Eighth wonder

Daniel Auteuil, star of Jean De

F lorette, La Reine Margot and Ma Saison Pre’fe’re’e, is one of France’s greatest actors. He tells Hannah Fries how working on The Eighth Day provided one of the warmest experiences in his distinguished career.

Daniel Auteuil has been giving interviews all day. and now it‘s 5pm. He enters the room with a shrug, slumps into a chair and lights a cigarette. Not only is he tired from explaining his new film to so many people. but he is having to do so in English. not a language in which he is particularly fluent.

As an actor. he is remarkable for his intensity. which can simmer for ages and then erupt into fierce emotion in a key scene. Auteuil‘s personal manner during the interview is low key. but dramatic nevertheless. At moments. he leans forward and speaks at length; at others. he backs away from questions and leaves you with the sense that he is hiding himself.

His filmography of 38 movies is a vast and impressive portfolio which includes some of the greatest films made in France in recent years. He appeared in Claude Berri‘s compelling Jean De F Iorette and Manon Des Sources and more recently

Auteuil In Jean De Florette

in Claude Sautet's masterful Un Coear En Hirer. lf Auteuil is not exactly a household name on this side of the Channel. his face is memorable.

‘I chose him for his nose.‘ says Jaco van Dormael. director of Auteuil's latest work. The Eighth Day. Truly. Auteuil has an impressive Napoleonic nose on his face. It‘s the kind of face that looks hunted without the actor having to do very much. and this may explain why he so often lands roles in which the character carries a burden of emotion that they cannot or will not express.

In The Eighth Day. he plays just such a character. Harry is a salesman who is trapped by a daily regime that keeps him alienated from his feelings and unable to improve his life. An unexpected and deep friendship with a Down's Syndrome man called Georges is the key that unlocks Harry and enables him to feel love and happiness.

‘It was a real pleasure working on this film.‘ says Auteuil. ‘I feel that it was a privileged experience to be able to see things as a Down’s Syndrome person to see things through that filter of goodness. During the filmmaking process. so many things. like sex or violence. become banal . L . but tenderness. never. Incredibly powerful feelings came out ofthis film and nothing was going to wear them out during the process.

‘I do not know what I was looking for in the role.‘ he continues. ‘but I know what I found. The experience was like a delayed shock like a time bomb that only exploded afterwards so that I only realised what I had got from the film when it was finished. During the filming, [just wanted it to feel right. happy. But after. I realised how subversive this film is. It has this raw emotion, this really concentrated emotion. and it spits it at you.‘

What is startling about The Eighth Day is the dominating role payed by Down’s Syndrome actor Pascal Duquenne as Georges. Duquenne has worked mostly in theatre. and he brings an almost theatrical spontaneity to the film.

‘Working with Pascal was much more difficult than with another actor. because with Pascal you cannot pretend.‘ Auteuil says. ‘If you pretend. he just won’t pick up on it. Your performance has got to be real. I don‘t mean that I am playing myself. but I had to

Daniel Auteuil and Pascal Duquenne form a bond In The Elghth Day

perform with real energy. with real generosity. with real affection. Though not with real feelings. of course. Likewise. Pascal is giving a lot of himself when he is playing. but he is not actually his character. Acting is playing something very difiemnt from yourself. but with everything you have to give.’

Asked if his relationship with Duquenne has become something comparable to that found by Harry and Georges in the film. Auteuil‘s response is more measured. ‘Friendship is a very strong word,’ he says carefully. ‘I am very cautious about using words to describe feelings of love and friendship. it was more an exchange. and the warmth of these

‘I had to perform with real energy, with real generosity, with real affection. Acting is playing something very different from yourself, but with everything you have to give.’

exchanges is still carrying on. It is not something that has finished because the film is finished.’

Duquenne has been playing the piano at the other end of the room while this conversation has been taking place. posing for a photographer. Now he comes over and joins us. His manner is shy. but he is clearly close to van Dormael and Auteuil. and they respond to him with keen affection. Following up what Auteuil has said. I ask how similar he is to his character. ‘I am me. Georges is Georges.’ he responds, and everybody laughs.

Van Dormael has admitted that in our real world it is perhaps not true that people with Down’s Syndrome are more happy or more free than the rest of us. It is one of the film’s contradictions that the Down's Syndrome character is both believable and fantastical. Georges is symbolic of another way of life. which is an inaccessible ideal to the majority of us. and his condition is to an extent a convenience for the filmmakers. The director does not pretend that his film is anything other than a fairy-tale, and his message is simple: ‘Through this film I am asking us to be more human beings, more sensual. more close to what we really are.‘

The Eighth Day opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh F ilmltouse on Fri 8 Nov.

The List l-l4 Nov I996 23