After “Peter Van Kant,” French director Francois Ozon went a number of shades lighter to revisit gender and power dynamics in “The Crime is Mine,” set in 1930s Paris.
Inspired by the 1934 play by Georges Berr and Louis Verneuville, the film tells the story of Madeleine, a beautiful, young and helpless actress, who is accused of murdering a famous producer. With the help of her best friend Pauline, an unemployed lawyer, she is acquitted in self-defense and becomes a star, as well as a feminist icon.
“The Crime is Mine,” produced by Mandarin Cinema, assembles an expansive cast, led by a pair of up-and-coming actors, Nadia Tereskiewicz (“Forever Young”) and Rebecca Marder (“Simone”), alongside Isabelle Huppert, Fabrice Lucchini, André Dussolier, Danny Boone and Felix Lefebvre. The movie was sold by Playtime in many key markets.
Discussed his new film with Wozniak diversity Following its world premiere at the opening night of the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris earlier this week.
Your film is like a fairy tale, a Cinderella story, isn’t it?
I had the idea to make this film during the lockdown when everything was so depressing. Of course everything is still going badly, with the war in Ukraine, the recession, global warming… but at that point I just wanted to get back to comedy, something light while dealing with the pressing issues we have today, meaning power dynamics and the status of women. Along the lines of “8 Women” and “Potiche” I made two more films that were also about women. In “8 Women” it was about the abandonment of patriarchy, and in “Potiche” it was about the rise of matriarchy, portraying the rise of a woman in politics. It was associated with Ségolène Royal’s presidential campaign in France at the time. “The Guilt is Mine” is about winning the sorority in the end. Obviously this echoes what has been happening in the western world in the past few years with a new wave of feminism.
This theme of power dynamics in art was also at the core of your previous movie “Peter Van Kant”.
It’s something that worries me because when you’re a manager, you’re in a position of power, so it makes you think about your responsibilities. Many people in the film industry are questioning their own position, working methods. And it felt like in order to deal with all of these things with some freshness, I had to distance myself a little bit, which is why it was important to set this story in the 1930s. It appears that in France during that period there was a spate of murders committed by women. The movie even mentions the true story of Violet Nozier, who was the subject of a Claude Chabrol film starring Isabelle Huppert, and the Papin sisters, who inspired Jean Genet for his play “Les Bones.” What is compelling is to view these women criminals through our present day historical prism and tie them to the status of women at that time.
The dialogues sound so contemporary that I assume there is some anachronism in your film.
It is not anachronistic at all. Apart from a few expressions, what was said in the film could have been said immediately. I think the word “sorority” didn’t exist. But still had the right to vote because women didn’t have the right to vote in France in the 1930s, they only got it in 1945. Patriarchy was victorious but many women fought to bring about change.
It’s very enjoyable – and rare – to see a French movie that ends well
Yes, there is something delightful; It ends with a play in the tradition of Jean Renoir. It’s also a playful reference to Francois Truffaut’s “The Last Metro,” as we go from reality to theater. Since there is a “mis en abime” with an actress playing an actress, the film had to end with a play.
Character of Isabel Huppert (Odette Chaumet) Makes me think of Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”.
The real reference for the character of Isabelle Huppert is Sarah Bernhardt, a very famous French actress of the era, an actress who appeared in silent films, who was mostly a stage actress. With costume designer Pascaline Chavan, we had fun highlighting the contrast between the two young women (Tereskiewicz and Marder), who are very modern and very 1930s-style dressed, and Huppert’s character, Odette Chaumet, who is still stuck in the beginning. Century. She is dressed in 1910s clothing!
Would you say your film is like a love letter to cinema?
It pays homage to American screwball comedies from the 1930s. I had in mind the movies of Ernst Lubitsch and Frank Capra, which were fast paced with lots of dialogue. I love the fast pace of these 1930s American comedies; It was the golden age of classical comedy for me. It appears that many of these jokes took place in Paris at the time. Because Paris was considered a city where the social was more light. The producers believed that American audiences would more readily accept these stories about treachery and betrayal if they were set in France and in Paris. This has not changed with time as today we have “Emily in Paris”!
But it’s like an ideal view of Paris, especially great shots like those scenes with the rooftops of Paris.
It was important to me to create a realistic reconstruction of Paris from the 1930s. But at the same time, we also created a stylized Paris because this 1930s Paris no longer exists so we had to work with archives. And we had in mind the Paris of the 1930s as seen by Americans, as in Blake Edwards’ film “Victor Victoria,” where it’s somewhat like an idealized Paris.
This film looks expensive. What would you say is your biggest budget film so far?
I’ve never done a blockbuster, so it’s reasonably budgeted. But it was important that we had this luscious quality, the sets and the costumes because it’s a film that’s really enjoyable. But ultimately this film depends on the actors.
The ensemble cast is excellent, especially the young female duo, Rebecca Marder and Nadia Tereskiewicz, who are actually on UniFrance’s 10 Talents to Watch 2023.
Yeah, and I hadn’t even seen the movies they did when I chose them. I did a long casting to find two great actresses who could create this special bond with each other. Because the film needed this chemistry between the two girls. And as soon as I saw Nadia and Rebecca, I knew it was going to work. I like the idea of making a film about two actresses who were not well known and surrounding them with famous French actors. To reflect their on-screen situation, where they are surrounded by white men over the age of 50 who try to seduce them, and they pull it off very well thanks to their intelligence and skills.
Great to see Danny Boone in one of your pictures! He is best known for more mainstream comedies.
I like mixing with actors from different backgrounds and I am not averse to commercial cinema. For “The Crime is Mine” I needed some really good actors because there’s a lot of dialogue, it’s tightly paced and it’s a comedy. I am delighted to work with Danny for the first time. He is a very good actor. And since everyone knows his northern French accent, it will be especially fun for French audiences to hear him with a Marseille accent.
What was it like to reunite with Isabel Huppert after all these years?
Isabelle is one of my favorite actresses. We did “8 Women” together more than 20 years ago, and what I love about Isabelle is that she has a lot of humor about herself, about her career. She happily took on the role and I think she had a lot of fun with it!
Did you let him improvise at all?
The text was very important in “The Crime is Mine” because we had to use the typical French vocabulary of the 1930s, but the text strengthened the actors, especially for the character of Isabelle. In the play that inspired my film (by Georges Ber and Louis Verneuil), Chaumet was a man. I made it into a female but keeping the male line made me happy. They sound a bit vulgar on Isabelle’s face but at the time she is so naturally feminine that it makes for something unique and fun.
Are you working on your next film? You are our most famous director in France.
I am not doing any other work now except the promotion of this film. I have been making only one film per year for the past 20 years, and I realize that this opportunity to work with so much freedom and joy is a real privilege for me. In my opinion, France is the best place for a director to have control over his creative work.