Fred Cavayé: “Sometimes it’s easier to write a script than finding an appropriate title for a film”

I always liked masterfully skilled films with a powerful opening scene. Sometimes they show no mercy and can be gripping from the very beginning, but the film is yours right away. In that regard, I will never forget John Schlesinger’s “The Believers” (1987) which film wise left a lasting impression on me. And that’s also how I got acquainted with French-born screenwriter and filmmaker Fred Cavayé’s work when I first saw his tour-de-force debut film “Pour elle” (2008, a.k.a. “Anything For Her”), another film that from the first scene doesn’t need any introduction when Diane Kruger is all of a sudden arrested, taken away from her family and charged with murder. It was later remade in the U.S. by two-time Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis as “The Next Three Days” (2010) starring Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson.

A few films and ten years later, Mr. Cavayé (b. 1967) has finished his latest project, “Le jeu” (a.k.a. “Nothing to Hide”), a remake of “Perfetti sconosciuti” (2016, a.k.a. “Perfect Strangers”). With a cell phone as a character on its own, the film begins, as the French title suggest, as an innocent game. But enough of that, I just don’t want to give away too much. Bérénce Bejo, Suzanne Clément, Stéphane De Groodt and Roschy Dem are some of the players in this ensemble cast who share a dinner and a few surprises with their audience.

Fred Cavayé at the Festival International du Film Francophone in Namur. Photograph: Leo Verswijver

Mr. Cavayé was a guest of honor at the Festival du Film Francophone in Namur, Belgium, to promote the release of the film. Hence this interview with the man.

Mr. Cavayé, do you think the title of the film covers the story you’re telling?

I think so. During this dinner, a group of friends decide to put their cell phones on the table and they all share and explain their incoming text and social media messages to each other. I liked the idea, the concept of a cell phone as a crucial tool to tell a story, because when you make a film you have to come up with a universal theme that appeals to the audience. And, for better or for worse, we’re all familiar with cell phones. Everybody can recognize the characters, how they react, how they behave. That’s also what I look for when I go out and see a movie. Now I hope the audience feels as if it’s joining the characters for dinner.

The English-language title “Nothing to Hide” is even more powerful than the original French title, don’t you think so?

For sure, and that’s a great title too. A title can be very tricky and difficult to come up with. Sometimes it’s easier to write a script than finding an appropriate title for a film. For this film I preferred a simple title, very short, and not restricted to a particular film genre: “Le jeu” could even easily refer to a comedy, while you wouldn’t expect a film with references to “Basic Instinct” [1992] or Alfred Hitchcock. And that’s what I think the film is, it’s a little bit of comedy and suspense. And in the film, many questions are asked, and there is only one answer for each spectator, and that answer may be quite different from his neighbor’s. That makes it very interesting for any filmmaker, because people start to talk spontaneously about the film after they have seen it.

“Le jeu” is a remake of “Perfetti sconosciuti.” How did you first approach the screenplay?

I had seen “Perfetti sconosciuti” once and right away I knew what I was up to. Someone gave me a French translation of the screenplay, but I wanted to include several issues that I thought were important enough, so I began to mold the story into one of my own by creating different characters with different professions, other interests, other lives, which all made it pretty new to me. I started with an empty page, and to me it felt as if I had come up with something entirely new. It was a very interesting experience because I had done films that have been remade abroad, and now I was doing it myself, so I faced the same problems and worries that the filmmakers had when they were doing an adaptation of a script of mine. I remember when Paul Haggis and I were talking during the pre-production of “The Next Three Days” [2010] about the ending of the film. I had mine in the original film, but he had his doubts and was considering to change it. Of course, he was making his own film, so it was up to him to decide what he could do. And so now, I was standing in his shoes, working on a remake but doing it the way I wanted it to be. And recently I heard people who saw the three films – it has also been done in Spain – who told me the films are very different, even though they’re all about the same subject they’re like three different films, and that’s a very nice thing to hear.

Can you name one thing that makes it so fascinating to be a filmmaker?

The fact that you know things that your characters sometimes don’t know, or don’t know yet. They can do things in a number of scenes and are not aware of things that will happen to their character the following day. I like that. It makes the interaction very intense, and the actors stay alert to whatever happens to their character.

How did you shoot the entire dinner, with all the reaction, interaction, maybe quite a bit of improvising too? Was it easy to shoot?

No it wasn’t, it was very complicated. There were not the type of action sequences as I had in my other films, so the camera was very close to the actors, and the film is basically all about the actors. The screenplay was a solid base to begin with, meaning the dialogue was there on paper, but the actors were free to express their own interpretation and to the lines they had to say. For example, when I see a comedy, I’m not really waiting for any laughs but I’d rather watch how the actors are their character and bring it to life with their performance, based on whatever they are saying and doing. It allows them to show real emotions.

Bérénice Bejo, who became a global star after playing the leading role in the Academy Award-winning silent feature “The Artist” (2011), plays the leading role in “Le jeu.” Photograph: Belga films

You became a filmmaker at age forty, which is quite late in life. When did you eventually realize that you were a born storyteller?

I was a photographer before I turned to filmmaking, and back then I could never have imagined that I would or could become a filmmaker. On the other hand, I always loved to tell a story, even when I was a teenager at school. Of course, that doesn’t necesssarily make you a screenwriter because you need a lot of imagination to write a script. But I always loved films, it has been an important part of my life. And then, one day, I remember it very well, it was a Sunday, I wanted to write something down, a story that I had been thinking about for some time. I sat down, took my mechanical typewriter, and starting typing at 14:10 PM. I focused on my story, and when I looked up like five minutes later, it was already 19:20 PM. I can tell you, the feeling I had was simply incredible. I had really become a part of the story I was writing, and it was as if I knew the characters personally. That old typewriter really did it for me [laughs]. So I became very passionate about it and that was the beginning of my career in films.

Festival International du Film Francophone, Namur (Belgium)
October 3, 2018

The theatrical trailer of Fred Cavayé’s “Le jeu”

FILMS

POUR ELLE, a.k.a. ANYTHING FOR HER (2008) DIR Fred Cavayé PROD Olivier Delbosc, Eric Jehelmann, Marc Missonnier SCR Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans (original idea by Guillaume Lemans) CAM Alain Duplantier ED Benjamin Weill MUS Klaus Badelt CAST Vincent Lindon, Diane Kruger, Lancelot Roch, Olivier Marchal, Hammou Graïa, Liliane Rovère, Olivier Perrier

LA GUERRE DES MISS, a.k.a. THE WAR OF THE MISSES (2008) DIR Patrice Leconte PROD Franck Chorot SCR Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans, Franck Chorot (adaptation by Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans, Franck Chorot) CAM Jean-Marie Dreujou MUS Étienne Perruchon CAST Benoît Poelvoorde, Olivia Bonamy, Jacques Mathou, Christian Charmetant, Béatrice Michel, Michèle Garcia, Cynthia Groggia

À BOUT PORTANT, a.k.a. POINT BLANK (2010) DIR Fred Cavayé PROD Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont SCR Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans CAM Alan Duplantier ED Benjamin Weill MUS Klaus Badelt CAST Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya, Mireille Perrier, Claire Pérot, Moussa Maaskri

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2012) DIR Paul Haggis PROD Paul Haggis, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Michael Nozik SCR Paul Haggis (screenplay POUR ELLE [2008] by Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans) CAM Stéphane Fontaine ED Jo Francis MUS Danny Elfman CAST Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Moran Atias, Jason Beghe, Daniel Stern, Aisha Hinds, Ty Simpkins, Olivia Wilde

LES INFIDÈLES, a.k.a. THE PLAYERS (2012) DIR Fred Cavayé [segment LE PROLOGUE], other segments by Emmanuelle Bercot, Alexandre Courtès, Jean Dujardin, Michel Hazanavicius, Jan Kounen, Eric Lartigau, Gilles Lellouche PROD Jean Dujardin, Marc Dujardin, Guillaume Lacroix, Éric Hannezo SCR Nicolas Bedos, Philippe Caverivière, Jean Dujardin, Stéphane Joly, Gilles Lellouche CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Anny Danché, Julien Leloup MUS Evgueni Galperine, Pino D’Angiò CAST Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Guillaume Canet, Manu Payet, Géraldine Nakache, Priscilla de Laforcade

MEA CULPA (2014) DIR Fred Cavayé PROD Sidonie Dumas, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Cyril Colbeau-Justin SCR Fred Cavayé, Guillaume Lemans (original idea by Olivier Marchal) CAM Danny Elsen ED Benjamin Weill MUS Cliff Martinez CAST Vincent Lindon, Gilles Lellouche, Nadine Labaki, Gilles Cohen, Max Baissette de Malglaive, Medi Sadoun, Velibor Topic

RADIN! (2016) DIR Fred Cavayé PROD Eric Jehelmann, Philippe Rousselet SCR Laurent Turner, Nicolas Cuche (adaptation by Fred Cavayé; original idea by Olivier Dazat) CAM Laurent Dailland ED Yann Malcor MUS Klaus Badelt CAST Dany Boon, Laurence Arné, Noémie Schmidt, Patrick Ridremont, Christophe Canard, Christophe Favre, Karina Marimon

LE JEU, a.k.a. NOTHING TO HIDE (2018) DIR Fred Cavayé SCR Fred Cavayé (screenplay PERFETTI SCONOSCIUTI [2016] by Filippo Bologna, Rolando Ravello, Paolo Costella, Paola Mammini, Paolo Genovese) Mickael Dumontier CAST Bérénice Bejo, Suzanne Clément, Stéphane De Groodt, Vincent Elbaz, Grégory Gadebois, Doria Tillier, Roschdy Zem