The Vincent

October 19, 2009                                                


It's late Thursday morning in the lobby of an Old Montreal hotel, and French movie star Vincent Perez and filmmaker Denis Dercourt - who have clearly become great pals - are talking about the enthused response the night before to their film Demain dès l'aube. The French movie, which opens here commercially Oct. 30, screened Wednesday night at the Festival du nouveau cinéma, and they were chatting about the Q&A after the screening, which was, in Perez's words, "fort sympathique."

"You know Denis is a music professor, so he really knows how to entertain a group," Perez said, to howls of laughter from Dercourt. "I'm just his humble servant on occasions like that."

Dercourt is indeed a music prof, at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg, where he teaches viola, and his musical background has often served as an inspiration for his films. His most famous movie, 2006's La tourneuse de pages (The Page Turner), is a critically acclaimed psychological thriller about a frustrated musician who decides to exact revenge on the woman she believes crushed her career.

Demain dès l'aube is not a story about music, but a musician is once again front and center. Perez plays Mathieu, a famed concert pianist who is in the midst of a major mid-life crisis. His mother is undergoing chemo treatment at the hospital, which leads Mathieu to move into the family home to keep an eye on his younger brother Paul (Jérémie Renier), a slightly unbalanced fellow who has an unhealthy obsession with taking part in re-enactments of Napoleonic battles.

At the Q&A after the fest screening, folks wanted to know if Dercourt was, in fact, into this historical role-playing himself - a question that apparently always comes up in discussions of the film. He's not. But one of the reasons he became fascinated by these men who spend their weekends recreating the Battle of Waterloo is that he feels there is some similarity between their obsession and the way musicians think.

"As a musician, I play a lot of baroque music on ancient instruments, and I'm part of the generation of musicians that was into playing music on the authentic instruments from the era in which the music was composed," said Dercourt. "So I've spent a lot of time thinking about what it would have been like back in that era. I remember when I was young, participating in one of my first opera productions, and the singer refused to wash, so he could be like the singers from the 17th century. And he really smelled! And that's what those role players are like. They talk like they're in that era. They call Napoleon 'le patron.' It's very special."

Almost all the extras in the film, which features numerous realistic battle re-enactments, are not actors, but non-professionals who are part of this unique subculture in real life.

Some have suggested these folks are not that different from actors - a comparison that Perez isn't buying.

"No, I think they're more like we were when we were playing cowboys and Indians when we were kids, with stricter rules," said Perez, whose lengthy, eclectic resumé includes roles in everything from The Crow: City of Angels to Fanfan la tulipe.

"But they feel like they're actors," Dercourt argued. "They like to show themselves off. There's another similarity as well: There's a moment in your métier, as an actor, when you fall completely into a role, and there is this kind of friction between reality and the role you're playing."

That's exactly what happens in Demain dès l'aube, with these men gradually losing grasp of the fact that their war games are supposed to be just games.

Dercourt thought Perez was perfect for the part of a guy who's initially reluctant to put on a period costume. That's because Perez was once known as the go-to guy in France for costume films, including notable period pieces like Le Bossu, Cyrano de Bergerac and La reine Margot.

"I had read interviews with Vincent where he said these kinds of roles were often proposed to him and that he'd been refusing them for years," said Dercourt, "that he wanted to change the kind of roles he played. And that worked perfectly for the character."


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