Delphine Lehericey on “Last Dance”: “In a comedy, the actors are in another rhythm”

After she made “Le milieu de l’horizon” (2019, a.k.a. “Beyond the Horizon”), a coming-of-age drama set in 1976 starring Laetitia Casta, Swiss-born screenwriter and film director Delphine Lehericey’s next feature film is “Last Dance.” The dramedy and Swiss-Belgian co-production was awarded the Prix du Public at last year’s Locarno International Film Festival.

The film follows Germain, played by French actor and screen veteran François Berléand. He’s an introspective retiree and becomes a widower at seventy-five. He barely has the time to realize what has happened to him when his family forces their way into his daily life: non-stop phone calls and visits, meals, and activities organized in advance—all meant to make his life as regular as a Swiss clock. But Germain’s mind is elsewhere. Honoring a promise he made to his late wife, he suddenly finds himself at the heart of a contemporary dance company’s newest work. In the film, the dance ensemble is led by La Ribot, a Spanish-born dancer, choreographer, and visual artist. The result is a feel-good film that puts a smile on your face by the time the end credits appear on the screen.

“Last Dance” is the third feature film made by Delphine Lehericey (b. 1975); she also directed documentaries, including “Mode in Belgium” (2011) and “Une cheffe et sa bonne étoile” (2016, a.k.a. “A Chef and Her Lucky Star”) about Belgian Michelin-starred chef Isabelle Arpin. Ms. Lehericey also developed her first TV series, “Les indociles,” to be broadcast in late 2023.

To some extent, “Last Dance” reminded me of a long-forgotten and precious little gem called “The Trip to Bountiful” (1985) that earned the film’s leading actress Geraldine Page her eighth Oscar nomination and only Academy Award. Both films are richly detailed and have the same empathy and approach towards older adults who, when still in their prime, have heartfelt wishes and desires on their bucket list that they’d like to do during their retirement years. “Last Dance” also questions why old people are often treated like children.

“Last Dance” (2022) and “The Trip to Bountiful” (1985)

“Last Dance” is available in various territories and is released in Belgium on June 21. International sales are handled by the Brussels-based sales company Be for Films.

The following interview with “Last Dance” screenwriter and director Delphine Lehericey was conducted in Brussels recently, where she talked about her latest film. A heartwarming story of grief, loss, love and dance.

Ms. Lehericey, “Last Dance” is a drama while at the same time, it’s a very funny film that you can easily relate to. Was that your main goal?

As I did in my previous films, I wanted to make a film about real human beings. And as we all grow older, I would like to be delicate in my storytelling and talk about things people can recognize and relate to. I write about emotions that I feel, or how I look at the world, my family and friends, but also what makes me laugh or makes me sad. It’s great to share that with others; it connects you with the people around you. That’s what makes it so interesting when you create your characters; I like to create people as if they were heroes, and when you’re not around them, you feel sad or have the impression you’ve lost a friend—even if it’s a fictional character. That is what I like about my work.

How do you create those characters when you’re writing your screenplay?

I always begin with one character in particular and then see what can happen to that character. That’s how I slowly create his whole world. For “Last Dance,” I had the character of Germain. I wanted him to be an older person so I could talk about his age, mainly because very few films focus on people in their seventies or eighties. And it would have been easy to talk about this old man, his wife has passed away, and he feels very miserable. But in real life, there is more than only drama. There is drama and humor, and I wanted to see how the character of Germain could move on after losing his wife, how he would be able to get his life back on track and have a new purpose or new goals in his life, how he can be the best version of himself and not the opposite, or how he can be his own best friend. If he can become a better version of himself, he’s like a good bottle of wine.

François Berléand plays Germain, the 75-year-old grandfather of Kacey Mottet Klein | Box Productions/Need Productions

That is maybe the message you’re trying to tell with “Last Dance”?

Yes. If you look at the dance ensemble of La Ribot, there are old people and young people, they all have different backgrounds, and they’re all wonderful and a delight to watch. You get to see a lot of diversity in their small universe.

Is Germain a fictional character, or is he based on someone you know?

He’s based on my grandfather, who is ninety-eight. They don’t have the same history, but he’s been retired for many years, and he has a gratifying life after his professional career. He’s very fortunate to be in great shape. His health allows him to do many things; he’s happy, he still loves to meet people, and he’s always curious. I am always working, always in a rush; I want to make a film, find a distributor, etc. That’s why I adore my grandfather: he has reached that stage when he’s at ease. He likes to read or see a film. To me, he’s an artist in a way. And I think that art and culture can influence all of us; each book or each movie is much more than a product, it’s something that required quite a bit of research. So when an audience goes to see a film, who knows, they might be touched by it—or maybe not, and I understand that. That’s why I’m not fond of film awards because you can’t compare films. They tell different stories, they have different budgets—everything is different. The film business is very rude, in a way. But I am always delighted if a film moves the audience; sometimes people don’t care, and sometimes they’re blown away by what they have seen because they just might recognize themselves in happy or painful situations that they saw in a film.

Was there a reason why Germain’s wife was an artist and, more particularly, a dancer? And why not, for example, a writer, a singer, or a painter?

I like the theater and I’m familiar with it. But not everybody who appears on a stage has to be an actor and play a character with several pages of dialogue. A dancer doesn’t have that, so that’s another approach to being on a stage. He has his body and his physical appearance, and from that point of view, today’s ideal image is to be good-looking, athletic, and have muscles. But most people don’t look like that, and that’s precisely what makes all of us so beautiful. If you were to play Germain, the movements would be different. Anybody would play him differently because everybody is unique, and being unique is wonderful.

How did you collaborate with La Ribot?

I knew her work, and I had seen performances of hers. She often performs all alone, and my producer from Switzerland knows her personally. She has a great and funny personality; she’s like a character from a Pedro Almodóvar movie. She’s a powerful woman from Madrid, and since she’s so unique, I didn’t want to imitate her—I wanted her to play herself in the film. And she agreed right away. It was a funny experience for her; she’s in charge of her own group, but as the film director, I was in charge [laughs]. And she’s not used to waiting, while on any film set, you always have to wait for the lights, sound, camera… But she’s a real professional; she’s sixty now, and she has danced since she was fourteen.

François Berléand with La Ribot in “Last Dance” | Box Productions/Need Productions

Did she play her part, or did she do the choreography?

Both. There were scenes when she had her lines of dialogue and she played her role like an actress, but we also improvized with her, the actors and the dancers. We put the camera in the middle of the set and worked as if we were shooting a documentary, giving her much freedom in her work as a choreographer. She saw the film last summer at the Piazza Grande in Locarno [Switzerland] and was worried about how the audience would respond. But she was very pleased, and people loved her work.

What about you? When you screened the film in Locarno, did you also have any doubts? Were you nervous?

Yes. I have worked in the theater; if something doesn’t play out well, you change it. But once your film is finished and ready to be screened, there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to screen it the way it is. And the Piazza Grande is huge; seven thousand people watched the film for the first time. For François Berléand, it was also the first time he saw the film; he had no idea if it would work. So that premiere was very stressful for all of us. C’était un traque immense. But it was magical; when it works at the Piazza, it gives you an incredible energy boost. It was a unique experience for all of us.

Robert Wise who directed films like “West Side Story” [1961] and “The Sound of Music” [1965], once said to me, ‘The worst thing that can happen to a director during his first screening, is a bad laugh—people laughing when they’re not supposed to laugh.’ Do you recognize that?

I understand that. It’s tough when you write and direct a comedy; this film is funnier than my previous films, and that makes it very difficult. It’s a totally different way of paying attention to your work, c’est une mécanique très différente. Not only when you’re writing the screenplay but also when you’re shooting and editing. In a comedy, the emotions are different and the actors are in another rhythm, and it’s not funny when you’d say, ‘Ah, you’re funny!’ No, you have to be more dramatic. When you shoot a comedy, it’s more tragic than when you shoot a tragedy. Look at what Charlie Chaplin did; the more his character got into trouble, the funnier he was. A comedy is all about several problems that must be solved immediately to make the audience laugh. Then you create this lightness.

Was it easy to convince François Berléand to play Germain?

Yes, it was easy because he loved the screenplay. As a stage actor, he often plays leading roles, but he doesn’t play too many leading roles in films. He makes a huge amount of films and usually plays supporting roles. He is seventy-one now, and he told me, ‘C’était mon plus beau tournage.’ I was very proud to hear him say that, especially if you look at his long career as a film actor and the list of films he appeared in during the past forty years.

Did you have him in mind for the part of Germain when you were writing the screenplay?

No. I thought of my grandfather, father, and people I know. That helps me to create a character and make it real. If you think of an actor when you’re writing, it’s because you have seen him in a film, but then you limit your capability of imagining your character. It works better for me to think of people I know and only in the next stage to think of the actors that would be right to play that part. I love actors, but when I’m writing a screenplay, I focus on the characters.

June 16, 2023

“Last Dance” (2022, trailer)


PUPPYLOVE (2013) DIR Delphine Lehericey PROD Elena Tatti, Sébastien Delloye SCR Delphine Lehericey, Martin Coiffier CAM Sébastien Godefroy ED Ewin Ryckaert MUS Soldout CAST Solène Rigot, Audrey Bastien, Vincent Perez, Vadim Goldberg, Theo Gladsteen, Valérie Bodson, Jan Hammenecker

LE MILIEU DE L’HORIZON, a.k.a. BEYOND THE HORIZON (2019) DIR Delphine Lehericey PROD Elodie Brunner, Thierry Spicher, Elena Tatti SCR Delphine Lehericey, Joanne Giger (book by Roland Buti) CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Emilie Morier MUS Nicolas Rabaeus CAST Laetitia Casta, Luc Bruchez, Thibault Evrard, Clémence Poésy, Patrick Deschamps, Lisa Harder, Guillaume Lemarre

LAST DANCE (2022) DIR Delphine Lehericey PROD Thierry Spicher, Elena Tatti SCR Delphine Lehericey, Martin CAM Hichame Alaouie ED Nicolas Rumpl MUS Nicolas Rabaeus CAST François Berléand, Kacey Mottet Klein, La Ribot, Déborah Lukumuena, Astrid Whettnall, Dominique Reymond, Sabine Timoteo