginie, there was some traffic around her part. In the end, ultimately what I think is that the films are stronger than all of us. There's the film up there and ultimately, it's the film that's defies who's going to play which role. This is an idea that Fellini proposed as well and ultimately, it's the film that makes the decision of who plays what part.

Virginie, what was it about the script that drew you to the project?

VIRGINIE: When I received the script of "Bon voyage," I wanted to like the script because Jean-Paul was one of the directors I wanted to work with for a long time and so I was really flattered to receive the script. I know he's taking time between movies. He didn't make a movie for seven years so I was so happy to, maybe, be a part of his next movie. When I read the script, it was also for all the reasons we said about the historical meanings. We could make a comedy about it without being cynical or vulgar really interested me and I liked my part. She was the kind of heroine that I love playing.

The last mainstream American film you appeared in was "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio. Would you like to work in the States more?

VIRGINIE: I would love it if it's good, of course.

Would you ever take a big budget movie just to promote yourself more or would you turn it down?

VIRGINIE: It always depends on the director. It's very hard for me to dissociate the part from the person who's going to film you and having a point of view on what you're going to do. There's some action movies that I love and some American blockbusters that I love but there aren't that many parts for girls, especially French girls. I have no preconceptions about it. I just want to do some good movies and it's very subjective of what I think is good. But I won't take a part just because [the movie] is going to make $100 million dollars.

What are you working on next?

VIRGINIE: I just finished a movie called "Saint Ange," which you will probably see in the States. It's a kind of mystery movie and a thriller. It's like "The Others" or something like that.

What excites you most about French cinema today?

JEAN-PAUL: Specifically, with regards to French film, the one thing that interests and excites me is the diversity. There are so many directors, in fact almost too many directors. Every year we see a new generation of all different types of directors coming out, including more and more women, and one of the things that interest me is that you can have classical filmmakers of which I do, much more experimental films with other directors, and even other types of films so it's the diversity of it.

VIRGINIE: The same.

JEAN-PAUL: We also have films that are kings of the box-office in France but they're pretty much non-exportable because they're generally comedians who are familiar to French audiences and French audiences would understand, but don't travel well.

VIRGINIE: The same thing with Ashton Kutcher here. Nobody knows who he is in France. It's so funny when you read the stuff about this guy here, which is a huge story. Nobody knows who he is in France.

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