French director David Moreau smiles and laughs a lot in the bar at the Hotel du Louvre in Paris. Even though it is mid-morning, he radiates the joie de vivre of a man who has been celebrating all night. But he has good reason to smile. His third film, It Boy (titled 20 ans d'ecart or 20 Years Apart in French) is a hit in his homeland.
The romantic comedy stars Belgian actress Virginie Efira as Alice, a 40-year-old magazine editor who reluctantly becomes romantically involved with Balthazar, a man half her age, played by Pierre Niney. The two meet on a flight back from Brazil, but, as in any good romcom or screwball comedy, at first neither is particularly impressed with the other.
The film's success has come as a bit of a relief for Moreau, 37, after his previous film The Eye, a supernatural thriller he co-directed with Xavier Palud in the United States. The film starred Jessica Alba and it was Moreau and Palud's first taste of Hollywood after they directed the French thriller Them.
The film did not do as well at the box office as hoped. "It was OK, it wasn't a disaster. But I'm always a responsible director. I did a lot on a small budget with my first movie. I don't want a movie to cost a lot if it can cost less," Moreau says.
He says Sir Peter Jackson is a role model of how to wisely make movies on small or big budgets. "When he did The Fellowship of the Ring, it was expensive. If Americans had done the same movie it would have [cost] three times the money. But he was smart."
Moreau's mention of Jackson is not an attempt to ingratiate himself with Kiwi audiences. For one, he loves horror movies.
"I was a big fan when I was a kid," he says, citing Jackson's 1987 low budget horror debut Bad Taste, which was embraced in France.
"It was not crafted at all. It was free and stupid and bloody and fun. I really loved it."
The move from thrillers to a romcom did surprise some people, says Moreau - but what they did not know is that he also loves comedies. His preference has always been visual comedy, rather than solely relying on dialogue, he says. "I'm a big fan of silent movies. If you have five sentences in one movie, I'm OK with that but comedy needs silence. I really love silence much more than a line."
The results can be seen in It Boy too. A lot of the laughs are in incidents and the body language of the stars rather than dialogue - including the use of ubiquitous social media to unmask Alice and Balthazar's covert romance.
And while it is mostly played for laughs, Alice and Balthazar's relationship subtly touches on the double standard in French and other Western countries where it is more acceptable for an older man to be involved with a woman half his age, rather than the other way around.
Moreau says he was conscious of the set up. He points to a number of "cougar movies" made in Hollywood that have gone straight to DVD. "They've got women with big boobs going ‘I'm a cougar'. It can be vulgar. But I wanted to make it as strong as it could be. It's cute and it's like a journey."
Elsewhere in the hotel, Efira explains that she had some reservations about the film before agreeing to star. "I was sent the script and there were some things that I really liked about it - others, not so much. I really liked the general theme of the movie and the way it was written, but I wasn't 100 per cent positive about wanting to do the movie.
"I met the director and very quickly I realised that he was willing to tweak and rework certain parts of the movie. He is a cinema lover and has very high-quality standards, even when talking about a comedy. He had very solid ideas about aesthetics and philosophy. That's why we decided to work together in the end."
Efira, who at 36, is playing a character slightly older than herself, says her main concern with the early script was that she felt that half way through the story "some producer had jumped into the wagon" and got rid of some interesting contradictions in the couple's relationship and also made Alice more acceptable to a broader audience.
"I contributed to turn a two dimensional character into a 3-D character. But it is a romcom at the end of the day with all of its codes."
Moreau saw 200 actors before he cast Niney, who is now a sought after name since It Boy and has landed the title role this year in Yves Saint Laurent about the fashion king. Efira says it was important that the two had some kind of chemistry off screen to have a strong chemistry on screen.
"When we started to work on the movie he wasn't really known. What really got us when he was cast was his own contradictions. He has a lot of self confidence but there is something really frail about him as well. But there was a lot of chemistry between us from day one. I could have fallen in love with him outside of the movie set."
"But don't get me wrong," she quickly adds, smiling: "I didn't harass him and I didn't stalk him."
Moreau was also determined that the two hit it off prior to filming. He engineered dinner at a restaurant for himself, Efira and Niney. Moreau then deliberately left early, leaving the two alone.
"It was just myself and Pierre and he brought me home at 3am on his Vespa," Efira says.
The next thing she knows there is a scene in It Boy where Alice, albeit with some reluctance, accepts a lift home on Balthazar's scooter.
"Just before I made this movie I was at this cinema festival and I was hanging out with this group of young actors, [all] 20 year olds.
"The thing about this generation is that they are much more free in a sense. They are not just actors, they also write and direct. There's less vanity about them I guess.
"They were smoking pot. Usually I don't do that at all. But I thought ‘I'm here in the group, might as well.' Then I thought to myself: ‘ what am I doing here? I'm 35 years of age. Why do I have to act cool for these guys?"'
It Boy screens as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, Rialto Cinemas, Newmarket,and Berkeley Cinemas, Takapuna, Auckland, until March 16; Movie Max Digital, Timaru, until March 9; The Suter Theatre, Nelson, March 5-16; Rialto Cinemas Tauranga, March 13-23; Embassy Theatre, Wellington, March 19-April 6; Rialto Cinemas Dunedin, March 20-30; Cinema Gold Havelock North, March 27-April 6.
- Sunday Star Times