The Vincent

          September 1999                                                                 

libertin13s.jpg (24074 bytes)





Wednesday, August 12th – noon. At the Chateau de Villette in La Val D’oise. The busy technicians are in the middle of a brouhaha. Two maids in hoopskirts and corsets are leaning against a low wall. They are singing and chattering. At the top of the steps, Michel Serrault is being followed by a crew of tailors finishing with the adjustments to his costume. Then comes Vincent Perez, the hero of the film as Diderot. One would believe it's1750 when, in fact, they are shooting Le Libertin, a daring comedy about the Philosopher of Lights. Already authored and written by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt and the director Gabriel Aghion. "I would find it very exciting at that century’s end, very politically correct in speaking of an era which would have a philosophy of life without taboos and barriers," says Aghion, who directs his actors in a laid-back manner.

The scene shot this morning reunites the cast for the big finish. Josiane Balasko, the colorful baroness, carrying tennis shoes under her canary yellow costume. Arielle Dombasle, a nymphomaniac married to a repressed homosexual (Christian Charmetant). Bruno Todeschino and Arnaud Lemaire are a couple of young marquis encyclopedists and finally Fanny Ardant, superb in spying and intrigue. All of the Libertin company take refreshments on the terrace until the impromptu arrival of Diderot’s personal enemy, the wet blanket, Michel Serrault – the Cardinal.

libertin15s.jpg (25514 bytes)

Between two scenes, Serrault discusses very seriously with Arielle Dombasle the practices in vogue in the United States, and then recounts his memories to Vincent Perez and Fanny Ardant. Waiting in the wings, Serrault steals a little limelight from Vincent Perez, who has the air of not seeming to like him. Long hair and incipient beard, the actor says he approached his character "with serenity."

"What attracted to me to Diderot," explains Vincent Perez, "is his visionary spirit. In my immersion in his work, I discovered a bulimic thinker, a sort of explorer of thought. But careful, this is not a historic reconstitution of his life."

Gabriel Aghion took, in fact, some liberties with history. "I would like the 18th century to be unpowdered, uncoiffed and unclothed," he declares as he joins his assistant for the shoot. Head to head between Josiane Balasko and Michel Serrault. Silence is asked.

Followed by the camera, the Baronne d’Holbach confesses to the Cardinal, "What do you think of my believing in God in a world of people like me?" "I ask that myself," responds the man of the church. "Cut!" hurls Gabriel Aghion. The scene poses a problem. Re-shooting – 5 takes, 10 takes. Josiane Balasko blurts, "This is not an easy scene," which she explains to Fanny Ardant looking for support. It is necessary to find just the right tone between pure comedy and the actual character. Patiently the producer re-assures and changes her attitude.

Michel Serrault tries variations in his script. Time passes, the rest of the crew play like undisciplined children. Some talk with their agents. Others read l’Quippe or La Monde. An extra there since morning leans towards his neighbor and whispers in his ear, "What’s his name again, the producer, Robert?"

libertin16s.jpg (20814 bytes)

It’s 8 pm . He is still shooting a scene. Diderot must read to an intriguing Madame Therbouche his article on morality. Vincent Perez and Fanny Ardant are ready – we’re off.

[Contributed and loosely translated with omissions by Cody Sian-Michel]

squig2a.gif (488 bytes)