We met Eric Barbier, the director of THE PROMISE OF The DAWN. He spoke with us about his passion for this colossal work of Romain Gary and the way he has dealt with.
The great novel of Romain Gary “Promise of Dawn” has just been brought to the screen by the delicate film director Éric Barbier. Met during the presentation of his film at the Festival International du Film d’histoire de Pessac, he spoke to us about his passion for the writer and his desire to adapt this novel to film, the universal relationship that binds a mother to her son and the way he worked with the actors.
Tell us how you arrived on this ambitious project, and if you’ve never been taken of doubts in the face of the weight of the work of Romain Gary ?
– Eric Barbier : the making of The film to me has been proposed by producers Eric Jehelmann and Philippe Rousselet. Diego Gary, the son of a Roman, had asked for a film adaptation, following the recent release of rights. The doubt, I’ve had it before you begin. Because before you say yes, I still mouliné and took time. This is when I realized that the actual dynamics of the story, it was the revenge social a child who avenges her mother, poor, humiliated, and he sees suffering, I realized that I could get hold of the book. I told myself that it was a real engine drama in the cinema, because the angle of the relation mother-son was the trigger for me. It is also a love story that I have constructed a story here as such in terms of drama, in the sense that in love there are conflicts, challenges, doubts, separations, reunions. The work on the film was to find the emotions of the book of this man, for which I discovered myself a real passion. Otherwise, I doubt during the shooting and asks me repeatedly : is what I’m saying ? Such a plan is it right ? Is it that I do my job well to treat the topic ?
Diego Gary he read the script, gave his opinion, and may be evidence of censorship ?
– E.B : I wanted to read the script, because it was important for me as it is to say that there was this link with his father. It is very warm and made me confidence. The novel begins in Big Sur, but I replaced it by an anecdote in Mexico as told by Lesley Blank, the first woman from Gary, in his book “Roman view”. The beginning was difficult for him because of his mother, it was Jean Seberg. But I gave him the arguments to understand that this was the book that we were talking about and that cela allowed me to show that Lesley was reading the manuscript, as the object of the book. And then, when I went to Wilno, which the archives have been opened in 2014 to mark the centenary of the birth of Romain Gary, I’d share my discoveries. The own books of Gary, is that a large portion of the situations have been invented, according to the researchers in the literature; it was discovered that he had an elder brother who has lived in Wilno and died sick in 20 years at Dresden. I stumbled on a letter from Nina saying that she wanted to go see it. With this new axis, one can also enter his kind of obsession to hold his son and protect him against any.
You work with your co-writer Mary Eynar, it is important for you to have a sparring partner ?
– E.B : On such a project, which asked for 4 years of development including 1 year 1/2 writing, it is important to engage with someone who made proposals. There was also the difficulty to remove things, because there are more than 800 situations in the novel and to the arrival there are 120. The choice is a reflection in common and what is interesting is to argue and not to be arbitrary. I think that the choices I made are the ones that tell the best what affects me at Gary’s ; it is my vision and what moves me, because it is a book very funny with very dark and melancholic. For example, I wanted the comic scenes and burlesques ; and I have kept to Mariette the same spirit of comedy in the film than in the book.
This is when I realized that the actual dynamics of the story, it is a child who avenges her mother, poor, humiliated, and he sees suffering, I realized that I could get hold of the book
Can you tell us about the choice of the voice – off of the film ?
– E.B : I couldn’t imagine the film without voice-over, because from the beginning it was very important for me to find the language and writing of Romain Gary, who has a look distanced, very second degree. There has been quite a comical aspect and irony in the voice that I absolutely wanted to keep. Ironically on of the more dramatic scenes, he will have the black humour and scenes lighter it will make the drama of the century. What I wanted was the audience to think by hearing this narration, which are excerpts condensed from the book, sometimes shortcuts: “what I mean is the book “.
What were your sources of Inspiration ?
– E.B: The work of adaptation of the historical epic made by Arthur Penn in Little Big Man was interesting, at least on the cinema and how to frame the discovery that he had the same problems as me. It is the adaptation of a very big novel, the film of Penn begins in childhood with a voice over, this film is a picaresque where the hero goes walking and meeting people and it goes through his life with appointments that mark its course.
Is it a blessing or a curse to have a mother like that ?
– E.B : It is neither a curse nor a blessing. Romain Gary said that his novel was not an ode only to his mother but to all mothers. Each one is constructed by default or by excess with complex reports or not to his mother, sometimes passionate. It is a universal story between a child and his mother, on the transmission and on what our parents give us, but also on the debt and on what they should grow up. Everyone is affected by the novel because each one finds a part of him.
The film is carried by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays the mother of Romain Gary : his choice has there been a highlight ?
– E.B : I worked twice with sthere mate Yvan Attal , and I really wanted to work with her. Even if there was also an echo staff in Charlotte, because his family on his father’s side emigrated to France around the same time as Gary, it was not obvious. I especially need to have very good actors, who embody the characters at different ages. The character of Nina is very earthy and physical. The image of Charlotte is slight and evanescent, she speaks gently and has almost no body, like transparent. We did a reading of the scenario, but I always had this reservation. But it is a very great actress, who has an imagination, absolutely extraordinary, and which builds its characters on a very intimate which a director has no access.
I understood that the body was the most important thing for her, because before dealing with the psychology and the history of her character, she talked about her body that she could not play it as is. There has been a lot of work on the makeup, the costumes, the stooped posture, the wigs, the prosthetics on the belly and breasts so that the things are not, but it has everything integrated. From my point of view, all the elements of a film (sets, makeup, costumes, and light) must disappear to allow the consistency of the shape to be as close to the subject, because if we see them, we go out of the story. I was impressed because Charlotte completely disappears behind the character, she embodies Nina, his violence and his passion in an extraordinary way.
It is you who have held to this that she speaks French with a Polish accent ?
– E.B : I was totally against the focus, but Charlotte spoke to me about the emphasis on the knife from her grand-mother. I thought that it would never work because the audience projecting an image onto the actors. But she is very stubborn, she has learned to speak Polish and focus. I was impressed from the first scene because she has found the right mix and the perfect balance, not at all in the ridiculous. It is also credible because the beginning of the movie takes place in Poland and the focus is in the history.
How have you worked to make the link inexpressible among the three actors who embody Romain Gary (Pawel Puchalski of 8 to 10 years, Nemo Schiffman of 14 to 16 years of age and then Pierre Niney)?
– E.B : I was released from the physical resemblance between the actors, because it is an adaptation of a novel and not a biopic. It is a story completely invented by Gary and his mother, with biographical elements. Like all the great writers who leave things very intimate and transform reality, condense, invent, and dramatize. The link between the children was so natural. The difficulty for me was to move from a child to an adult, we don’t work the same way. As a child actor who has not the memory of his emotions but of the emotions more real that we must seize. This is especially Charlotte who ran Pawel in the scenes with improvisations, because I had asked that he only learns not his text.
A adult actor finds the emotion in which he lived and kept in memory, and will rebuild, and rebuild. Pierre Niney, as Charlotte, has this ability to go in search of deep things that come out of a distance, but it is not known where, and one feels that there are pieces of skin that leave when it plays. The actors had not met for work, I wanted to preserve the child, keep things natural and intuitive. But Peter, as a true workaholic who is looking, has asked me to see the first footage that I’ve started turning the first 4 weeks with Pawel ; he has spent hours watching it, and I don’t know what they took or looked for his own work as an actor. With regard to the passage of the roundness teenage Nemo Peter drier, this also gave time steps, which was to accept the breaks.
The music for the film written by Max Richter sometimes gives the impression disconcerting to be in the series the Leftovers : why this choice ?
– E.B: Yes, we recognize in his writing ! I wrote the script listening to all the albums in Deutsch Gramophone of Max Richter (who is primarily a composer of contemporary music and does very little series). It was exactly the same melancholy in his music that I felt in the book of Romain Gary. From there, I brought up the excerpts from his albums, and he has reworked the music to be in the rhythm of the film.
You say not to read the critics, for what reasons ?
– E.B : good reviews are constructs on an object, it is almost already a created object. I especially like to talk about my film and on my way to work. Criticism, it is another system, sometimes with settlements of accounts or things of a peremptory nature. And then the film is finished, it is already on other projects. Besides, my next project is an adaptation of the “Small Country”, the book of Gael Faye, who also has a lot to do with the Promise of The dawn. It is exciting, see you and I share with him the scenario but he does not intervene. I’m going to turn this summer, it is still a film with children, with whom I love working.
Interview by Sylvie-Noelle
You’ll also find our review of the film !