Bright Lights Film Journal

Comic Melancholy: A Brief Chat with Emmanuel Mouret

A scene from Mouret's Une autre vie (Another Life, 2013)

My characters try to do the right things, but their feelings, their desires drag them somewhere else, so that they have to “negotiate” with themselves. And that interests me because I recognise myself; it can be very complicated and as funny as it is painful.

Emmanuel Mouret has written and directed seven feature films. He is best known for his romantic comedies Changement d’adresse (Change of Address, 2006), Un baiser s’il vous plaît (Shall We Kiss?, 2007), Fais-moi plaisir! (Please, Please Me!, 2009), and the ensemble film L’art d’aimer (The Art of Love, 2011).

These elegant comedies typically concern amorous misadventure in a timeless Paris. Mouret is also an actor, and his accomplished comic persona – a bumbling, shy, genial romantic – sets the tone of the films in which he chooses to appear. He frequently collaborates with the actors Frédérique Bel, Ariane Ascaride, Judith Godrèche, Virginie Ledoyen, and Dany Brillant.

Mouret’s most recent release represents a change of mood: the drama Une autre vie (Another Life, 2013), starring Virginie Ledoyen, Joey Starr, and Jasmine Trinca.

Mouret and I had a conversation by email in the winter of 2014-2015. The interview was conducted in French with the assistance of Arthur Chaslot. The English text below was translated by Theodore Ell.

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MATTHEW ASPREY GEAR: English-language film critics often describe your work as in the tradition of Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen. This is probably lazy journalism. Who do you consider your most important French and international influences as an actor and as a filmmaker?

EMMANUEL MOURET: It is not false to speak of my admiration for Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen, but there are other masters who influence me or, more precisely, stimulate me enormously. I think of Ernst Lubitsch, whose films constitute a sort of absolute; looking at his works we feel as though we’re in direct communication with a spirit that makes us more intelligent and tolerant than we thought we were. I have an immense liking for certain films by Blake Edwards and Billy Wilder. The comedies of Jacques Becker, particularly Édouard et Caroline, the films of Sacha Guitry, and of Truffaut, Ophüls, and many others. That said, I must confess that I also have a very definite taste for melodrama, particularly the work of Douglas Sirk, John Stahl, and obviously Leo McCarey, who succeeded equally well in both genres.

How did you become a filmmaker?

Thanks to a desire, ever since I was a child, simply to create cinema. When I was very young I made short films, I studied screenwriting, dramatic art, then I entered the national film school (La Fémis). The film I made to complete my studies, Promène-toi donc tout nu! [Go Naked Then!, 1999], was noticed and allowed me at a very early stage to direct my first feature-length film [Laissons Lucie faire!, 2000].

Could you explain how you develop your scripts? For example, could you explain the origin of your wonderful comedy Changement d’adresse (Change of Address, 2006)?

I don’t remember that very well. I spend a lot of time on the mechanics of the story, the articulation, the structure, then I write very fast to try and achieve a certain freshness. Often I start with a fantasy situation and imagine the consequences. For Changement d’adresse, it was: if I shared a house with a young woman as quirky as myself, what would happen? Or again: and what if we fell in love without realising it, and even with the wrong person? In general, my characters try to do the right things, but their feelings, their desires drag them somewhere else, so that they have to “negotiate” with themselves. And that interests me because I recognise myself; it can be very complicated and as funny as it is painful.

You have only rarely appeared as an actor in the films of other directors. Is acting a top priority for you?

Not at all, I don’t feel I’m an actor. I played a role in the film that completed my studies (Promène-toi donc tout nu!) to follow the example of actor-directors, to see how that worked. But the first producer I worked with would only produce my film on the condition that I acted in it. I did it, but not for my second film [Vénus et Fleur, 2004]. Then, because I read the other half of the dialogue with Frédérique Bel during auditions for Changement d’adresse, the producer (with whom I still work today) insisted that I act in the film. I did. Since then I have often acted in my own films. But this is exclusive—I don’t feel I want to act in other films.

Can you say something about the opportunities and difficulties of working within the French film industry at the present time?

The French film financing system allows us, for the time being, to make a number of feature-length films that are quite superior to those of our European neighbours. This system works pretty well, but evidently it rests on political will, which imposes on television networks an investment in French cinema from their operating budgets. We hope that this political will can endure in the future, and that even if television is losing out to the internet, these new media will compensate for it, because after all they offer films enormous distribution free of charge.

Your most recent film, Une autre vie, marks a change of direction in relation to your earlier romantic comedies. What can you say about your forthcoming film, Caprice? And what are your future plans?

Caprice is clearly a return to comedy, even if some people will see a melancholy in it inherited from the previous film. Right now I am making a new film which is called, for the moment, L’amour à deux … quand on est plusieurs [Love for two … when there’s company]. Comic melancholy, freely inspired by Ophüls’ La Ronde.