Gaumont releases A Bag of Marbles at Landmark 57 West on March 23rd, 2018.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally?
Christian Duguay: The writing was the first challenge: what story do you want to tell? What acts do you want to save? The book offered some many opportunities. The patriarchal value and the legacy that you leave to your kids to survive, to follow your own path and to live for the greater good and not let influence bring you on the wrong side. That was the motto that I wanted to follow through the child's perspective, and to speak the truth. I wanted audience to see how, in one year, he's gone full circle into the horror that human beings can be capable of. Going through the kid's point-of-view, we bring an audience to live horrible things that, unfortunately, is taking a left turn in human history. It has taken many left turns. We see how the persecution get into the vein and gets inside of people and see that people will change their own point of view because they will follow the ideas of the mass.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important and challenging is it to ground the film in humanism?
CD: We wanted it to be authentic. We wanted those emotions to be real. It starts by trying to write the scenes as best as we can and making choices with the adaptation of the book, but, primarely, it's to find the right people to convey that. It started with the kid actors. We went through a lot of kids and trying to find the right combination. I was always a big fan of Patrick Bruel for many reasons. I think that he's an accomplished artist. His music has made me vibrate and go through emotions that I don't really see. When I wrote A Bag of Marbles, I had Patrick in mind because he represented the patriarchy in all of its value. I was really fortunate that Patrick wanted to do the movie and that he played those scenes that became real. They became just beyond what was written on the page. We went through another level from what's written on the page to making it real and emotional. We're happy that the movie is doing something to others, but it did something to us also. That's why we're happy to share it with others. The right people that are right in their mind respond well to this movie.
NYC MOVIE GURU: As an actor, how did you find the emotional truth and humanism of your role as Roman?
Patrick Bruel: It's probably a combination of many things. This character is a nice guy. He's a fantastic person and father. I read the book when I was 13-years-old. When they asked me to do the movie, I said, "Wow! Another movie! I did another movie about this period called A Secret by Claude Miller. Should I do that again?" I said to myself, "Yes, but it's a movie through the prism of the children." That's more unusual and interesting. 17 years after what happened, to have the memory going down so much. I wanted to bring back those memories and tell to the people not to forget. This movie is one of the ways not to forget. It's very important, so I went into this movie because of Christian, the kid actors, and I, "Yes, I want to play the father of those kids and to be the vector memory of these people." As an actor, I learned acting in New York 25 years ago. I learned many things: emotional things, sensory things. Sometimes, it's easier. It was easier that time because, of course, I was touched by the character and by the movie, but there's some elements that you can't predict. All of my scenes are between November 16th and 22nd, 2015. 3 days before this, we are in France and have the attack. My 2 kids are 12 and 14, the same age as the kids in the film. They were in the stadium that night with their mother. I gave them tickets because I'm working in Italy, so I'm looking at the television and see the disaster that happened and my kids are in the stadium. I took my children into my arms and tried to explain to them something impossible to explain. I tell them things, as a father: "Now you know what can happen. It can happen tomorrow in your classroom at school. Someone can come, ask your name and ask anything." I told them three things, "You don't say your name because everyone knows that I'm Jewish, you never say that you're Jewish, and you hide yourself." This is the 14th of November, 2015. On the 16th, I go to Prague and on the 17th, I have that scene with the kids and tell them, in 1942, "Don't say your name, don't say that you're Jewish, and hide yourself." So, I feel that I didn't have to act so much. When I came onto the set on the 16th, the day before, I saw all those people close to crying every 5 seconds because all of France was crying. It was so emotional and strong. There was this tension and moment. At this moment, you have to have people with you who are very, very, very ready to take anything. Christian is not only a film director, but he's a filmmaker. He does it with a Steadicam. That's what happened all throughout the week. That's why all the scenes with me are not things that we could have predicted. It's something more. There's something strong in this. That's why we have these beautiful results and an emotional movie. It's strong because it's been very strong for me all of my life. Even if my family didn't go to the concentration camps because we were in Algeria, so we were saved by Americans in 1942. My grandfather was always saying that it was a matter of just one or two months and I wouldn't be here to talk to you. At the Colcoa Film Festival, 70% of the audience who saw A Bag of Marbles didn't know about what happened. They were very surprised. A lot of them asked if it was a true story. They asked, "Why did they do that?" I told them that we don't have the answer. Why did they do that to the Jews? Why does Antisemitism exist? What have the Jews done to the world to deserve this? In all of Jewish history, we did good things. We never killed for religion. What did we do? The question was very difficult to answer, but very interesting to hear. That's why this kind of movie is important for the young generations. It's entertaining and spectacular because it's a movie. You want to have a moment. You want to go out of the cinema a little bit different than how you came into it. This is what cinema is for. In the meantime, we are in such an important moment of our history that you obviously have to be aware of how you talk about things and the way that you resist the revisionism. You have to be very careful about the image because when you film an image, you build something and re-do something. It's not an archival image. It's very tough because we have a lot of people who say that maybe it didn't exist. We have to keep the memory living on.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think it's harder to get inside a character's head when reading a book vs watching a movie?
CD: The virtue of the book is that you can go into one character who'll introduce an anecdote and from that anectode you're introduced to another character and then you come back to the story. Sometimes that trail doesn't work in movies because you lose people. You have to find a narrative that's clear enough and build an emotional narrative. If that spine is solid enough, then you can bifurcate while adding other stories to that story. That's why I did a lot of miniseries because they were built on true facts and I tried to understand what the spine of the story was. Because it was all built on authenticity, I could nourish myself on the reality. You find moments of reality and then build moments of truth and authenticity with it. That's my take on making movies.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you define charisma? Are you able to detect your own charisma?
PB: I'm not only an actor, I'm a singer as well. To be a singer, you have the response of your charisma every second when you're on the stage. When you have thousands of people in front of you and the story that we build with the audience, I don't think that we feel the charisma at any moment in the day. It's a response of the people. The way that people look at you makes you realize that you might have something. I don't have the beauty of Alain Delon, so I might have something else. I don't know what that is In the movies, it's very interesting to have people who are very talented, work a lot and do their best, but the camera decides if she loves you or not. You have some people who, in life, go unnoticeable, but when they're on camera, it takes something from them that you call charisma. I've met some people very, very charismatic actors in real life and there's not always something strong that was coming from them. Maybe they weren't so interesting in their life than in their acting life. They generally have a very good director to see something in them that they might not see within themselves. That's very interesting. The camera is different than the audience. Some actors have a lot of charisma in a play, but when they camera comes to him, nothing happens.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which is scarier: the horror that the audience sees or that they don't see?
CD: It's both. It builds. When you realize that around you, there's something beyond understanding, you realize that that star that they're putting it on the children. It's not a fun star to put on. Like the little kid said, it feels like a sheriff's star, but he says, "No, it can be a target as well." Slowly, we realize the horror from that kid's point of view. As it grows, they become a target, secluded and put aside. It's something that's beyond understand. Then it's how it never stops. The harassment was relentless. To try to understand that is the concept of cleansing, that for me is pure horror and that's how we show it and we remind people that it was a true reality. It's latent within the roots of a lot of society.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would A Bag of Marbles work in black-and-white??
PB: It would, but it would be dangerous.
CD: I thought about it, but at once point I said to myself, "I'm going to be compared to Schindler's List, so I can't do it." We were very careful with the color palette. Often, you make historical movies and you want people to say how great the historical set design is, but I didn't want to overdo that.
PB: There's no reason to do it in black-and-white because you want to show the happiness and the light of these young kids. You want to see the blue sea which is a free zone, but not a free zone for long. The movie has to be in color. Those people at these times, they were seeing in color, not in black-and-white. So, when you go back to black-and-white, it's a real commitment. When Steven Spielberg did it, it was so smart and strong. A Bag of Marbles never goes to Germany. Our movie stays in France and puts the responsibility of the French police which was so important in this point of view. When Spielberg goes inside the concentration camps, your mind and memory has to fight with the reality and the real image that you see. Roman Polanski did it great in The Pianist.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Crime novelist Henning Mankell once observed that "the darker the crime, the more it reveals our humanity." Do you agree with that?
CD: The concept of crime is a human concept. It comes from there, so it's not tangible. There's a saying by Edmund Burke that the only way for evil to flourish is for good men to do do nothing. It relates to what you're talking about on a different level. The other important crime of humanity is to say nothing, to not be able to speak up. That's why we're making this movie to tell people that history doesn't have to repeat itself.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Is it harder to play a character like Roman who's very decent vs playing a bad guy?
PB: I just played a very bad guy in an Italian movie, so I played the worst character I've ever played in my life. I don't know if it was easier or not, but it was very interesting as an actor to play a bad guy because I'm not used to playing a bad guy. I'm generally the charismatic, sunny guy. This guy is a good guy: a perfect father and human being. He has flaws, but it wasn't complicated to go there at all. It's always difficult to say that something wasn't difficult because it looks like you didn't have to work.
CD: Emotionally, it was very draining.
PB: I came to this movie with a lot of emotional luggage.
CD: On the last day of shooting, we knew that what we've done together worked quite well. When Roman was sitting his his car holding his 2 kids when they were sleeping, it's one of the most beautiful moments when we get close to him and, spiritually, he knows what's to come.
PB: We were in this car doing this and, as an actor, it was a climax situation. You don't have words or action. You have a long and deep story, and you know that the only indication is that you know it's the last time that you see your kids. So, you have to feel that. I was not prepared for it because when the director said "Action!" and put music inside the car--he put the music of Schindler's List--I turned my head to the left, it meant something. At this moment, the camera was not at a good position. I saw that the camera was following me. He didn't say "Cut!". That take is in the movie. I learned a lot about myself while in this movie. I think this movie helped me to prepare for my next one. With acting, you think that you know a lot of things, and when you do the things, you realize that you didn't know anything, but learned something at the moment that you did it. It's a new lesson. This lesson of acting is helpful for my future. When you're on the set, there's some things that you can't control. You can have actors in control. But then you have actors who are in control until the moment they say "Action!" and once they say "Action!", they're not in control. That's what I try to go through.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to know how far to go with the film's emotional scenes to avoid schmaltz?
CD: At some point, I still question the movie. We debated a lot about that. "Am I going too far? Is my music going too far? Is it too much music?" For me, I want the emotions to be there in symphony. So, yes, I'm going to have critics who will say that I've overdone it in places. That's for people to judge.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What films would pair well with A Bag of Marbles like cheese and wine? Europa Europa is a great film, but it's too similar.
PB: You want wine and cheese, not wine and wine! Wine and wine is easy! [laughs] Wine and cheese has to be complimentary. Let's put it with an Ernst Lubitsch movie.
CD: The Sound of Music