It can be tricky conducting a phone interview via an interpreter, but Eric Lartigau, co-writer/director of The Bélier Family (La Famille Bélier), is up for the challenge with a little help from his translator Oona, and he amusingly acknowledges that his English is probably as poor as my French.
The real star of Bélier is newcomer Louane Emera, a finalist in the 2 013 French version of The Voice (La Plus Belle Voix). Was the film built around her or was the script written before she was cast? “No, she wasn’t involved in the very early stages of the project, but Karin Viard and François Damiens both had the presence of mind to think of getting her involved,” Lartigau says. “I saw a number of very good actresses, but when I saw Louane it was something like shock, as she was just perfect, and her casting was obvious.” It’s Louane’s first screen outing, and while she’s wonderful as our protagonist Paula it must also be asked: was there ever any concern about her ability to carry the film? “Yes, of course, as she’d never done a film before, only TV. Acting is a real job so it was a tremendous responsibility for her. I think that she was a bit frozen at first, like a hare in headlights – or maybe a kangaroo? She also had to be very precise with her use of sign language, so yes, it was a real challenge for her.” The thing about the Bélier family, of course, is that Dad Rodolphe (Damiens), Mum Gigi (Viard) and son Quentin (Luca Gelberg) are all deaf, and daughter Paula must communicate with them via sign language and translate for others. This meant that the non-deaf Damiens, Viard and Louane all needed to learn to sign convincingly (Gelberg is genuinely deaf and already pro ficient). How hard was it to train the actors to make it look real? “It was a great deal of work. It took four hours a day for three months with a coach. It was difficult, not just to learn the sign language but for the actors to do the correct facial expressions and body language too. Deaf people have their own rhythms, and the coach was able to work with the cast and develop their rhythms in a playful way.” Was there ever any uneasiness with portraying a mostly deaf family, and deriving humour, however warm and tender, from their difficulties in communicating? “Yes, there was great concern and we didn’t want to offend. We had to be faultless in the use of the signing and great concentration was involved. And it was about respect – we respected the characters – and that meant that it was genuine.” After comedic character dramas like Bélier, thrillers and more, what projects might Lartigau be tackling next? “I want to do a drama about a family, about the generations in a family, and how things are passed from parents to children.” But as regards any further information on this potential film, a title or a possible star, Lartigau is firm: “Non, non, non!” The Bélier Family opens on Boxing Day