les-beaux-joursFollowing a six year break from the director’s chair, Marion Vernoux returns with the optimistically titled Bright Days Ahead, starring icon of French cinema Fanny Ardant. Ahead of the theatrical release HeyUGuys had the pleasure to speak with both Vernoux and Ardant, who shared with us their thoughts on their careers, their creative approach and the need for real encounters and a belief in the present.

 Why your respective careers? Was there that one inspirational moment?

Marion Vernoux: I started when I was young. I wrote my first script when I was nineteen years old, and shot my first film when I was twenty four, although it wasn’t a project of a mature reflection. But that is only slightly true, because from the age of four I wanted to make films, and so I did wait fourteen years.

Fanny Ardant: There is always the mystery of why you love things or why you love people, and so I will not be able to offer you a rational reason. I knew definitively that these are the things that I wanted to do in life, and I knew that I would never do a boring job. But I was never interested in money and glory; I just wanted to act.

What are your first memories of discovering cinema, storytelling or the art of performance?

Marion Vernoux: I didn’t enjoy being a child, but as soon as I started watching films on TV and then later on at the cinema, I found myself wanting to be both the characters, as well as the one inventing the stories.

Fanny Ardant: My acting career began on stage playing strong characters, because I wanted to share something beautiful, and I wanted to say something. Theatre is very different from film, and I never thought I could become an actress of the cinema. But as it happens I have no time to think or to develop a strategy, and so I follow life as it happens. I’ve found it difficult to have a theory about life because it lacks truth, if only because there is the life that you choose, and then on occasions there is the one that is chosen for you.

When you first read the script what was the appeal of both the project and the character?

Fanny Ardant: I immediately fell in love with Caroline, because she was independent, contradictory, and lonely. She didn’t want to belong to a group, she was still in love with her husband, and on top of all that she loved life. She loved to eat, to drink, to smoke, and she engages in this sexual affair. From my perspective she was a great character who was not too intellectual. She was a modest woman who had a normal life, and I love how when you have a normal life it can become an extraordinary life. But it all depends on the way that you live it. There are so many things that society thinks are important, but are not important at all. It is like running for the money, glory or the power. In the end there is nothing. I’d much prefer to have the sensuality of life.

Marion, as the writer-director you are the complete architect. How do you look upon the relationship between writing and directing and the way that they inform one another?

Marion Vernoux: I believe more and more that being a screenwriter is similar to composing music, and directing is similar to conducting the music. Personally I need both, and it was very late in my life that I learned to play the piano. I was fed up of being sat at the computer, and so I found it relaxing to sit and play the piano.

In Bright Days Ahead the piano almost becomes a character in itself…

Marion Vernoux: When I was talking about the films I watched when I was a child, they were the films by directors such as Francois Truffaut and Claude Sautet, and those films often had a melodic musical score. With Bright Days Ahead I wanted to pay tribute to these filmmakers, and so I approached the composer who had composed the original scores for those films.

There is a school of thought within storytelling that you should stay away from creative influences, the reason being that they can intrude on the creativity or work of the individual.

Marion Vernoux: I tend to agree with those who want to stay away from influences. For me personally, being influenced works on a much more subconscious level, though I consider myself too lazy to try and consciously show an influence in my work. But after a century of cinema and being an avid cinema goer, I am nourished by all of the films I have seen, and so I am obviously influenced in that way. But I tend to realise what my influences are after I have made the film.

Directors are focused on their individual film, and it’s us the audience, as well as the writers who tend to give it a context. Only afterwards does that context essentially become important for the filmmaker. It’s interesting how films are created as individuals, but then they gradually become part of the cinematic collective.

Marion Vernoux: It’s true, and it’s interesting because I’ve been through two completely different experiences. Two of my films were totally rejected, whilst Bright Days Ahead has been very well received. I make films because I want to make them, rather than to make them to be pleasant or to please. The reaction afterwards is always a mystery, and it can be extremely painful and violent when something that you have made is rejected. It’s like when somebody suddenly doesn’t like you, and whilst it’s strange it can happen.

And Fanny – you’ve written and directed yourself. For you personally how much did your experience in front of the camera inform the writing and directing?

Fanny Ardant: It is always a mystery why I decide to do a movie, but I wanted to write and so it started with a picture in my mind. I wrote several stories and one day I had the opportunity to do it. I received the help of the state, and just as I am an actress coming from the theatre to the cinema, I am able to embrace and live with these different occupations. I still love being an actress because it allows me to be completely open, and to belong to the universe of somebody else. Incidentally I love to write, and to shoot whole new worlds for me to belong to.

Are you likely to continue to explore your creative range or expression further?

Fanny Ardant: I don’t think I would be able to act and direct, if only because I don’t want to be in control when I am acting. If you are directing a movie then you are always in control of what happens. I know that I am going to do another one at the end of the year, but I don’t know anything other than what the near future has in store.

Marion, when did you come up with the film’s title? Was it always the one you had in mind?

Marion Vernoux: When I first discovered the title the producers liked it, but I felt it was potentially too positive, and I even felt that the posters should be an image of the actress in the rain. But the fact that it had this positive reaction means that it worked. I was also worried people would possibly confuse it with Beckett’s play Happy Days, as the French title is translated as Beautiful Days, and so Bright Days Ahead.

Whilst the relationship between the past and the present is at the heart of the film, the focus remains predominantly on the present with only fleeting references to the past. Would you agree?

Fanny Ardant: The present is the right place for us to live and to focus on, because in the present there is truth. Of course you can’t live without the past, which is a gift and not a burden. To focus on or to live for the future is naive because we know nothing about what we should do – whether we will die tomorrow or even what tomorrow could bring. It could be completely different from today, and anything could happen. But if you live in the present moment then you can live your life, because you never forget your present, whether it be a conversation with somebody, a good meal, pleasant sunny days on the street or even rainy days. I always place my belief in the present moment, and whilst it can be sad, that is when you know it’s going to go away, because tomorrow is another day.

What makes stories about the later years in life so enduring and compelling, and why is cinema a great tool to tell stories about this particular period of life?

Marion Vernoux I had already made a film that had dealt with unemployment, and another one which was rejected by the audience that talks about drinking, and centres around three characters that do nothing else for days but drink. In some sense and perhaps because I’m an auteur I’m on the margins, and so I’m very attracted to those moments in life that are slightly rejected. But it’s actually about being open to real encounters, and not just superficial meetings.

Fanny Ardant: The story we tell in Bright Days Ahead can happen to anybody who is at that turning point in their life. In that moment you have two choices – to become a victim or to take your life in your hands and do with it what you want. In this very simple life of an ex-dentist in a small city in a French province, Caroline goes with what she has. It’s a very simple story of a traditional love triangle, but it’s much more than that. She’s living without cliché, and before she was maybe contemplating that to belong to the group was boring, but now she has the opportunity to meet a great friend or lover. Suddenly she realises that life has more imagination than she thinks, and from this point of view you have to chase life.

Finally, Marion, how do you look back on the experience of directing Fanny Ardant?

Marion Verdoux: It’s strange because all of my films have strong central female characters. From my experience of working not only with Fanny, but from all of my experiences working with different actresses, it is like the age difference. But Fanny is someone I felt close to, and we’ve remained friends. Even though there is a formality in the way that we address each other, it’s just a polite way of behaviour, and we are actually very, very close.

Bright Days Ahead is released on June 20th, and you can read our review here.