A successful, fifty-something Parisian artist goes back to his roots and returns to provincial France and his childhood home. He has neither the energy nor the talent to keep up the sprawling land around the house, and takes out a small ad to find some local help. Completely by chance, the first applicant - who turns out to be the right one - is an old school friend whom the PAINTER hasnt seen since he was a kid. He becomes the GARDENER.
As they spend time in each others company, the PAINTER builds up an impressionists canvas of a man who first intrigues and then amazes him by his honest and simple view of the world. The gardeners life has been punctuated by a series of unremarkable events. He enjoys modest happiness, and theres no bitterness or jealousy for the gardener. And his heroes are always ordinary people.
His value system involves one simple criteria which - consciously or otherwise - serves as a standard by which he judges people and things: common sense. Art itself, as practiced by his friend, only becomes beautiful to his eyes after hours of discreet observation. And so they enjoy a kind of belated brotherly adolescence, that encompasses their families, their experiences, carrots, pumpkins, life, death, air travel, currant bushes, tastes and colours. And by seeing everything through each others eyes, they each see the world anew.
Interview with Jean BeckerHOW DID YOU COME ACROSS HENRI CUECO'S BOOK AND WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU WANT TO TURN IT INTO A FILM?
I was immediately struck by the way the gardener spoke and expressed himself, and the unique thoughts he had. And that must surely have been what struck Cueco when hemet this man, and what made him want to write the book in order to preserve something of him. The gardener is a unique and pretty exceptional human being. His view of life is truly spontaneous and naïve, and yet very profound and true. He's not your normal run-of-the-mill guy. His dialogues, such as Cueco reconstructed them, are at the same time, both wonderfully strange and sensible.
WHAT DID YOU FIND HARDEST ABOUTADAPTING IT FOR THE SCREEN?
I had to virtually construct the painter's character from scratch, because in the book,he is only there to respond to the gardener. I started writing the script on my own, but pretty soon felt I needed some help and I naturally thought of Jean Cosmos because we got on very well when we worked together on STRANGE GARDENS, and because his daughter is a painter and she certainly helped him in developing the character. We had to find the right balance between the two, and give enough life and consistency to the painter without detracting from the gardener's character.
KNOWING YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITHJACQUES VILLERET, ONE IMAGINES YOU MUST HAVE THOUGHT OF HIM FOR THE GARDENER WHILE YOU WERE READING THE BOOK?
Absolutely, and I began writing the script for him. I'd nearly finished the very first version when he died. I almost abandoned it but I liked the gardener too much and I began to look at who else could give off that sense of kindness and naivety that Jacques gave off. I have always thought that even with his very different physique, Jean-Pierre Darroussin had something similar about him. When I saw FAMILY RESEMBLANCES, I was struck by the way he observes other people with a kindly look about him. I had him read the script and was totally upfront about the fact I'd started it for Jacques, and he agreed to do it straight away. Our work was very different to what it would have been with Jacques, not least because we didn't know each other.But he brought a naturalness, a simplicity and real depth to the character.
WHAT MADE YOU CAST DANIEL AUTEUILIN THE ROLE OF THE PAINTER?
A kind of intuition. I liked the idea of seeing him in a very simple story and I knew that in the role of the foil, he would bring all the necessary depth to the painter's character.One of Daniel's great qualities is that he understands situations perfectly. He understands immediately. A wink, a look, and he's got it. He's a remarkably restrained actor who always finds the right tone.
ONE DEADLY SUMMER, THE CHILDRENOF THE MARSHLAND, STRANGE GAR-DENS AND CONVERSATION WITH MY GARDENER - YOUR FILMS ALL HAVE AKIND OF NOSTALGIA FOR COUNTRYLIVING, YET YOU DON'T COME FROMTHE COUNTRYSIDE...
Well I do, a little, and that's coming out now.In fact, when the war began and my father was taken prisoner, we went to live in the country-side. I was seven years old and went to a farm where I was taken in like the son of our host family. Then my father came back from being a prisoner and he shot IT HAPPENED ATTHE INN, a story set in the countryside with country folk. Then we went to live in Saint Leonard des Bois, again in the countryside.And during the first part of my career, I blocked out those memories of the provinces. I think that it was working on ONEDEADLY SUMMER with Sébastien Japrisot that gave me back a taste for it. I remembered that I'd felt good back then, telling stories with simple and honest people. And now, it's become important to me to take up again with my childhood memories.
HOW DO THEY COMPLEMENTEACH OTHER?
They have a lot of similarities as well as being quite different, but it's true that they do complement each other very well. They both know how to show emotion in their own way,and they both have the same subtlety, the same simplicity and the same openness.Moreover, I think Jean-Pierre and Daniel were really happy to work together for the firsttime. They immediately established a real complicity that fed into the relationship bet-ween their characters. You can see it in the way they look at each other and they way they listen to each other. I honestly couldn't have dreamed of a better partnership. They went way beyond what I was hoping for.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE YOURAPPROACH IN DIRECTING CONVERSATION WITH MY GARDENER?
It's simple. I shot with two cameras and with several different shots: close ups, mid-shots and wide shots. Both to have as many options as possible during the editing process and because in a film like this, in my opinion, the directing must not be noticeable. You should just watch the characters, and be with them,close to them.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU AND JEAN-PIERRE DARROUSSIN COMPLEMENT ONE ANOTHER?
I don't know if we complement each other,because I think we are pretty similar. We are both calm and fairly reserved, we know where our place is and what we have to do to tell a good story about these two characters.If we complement each other, it's because we are both in the composition and we know how to establish a working relationship and an understanding that means my acting responds to his and vice versa, and that things fit together naturally.
WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST DIFFICULT ABOUT THIS FILM? LEARNING THE LINES? FINDING THE RIGHT TONE?
Both. And above all, breathing life into the narrative that flows between us. There is something very simple and very fluid about this film - which also stems from the environment, from the natural setting and from the light - and at the same time, there's a real intellectual construction that comes entirely from the conversation as the title indicates. And it's not necessarily that obvious to do. We shot for six weeks in virtually the same sets and the difficult thing was trying to recharge and reinvent ourselves every day. Fortunately, there are some amazing scenes.