Anne Fontaine on “Reinventing Marvin”: “I am always interested in characters that make a difference”

Screenwriter and film director Anne Fontaine (b. 1959 as Anne-Fontaine Sibertin-Blanc), known for her many powerful female characters in films such as “Nathalie” (2003, US remake “Chloe” starring Julianne Moore in 2009), “Coco avant Chanel” (2009, a.k.a. “Coco Before Chanel” with Audrey Tautou), “Perfect Mothers” (2013) starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, or “Gemma Bovery” (2014) with Gemma Atherton playing the title character, visited the Arras Film Festival to promote the release of her latest feature, “Marvin” (a.k.a. “Reinventing Marvin”).

The film, a.k.a. “Reinventing Marvin,” among others a coming out and a coming of age story—or the need to reinvent oneself to dissociate from a painful past—the film is the narrative of a young gay man leaving the life he has known to become someone else. It is partly based on Edouard Louis’ 2014 autobiographical bestseller “En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule” [a.k.a. “The End of Eddy”], and the film stars Finnegan Oldfield, nominated for a César for Most Promising Actor for Thomas Bidegain’s “Les cowboys” (2015, a.k.a. “The Cowboys”).

After being shown at La Biennale di Venezia (Venice Film Festival) in September and at the BFI London Film Festival in early October, screenwriter and director Anne Fontaine introduced her latest film in Arras, accompanied by actors Finnegan Oldfield and Jules Porier (the latter playing the character of Marvin as a child). The Biennale website quoted Ms. Fontaine, describing the film as ‘tackling the issue of contemporary society and its flaws, its dead ends and of the broader and timeless moral question: isn’t redemption a kind of self-betrayal? Is it possible to reinvent oneself without having to reinvent everything that surrounds us? Is it possible to love someone who gives us new life without stopping loving the one who gave us our first life when one and the other are radically and mutually exclusive? Marvin’s story is violent and extreme, but I would like the film it inspired to remind us that ashes and diamonds are profoundly linked and that sometimes it is necessary to start a long and hard path before finding the way home again.’ At any rate, “Reinventing Marvin,” with a highly rewarding and long cameo by Isabelle Huppert—one of France’s most appealing screen legends—packs a powerful punch.

Here are excerpts from Ms. Fontaine’s press conference at the Arras Film Festival, including a few phrases and quotes from previous press conferences of hers that I attended, clarifying her working methods.

Finnegan Oldfield, director Anne Fontaine, and Julies Porier at the Arras Film Festival | Leo/Film Talk

Ms. Fontaine, how did this project land on your desk?

In the beginning, Edouard Louis, a very young author, had suggested I adapt “En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule.” What appealed to me in his novel was the character of this young boy who is different, living lower class in France as an outsider. He’s very creative and very artistic, and how he grows into adulthood, which would be my main focus. The author gave me his approval, and then I started working on the complexity of the story. Marvin was bullied when he was a child, and he didn’t feel at home within his own family, and so he tried to find a way to escape, find his own way and be truthful. I just imagined how Marvin, as a young boy, would find a purpose in life when he had begun life so poorly. It was a challenge to focus on his process of growing up, how he connects with his roots even when things get rough. To me, the film is also about society and how it fails you if you are different—if you’re gay, if you’re a woman, if you’re black.

How would you compare the characters in “Marvin” to the characters in your other films because you often tend to portray strong female characters?

I have always been interested in characters that made a difference, like Coco Chanel. She was very creative, and now it’s the character of Marvin that touched me deeply. He fascinated me because I was able to enter into his world, into the intimacy of this vulnerable young man who finally makes in the theater—which is very dear to me. I honestly believe that the film is all about hope: everything is possible if you have faith in yourself and if you’re surrounded by people who have much more faith in you than you do for yourself. You can always change if you really want. So to me, “Marvin” has a message of hope. There’s also the fragility of several other characters, like Marvin’s father and the quality of his sister, for example—they allow you to express their feelings and their emotions just perfectly.

How did you work with your actors before and during shooting?

We do a lot of work, a lot of preparation before we start shooting, and work out every detail before we start rehearsing without a camera. Once we’re on the set and we’re about to shoot, I try to give the actors a sense of freedom. By then, we’re all prepared, we know what to do, we analyzed everything, so we’re all set, and then it’s up to the actors to see what they will do with the characters they’re playing. That doesn’t mean everything goes perfectly because we still make mistakes and need to figure out things constantly. There are scenes that we shoot, and it may have been three weeks, since we rehearsed them. In those three weeks we may have changed things here and there, so consequently, a number of scenes we had planned to do will also need to be reconsidered and adjusted.

Where do you get your inspiration when you’re writing your screenplays?

I dance. When I dance, it gives me tremendous inspiration to write my screenplay. I dance every day. It gives me a sense of freedom, of space, and that helps me to find new ideas or different angles; it helps me to develop my characters and write their dialogues.

Isabelle Huppert, playing herself, with Finnegan Oldfield as Marvin, appearing in a play in Anne Fontaine’s “Marvin”

Why did you cast Isabelle Huppert to play herself?

I don’t know; it just seemed logical to me. I thought it would be a great idea, and besides, she never played herself before. Now she plays herself, an actress, and she loved doing it. Being an autodidact myself—as I didn’t have any formal training to become a filmmaker—I relate to the characters, including hers, because I feel what the characters will be like.

Arras Film Festival, Arras (France)
November 10, 2017

“Marvin” (2017, trailer)


LE DERNIER AMANT ROMANTIQUE, a.k.a. THE LAST ROMANTIC LOVER (1978) DIR Just Jaeckin PROD Bernard Lenteric SCR Just Jaeckin, Ennio De Concini CAM Robert Fraisse ED Françoise Bonnot, Michèle Boëhm MUS Pierre Bachelet CAST Dayle Haddon, Gérard Ismaël, Fernando Rey, Yann Babilée, Georges Beller, Ben Simon, Edouard Bergara, Roland Blanche, Jacques Canselier, Thierry Lhermitte, Fontaine Sibertin-Blanc [Anne Fontaine]

SI MA GUEULE VOUS PLAÎT… (1981) DIR Michel Caputo SCR Odile Barski (idea by Monique Pantel) CAM Jacques Lefrançois ED Hélène Plemiannikov MUS Gérard Blanc, Sylvain Pauchard CAST Michel Galabru, Bernadette Lafont, David Pontremilo, Henry Courseaux, Martine, Pascale Roberts, Anne Fontaine (Isabelle)

P.R.O.F.S. (1985) DIR – MUS Patrick Schulman PROD Gilbert de Goldschmidt SCR Patrick Schulman (story by Didier Dolna) CAM Jacques Assuérus ED Aline Asséo CAST Patrick Bruel, Fabrice Luchini, Christophe Bourseiller, Laurent Gamelon, Etienne Draber, Martin Sarcey, Anne Fontaine (Marite)

LES HISTOIRES D’AMOUR FINISSENT MAL… EN GÉNÉRAL, a.k.a. LOVE AFFAIRS USUALLY END BAD (1993) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Hugues Desmichelle SCR Anne Fontaine, Claude Arnaud, Anne Andrei CAM Christophe Pollock ED Sylvie Gadmer MUS Saïd Houmaoui, Jean-Pierre Castelain CAST Nora, Sami Bouajila, Alain Fromager, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Eric Métayer, Faitha Chriguene, Marie-France Santon

AUGUSTIN (1995) DIR – SCR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Brigitte Faure, Philippe Jacquier CAM Jean-Marie Dreujou ED Sylvie Gadmer CAST Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, Stéphane Zhang, Guy Casabonne, Nora Habib, Claude Pecher, James Lord, Thierry Lhermitte

NETTOYAGE À SEC, a.k.a. DRY CLEANING (1997) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Alain Sarde, Philippe Carcassonne SCR Anne Fontaine, Gilles Taurand CAM Caroline Champetier ED Luc Barnier MUS Patrice Renson CAST Miou-Miou, Charles Berling, Stanislas Merhar, Mathilde Seigner, Nanou Meister, Noé Pfiegler

AUGUSTIN, ROI DU KUNG-FU, a.k.a. AUGUSTIN, KING OF KUNG-FU (1999) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Alain Sarde, Philippe Carcassonne SCR Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, Gilles Taurand CAM Christophe Pollock ED Luc Barnier MUS Olivier Lebé, Ri-Mah [Philippe Carcassonne] CAST Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, Maggie Cheung, Darryl Cowl, Bernard Campan, Paulette Dubost, Pascal Bonitzer, Ming Shan, Patricia Dinev, Fanny Ardant, André Dussollier, Thierry Lhermitte

PAS DE SCANDALE, a.k.a. NO SCANDAL and KEEP IT QUIET (1999) DIR Benoît Jacquot PROD Philippe Carcassonne SCR Benoît Jacquot, Jérôme Beaujour CAM Romain Winding ED Pascale Chavance MUS Olivier Lebé CAST Fabrice Luchini, Isabelle Huppert, Vincent Lindon, Vahina Giocante, Sophie Aubry, Anne Fontaine (Natalie)

COMME J’AI TUÉ MON PÈRE, a.k.a. HOW I KILLED MY FATHER and MY FATHER AND I (2001) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne SCR Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi CAM Jean-Marc Fabre ED Guy Lecorne MUS Jocelyn Pook CAST Michel Bouquet, Charles Berling, Natacha Régnier, Amira Casar, Stéphane Guillon, Hubert Koundé

NATHALIE… (2003) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Alain Sarde SCR Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, François-Olivier Rousseau (original idea by Philippe Blasband) CAM Jean-Marc Fabre ED Emmanuelle Castro MUS Michael Nyman CAST Fanny Ardant, Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuelle Béart, Wladimir Yordanoff, Judith Magre, Rodolphe Pauly

ENTRE SES MAINS (2005) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Bruno Pésery SCR Anne Fontaine, Julien Boivent (novel by Dominique Barbéris) CAM Denis Lenoir ED Philippe Ravoet, Luc Barnier MUS Pascal Dusapin CAST Benoît Poelvoorde, Isabelle Carré, Jonathan Zaccaï, Valérie Donzelli, Bernard Bloch, Véronique Nordey, Michel Dubois, Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc

NOUVELLE CHANCE, a.k.a. OH LA LA! (2006) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Pascal Houzelot SCR Anne Fontaine, Julien Boivent CAM Caroline Champetier ED Isabelle Dedieu CAST Danielle Darrieux, Arielle Dombasle, Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc, Andy Gillet, Christophe Vandevelde, Michel Boudinat, Katsuko Nakamura

LA FILLE DE MONACO, a.k.a. THE GIRL FROM MONACO (2008) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Bruno Pésery SCR Anne Fontaine, Benoît Graffin CAM Patrick Blossier ED Maryline Monthieux MUS Philippe Rombi CAST Fabrice Luchini, Roschdy Zem, Louise Bourgoin, Stéphane Audran, Gilles Cohen, Alexandre Steiger, Philippe Duclos

CHLOE (20099) DIR Atom Egoyan PROD Ivan Reitman, Jeffrey Clifford, Joe Medjuck SCR Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay NATHALIE… [2003] by Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, François-Olivier Rousseau; original idea by Philippe Blasband) CAM Paul Sarossy ED Susan Shipton MUS Mychael Danna CAST Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Max Thieriot, R.H. Thomson, Nina Dobrev, Mishu Vellani

COCO AVANT CHANEL, a.k.a. COCO BEFORE CHANEL (2009) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Simon Arnal, Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta SCR Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine (book by Edmonde Charles-Roux) CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Luc Barnier MUS Alexandre Desplat CAST Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos, Régis Royer, Etienne Bartholomeus

MON PIRE CAUCHEMAR, a.k.a. MY WORST NIGHTMARE (2011) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Bruno Pésery, Diana Elbaum, Patrick Quinet, Jérôme Seydoux SCR Anne Fontaine, Nicolas Mercier CAM Jean-Marc Fabre ED Luc Barnier, Nelly Ollivault MUS Bruno Coulais CAST Isabelle Huppert, Benoît Poelvoorde, André Dussollier, Virginie Efira, Corentin Devroey, Donatien Suner, Aurélien Recoing, Éric Berger

ADORATION, a.k.a. PERFECT MOTHERS (2013) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Andrew Mason, Barbara Gibbs, Michel Feller SCR Anne Fontaine (story by Anne Fontaine, Christopher Hampton; book by Doris Lessing) CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Luc Barnier, Ceinwen Berry MUS Christopher Gordon CAST Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe

GEMMA BOVERY (2014) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Matthieu Tarot SCR Anne Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer (adaptation by Anne Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer; novel by Posy Simmonds) CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Annette Dutertre MUS Bruno Coulais CAST Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Chandelier, Niels Schneider, Mel Raido, Elsa Zylberstein

LES INNOCENTS, a.k.a. THE INNOCENTS (2016) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer SCR Sabrina B. Karine, Alice Vial (adaptation by Anne Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer; original concept created by Philippe Maynial) CAM Caroline Champetier ED Annette Duertre MUS Grégoire Hetzel CAST Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Eliza Rycembel, Katarzyna Dabrowska

MARVIN, a.k.a. REINVENTING MARVIN (2017) DIR Anne Fontaine PROD Philippe Carcassonne, Pierre-Alexandre Schwab, Jean-Louis Livi SCR Anne Fontaine, Pierre Trividic CAM Yves Angelo ED Annette Dutertre CAST Finnegan Oldfield, Grégory Gadebois, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Jules Porier, Isabelle Huppert


ENTRE CHATS ET LOUPS (1985) DIR – SCR François Porcile MUS Pierre Jansen CAST Hella Petri, Georges Wilson, Michel Beaune, Anne Fontaine (Carole Lambert), Georges Claisse, Thierry Redler, Catherine Vichniakoff


LES MYSTÈRES DE PARIS (1980) DIR André Michel SCR René Wheeler, Marie Benedicto (novel by Eugène Sue) CAM Maurice Fellous MUS Vladimir Cosma CAST Christine Deschaumes, Noëlle Leiris, Jacques Seiler, Sigmar Solbach, Pinkas Dyrek, Frédéric Frisdal, Anne Fontaine (Sarah)

LE MYSTÉRIEUX DOCTEUR CORNÉLIUS (1984) DIR Maurice Frydland SCR Pierre Nivollet (adaptation by Jean-Pierre Petrolacci, Jean-Daniel Simon; novel by Gustave Le Rouge) MUS Gérard Gallo, Slim Pezin CAST Jean Bouise, Gérard Desarthe, François-Eric Gendron, Hugues Quester, Georges Géret, Caroline Silhol, Anne Fontaine (Andrée de Maubreuil)

CARTE DE PRESSE (1988) DIR Michel Favart SCR Patrick Besson CAST Marc Chapiteau, Myriem Roussel, Nicolas Silberg, Pierre-Alain Chapuis, Anne Fontaine (Pauline), Charlotte de Turckheim