Laetitia Colombani Interview

Laetitia Colombani's romantic thriller 'He Loves Me' turns her star's angelic image on its ear

Laetitia Colombani's romantic thriller 'He Loves Me' turns her star's angelic image on its ear

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Call her the woman who took the "Amélie" out of Audrey Tautou.

27-year-old writer-director Laetitia Colombani cast the angelic French actress -- best known for her irresistibly wide-eyed performance in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's ingenious romantic confection from 2001 -- in her twisty new thriller "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not," taking full advantage of Tautou's sweetheart public image before turning the tables on her audience.

Tautou's character, a pretty young art student in love with a handsome but married cardiologist (Samuel Le Bihan), begins the film looking every inch the blushing innocent in an ill-advised relationship. But as the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that her concept of the affair might not be based in reality -- to a dangerous degree.

Colombani -- a willowy young woman with a cute, confident-but-reserved college-student character, a matching, moppish, bob-cut hairstyle, and wide eyes that match Tautou's in their limpid gaze -- visited in San Francisco a few days before her film opened here to talk about the origins of the story and the casting of her star.

Q: So in English the title of this movie is "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not," but the French title seems to be something completely different. When I typed "Á la folie... pas du tout" into a translation web site, it came back as "With the madness...at all." That can't be right, so what is it?

A: It would be "Madly...and Not At All," because you know, in France we have a game with the flower, you pull the little petal and it's not "he loves me...he loves me not," it's [plucking at an invisible flower] "he loves me...just a little...a lot...passionately...madly..." and "not at all." So the title is "Madly...and Not At All" -- the opposites.

Q: Ahhh. So it's the same idea, but your chances are much better than 50/50 in France.

A: [Smiling] Exactly!

Q: I understand that this film -- the script -- started out as a student project? Tell me how this came about?

A: Actually, yes. I was in the national movie school in Paris, I had to write a thesis, and I chose to write it about madness in movies. I had one year to write a thesis about madness in movies, and the practical thought was to do a screenplay about madness. But first of all it was a short film screenplay -- it was about 40 minutes. That's what I gave to my school. Then I decided to add many things, and it became a long feature movie.

Q: And how did it end up at a studio?

A: Ah, after that I spent many years re-writing the project and changing the structure, because in my thesis it was a very linear structure. I decided to add things and change the structure, and after four years of working on this project, I decided to send it to a producer -- Charles Cassot, he's a very famous producer in my country. And he received the project by post, with a letter from me, and he decided to produce it.

Q: That's amazing, because I'm sure he gets scripts in the mail every day.

A: Actually, I had met him once before -- seven years before.

Q: Ahhh, ok.

A: He was the producer of a huge movie called the "Beaumarchais, l'insolent." It was on the Beaumarchais' life, and I was a trainee. I was part of a camera crew and I saw him on the set one or twice, and I could talk with him just a little. So seven years after that I decided to send him the script, but I didn't think he would remember me.

Q: But on the off chance that he would, you sent the letter hoping it would be a hook and he's say, "I remember that girl!"

A: Yeah, exactly.

Q: Wow. That's terrific. And Audrey Tautou?

A: I didn't know her before, but I decided to send her the script, too. It was just during the opening of "Amélie" in France, so it was not such a huge success it is now. So I sent her the script, and she read it, and at the first sight she phoned me and said, "I really like the project, but I won't do it because this part is too far away from everything I have done before and I'm afraid maybe I'm not able to play such a difficult part." But two days later she phoned me back and said, "I cannot stop thinking about that. I'm really afraid of doing it, but I have to do it."

Q: Had you already seen "Amélie"? Or rather, what had you seen her in that made you think of her for this part?

A: Before I met her, I did not see "Amélie." My choice of Audrey was not because of "Amélie." I had seen her in "Vénus beauté." It was her first movie.

Q: Oh, yes. "Venus Beauty Institute" it was called here. Yes, she was good in that -- and quite different from "Amélie." She made quite an impression. I can see how you would have thought of her for this film based on that character, a young girl who is insecure and ends up with an older man.

A: Yeah, she was great.

Q: But I'm sure the "Amélie" thing worked out in your favor because casting Audrey after that sweetheart role would give you several extra minutes of suspended disbelief from the audience who had seen her as that angelic thing and would be reluctant to suspect her of being crazy.

A: Mmm, mmm, mmm, yes. Sure.

Q: When "Amélie" became such a huge success, did that occur to you -- that it was going to add to the suspense because people wouldn't suspect her?

A: Ummm, it was not because of "Amélie," but because of all the films she made before. She was always very lovely, very kind, very nice. So yes, I thought that people would not guess that she was the mad person in my movie. It's about manipulation -- my movie is about manipulation -- so it was a very good thing for the movie. I needed an actress who could seem very lovely and very nice, who could actually be also violent and strong.

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