A few years ago, Cyrano a'e Bergerac broke house records and became an unlikely subtitled hit. Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau follows it with The Horseman On The Roof, and tells Alan Morrison about creating cinema on an epic scale.
For all that people complain about having to read subtitles. they didn’t seem to have many problems with the rich. rhyming verse that Anthony Burgess wrote for the UK prints of Cyrano de Bergerac. No other European arthouse movie since has reached such a wide, populist audience or reaped such rewards at the box office. all of which put great pressure on director Jean-Paul Rappeneau when deciding where to go for a follow-up.
‘Oui, oui. oui. oui. oui.’ agrees the 63-year-old Frenchman. ‘The real difficulty was not to think about this pressure. not to do something calculated. but make a film from my heart. So it's true that the choice i made wasn't an obvious one. because The Horseman On The Roof is quite a complex story. but minimalist at the same time. Even if it‘s played against a huge fresco, with long journeys. it's still a love story. and so very delicate.’
The film is based on the novel by Jean Giono. who died in I970. and follows young ltalian Hussar Angelo (Olivier Martinez) as he flees from Habsburg agents across the Provencal countryside in the 1830s. All around is death. disease and suspicion, brought about by a cholera epidemic. Against this bleak backdrop. the beauty of Pauline dc Théus (Juliette Binoche) stands out all the more: she and Angelo meet in an otherwise abandoned house and begin a friendship in which all emotions must be repressed, as she is already married to an older man. Together they cross the ravaged countryside. drawing ever closer.
‘Juliette Binoche has a mystery, but also an energy. A delicacy with an inner strength. Even myself, alter two years of this, I don’t know who she is really.’
‘Thematically, the cholera works as a “revealer” of society.‘ explains Rappeneau. ‘lt strips away the layers to reveal the cowardice and the lowness of people, their selﬁshness. the way they take advantage of the situation with the black market. But. at the same time. it also reveals the highest in humanity, the bravery. the generosity — and that side is shown in
Angelo and Pauline. They represent virtue.’
The casting of Juliette Binoche is one factor that
will ensure the film reaches an intemational i audience. Rappeneau is adamant that she has the one
quality essential for the part of Pauline: ‘La mystére.
' It's the same in the hook. she's seen through I Angelo‘s eyes and she represents a mystery for him.
He keeps asking himself. “Who is she? What does
3 she want? What is she searching for?" Juliette has a
mystery. but also an energy. A delicacy with an inner strength. Even myself. after two years of this, I don't know who she is really. Last night at dinner, we were sitting eating and she was facing me. i would look at her and she would smile. and l would ask myself. “Who is she?". '
It's unusual to see a French film in which emotions are kept so strictly in check. Gallic passions are typically extroven. while the British cinematic style places untold emphasis on a single. brief brush of flesh on ﬂesh. This romantic coldness does hinder the movie. keeping audience identification at bay to an extent that didn’t occur with the hidden longings that Cyrano felt for Roxanne. in many ways though, Rappeneau is more of an Anglophile than the
f majority of his compatriots. Neatly dressed and very
much the gentleman. he is perfectly at home amidst the rather formal surroundings of Claridge's in London when we meet. He's also a great supporter of the annual French Film Festival which takes place in Edinburgh and Glasgow. and which mounted a retrospective of his work in l993. His cinema comes from more clearly defined literary and theatrical traditions than other European directors, and his reference points are as likely to be great writers as
i the master filmmakers.
‘With Cyrano. I really enjoyed working in period
: detail.’ admits the director whose intricate approach
to ﬁlmmaking has meant that he has only made six
ﬁlms in 30 years. ‘bringing the 17th century to life again. not to copy it. but, ii.‘. a way, to reinvent it. My
The Horseman On The Boot: ‘emotions kept strictly in check’
background in books and my love of reading has been very much in the 19th century — Victor Hugo.
f Flaubert. Stcndhal. Balzac — and my first thoughts
coming out of Cyrano were that 1 would really like to re-create another age on the same scale. And there is a tradition in the history of French cinema that deals with spectacle. i like the idea that the events in Horseman happen in l832. the same period as in Les Enfants Du Paradis. it's a shame. but today what you‘d describe as French cinema is usually only intimate films. set in one room.
‘With Cyrano, I really enjoyed working in period detail, bringing the 17th century to life again, not to copy it, but, in a way, to reinvent it. My first thoughts coming out of Cyrano were that I would really like to recreate another age on the same scale.’
‘Horseman is the kind of film that we can make in Europe; it‘s not that they can‘t do it in the States. it’s
‘ just not really their cup of tea. But i didn‘t make the
’ film in the spirit of competition towards American
cinema. This has been a very good year for French cinema. Diversity is our strength - La Haine. Les Miserables. Horseman. N 'Oubliez Pas Que Tu Vas Mourir. But perhaps next year will be less so. because it‘s a fragile thing. it depends on the ﬁlm. but it also depends on the desires of the actual directors. There is a whole stream of new filmmakers now who are rejecting the old cinema — including me. But maybe that’s for the best.‘
The Horseman On The Roof opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Cameo Cinema. Edinburgh. on Fri 5 Jan. See Competitions page for the chance to win tickets and prizes.
The List 15 Dec 1995-” Jan 1996 33