January 29, 2023

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Eric Toledano, Olivier Nakache in ‘A Difficult Year,’ the new Gaumont film

6 min read

Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, the French filmmaking duo best known for their smash hit comedy “Untouchable,” are wrapping up their eighth feature, “A Difficult Year,” which Gaumont teased to buyers at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous last week. The topical comedy is bolstered by an ensemble cast including Jonathan Cohen, Pio Marmai, Noemi Merlant and Mathieu Amalric. “A Hard Year” reunites Toledano and Nakache with their longtime producers at Quad Films. The duo has also co-produced Gaumont as well through their banner Ten Cinemas.

Highlighting the growing conflicts within our society, “A Hard Year” follows two compulsive spenders, Albert and Bruno, who are up to their necks in debt. While seeking help from community workers to get their lives back on track, Albert and Bruno run into a group of young green activists. Lured by free beer and snacks rather than the ideals of these eco-activists, Albert and Bruno find themselves joining the movement without much conviction. The movie marks Toledano and Nakache’s follow-up to their TV debut “En Therapy,” whose first and second seasons achieved record ratings for a scripted series on Franco-German network Arte.

The charismatic duo discussed their new movie diversity On a break from editing during the Unifrance Rendez-Vous.

I heard you say this picture is a ‘COVID baby’.’ Why did this happen?

Toledano: This pandemic has shaken up the way we eat. It revealed who we were and how we lived. We thought we were unhappy and then when 90% of our life was taken away, we thought, ‘I actually had a good life.’ As Jack Privert says, you know happiness by the sound it makes when it goes away. This sentence says it all.

scratched: Then we heard people say, ‘It’s great, we’re breathing better,’ there were no more cars, no one on the road, and we all saw pictures of this little pig on a deserted road, wild cats, dolphins… as if nature were people. Back when it was in lockdown. These images and new lifestyles made us think about this sudden awareness about the way we live.

Toledano: We felt torn between this guilt, wondering if we could live the way we had before it happened, whether it was compatible with this idea of ​​a “new world” and not knowing which camp we belonged to. And that’s when we thought we should make a film about this inner conflict and explain the kind of schizophrenia that our generation feels. The contrast between the fullness that characterized our spending just before COVID hit and the emptiness afterward, when airports and stores were suddenly deserted.

scratched: We were raised with advertising that we need to eat and accumulate to feel happy. And Covid has given way to a new vocabulary: minimalism, degradation, restraint and limitation.

How did that introspection become a film?

Toledano: We started a little investigation and got involved with two types of associations, one dealing with debt, where compulsive spenders learn how to spend less, and the other with environmental activists. Very quickly we draw some parallels between people who don’t have much left because they’re held back, and minimalists who want to live with little concern for the planet. And that’s where the comedy can come from.

Our films often have a mantra. “C’est la vie” had it: “We’re Adapting,” “The Specials” had it: “We’re Not Far Away.” And in “A Hard Year”: “Do we really need this? And do we really need this now?” These are the questions both restoration compulsive shoppers and environmentalists ask themselves.

Is this film your big return to comedy?

Toledano: Yes, on a basic level, we really want to reunite moviegoers, to get people laughing together in a theater. And we couldn’t make comedy without being overwhelmed by a subject that compelled us and allowed us to tap into the absurd and the crazy that made us question who we are and what we’re doing on this planet.

But would you say it’s a film with an environmental message?

Toledano: Actually no, we wanted to do an Italian comedy, that’s the model. It is the work of our time, and our attempt to capture the paradoxes of our time. Do we continue to consume as before, or do we buy fewer new clothes like the younger generation, who need fewer things to be happy? We know that 80% of young people today suffer from environmental concerns.

scratched: And as we were writing the script we became more aware of the urgency of the climate situation. Along with the heat wave, there isn’t even enough snow to ski in December. It is easy to see that something is happening. Until now it was a kind of virtual threat, today this concern is part of our lives, we hear about it in the news, we see it through these fires, heatwaves.

Toledano: We cannot ignore this issue and I think more films will deal with this issue. This was the case with “Don’t Look Up” where Adam McKay brilliantly tackles this subject through the prism of a comedy. We have always been interested in weaving drama and comedy, we have always been interested in adding a layer of comedy to such subjects.

scratched: And at the same time we try to make films that are cinematic; We are not making a documentary. We are encouraged by our dialogues with actors, newcomers and non-professionals on set.

So you listed some of these employees in the cast?

scratched: Yes we did! We took many of them on set with us to be extras or to play small roles, as we often do. By tradition we like to bring together actors who are all very different. Jonathan Cohen, Pio Marmai, Nomi Marlant, Mathieu Amalric, Luana Bajrami, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet as Mathieu (Amalric) as debt counselor, Nomi (Merlant), environmental-concern activist, and two cynics (Conanathen) and Jonathan. (Marmai), whose age is between 30 and 40. They have a questionable morality; They are defeated and they are not far from going under.

Toledano: There is some tragedy in hate because hate of any kind creates envy, silence, shame and loneliness. These two characters are completely alone in society. They are not far from being homeless. In their minds, they have nothing to lose so they are ready for all kinds of tests, reconnecting with their feelings and their time. But in the end they are cynics who want to make money, and comedy feeds from this situation, in the Italian tradition, such as “Big Deal on Madonna Street” and “The Monsters” – movies that have greatly inspired us.

So these two anti-heroes are different from your previous heroes, who are always healthy.

Toledano: Yes, as we mature – this is our eighth film – we are changing and interested in different things. Mixing comedy and tragedy is our DNA, but we also have fresh perspectives and that’s a good thing because we don’t want to be redundant.

Will there be a dash of romance in your film?

Of course, like every group or association, there is fun and romance going on. Because the essence of a collective is a world where feelings are alive and emotions are shared. Pretty much all our films are about groups, starting with “Nos jours heureux” and again exploring this bond between people but doing it from a different perspective!

Is there a ‘next world’ for you as a creator and filmmaker?

Toledano: If you’re not writing a historical film, if you’re writing a contemporary film, you can’t avoid taking into account the shockwave induced by the pandemic for almost two years. It has changed our habits and we can see it with reduced mobility, people are leaving the big cities… seriously, it has affected this script!

scratched: Today you can’t write like before, and actually we were writing a project before the pandemic and we dropped it because it didn’t make sense anymore. And if you look at a catalog of upcoming films in France, you will see that it has hurt the producers. There are many projects that say something about climate.

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