Bertrand Tavernier’s Cannes Triumph

Too many Romeos and only one Juliet. That’s the quickest way to describe La Princesse de Montpensier, a film retaining all the high-drama and decadent costumes of the novel by Madame de La Fayette. Above all, La Princesse is a love story, one that takes place during the religious wars between the Catholics and Huguenots in the 16th century. You can imagine the Shakespearean twists and turns.

Starring French actress Mélanie Thierry, La Princesse de Montpensier is the latest film by Bertrand Tavernier, a director with a long reputation in cinema, but who found this period piece particularly difficult to make. We sat down with Tavernier, who shed some light on the obstacles he faced and the satisfaction he felt after its triumphant premiere at Cannes.

What was the response at Cannes?

The response has been terrific. I mean, about ten minutes of applause, people yelling and cheering, and Mélanie was crying. I started to cry also, because it was such a reward. The film had been so difficult to make.

How so?

Well, nobody wanted to produce a period film. Nobody. In France now we have a dictatorship on comedy. People are like, “You must to do comedy, comedy, comedy.” I have nothing against comedy, there are some comedies that I like. The last one I saw, with Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis, was quite good. But I wanted to do my film. It is a very moving story. The response proved that I was right. Also, now in the newspaper, I am attacked because they say I am too commercial. My god, it took me a year and a half to find the money. I met so many people said, “Don’t do that film.”

What was their reasoning behind that?

I don’t know. My mentor, Michael Powell, said something that I think sums it up. We often have fights with the people who should finance our films because they don’t know what we do and we do know what they do. That’s the difference.

What were the difficulties is recreating 1562?

You have to do a lot of research. Eliminate everything that will look solemn, pompous. We must never shoot a scene with a modern point of view. I have to forget that I was shooting in a renaissance castle. For us, it is a museum.

What kind of research did you do for the costumes?

Well, for the treatment of the clothes I talked with a historian, and he said people at the time had absolutely no care about their costumes. They were taking their clothes and throwing them on the ground. I mean, they did not have any hangers. You can see this when they are going to have a duel outside the castle. Philippe de Montpensier takes off his coat and throws it. And then you have a servant who picks it up immediately.

Would you want to do something like this again?

I always try never to repeat myself. I think imagination is a virtue.

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