TIFF Interview: Bavo Defurne Talks “Souvenir”

Producer Yves Verbracken, Actress Isabelle Hupert and Director Bavo Defurne of Souvenir on the red carpet at a party hosted by Unifrance to honour French films at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 10, 2016.
Producer Yves Verbracken, Actress Isabelle Hupert and Director Bavo Defurne of Souvenir on the red carpet at a party hosted by Unifrance to honour French films at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 10, 2016. Credit: George Pimentel/Getty Images.

It’s quite amazing to live in the world where you can instantly become famous and also lose your fame within a few seconds. Liliane participated at the European Song Contest many years ago and had to be left satisfied with a second place finish, while the first place was taken by ABBA. Now, for many years she lives an uneventful life until the day when she meets a young man who wants her to restore her singing career.

During the Toronto International Film Festival, I had a great opportunity to sit down with the writer and director Bavo Defurne to discuss his latest featured film Souvenir. Here`s what he had to say.

MOVIEMOVESME: What did you find in the story of Liliane that compelled you to make a film about it?

Bavo Defurne: I think it’s the story about a cynic, pessimist person who’s disillusioned by life. She has all these dreams, ambitions, youthful energy and like a balloon losing air, it all went down just like that. She’s at a point in her life where there’s no hope, all her optimism is gone and she’s only a shadow of her dreams. I think what’s beautiful in that story is that another person comes into her life and she gradually accepts that person. She also accepts the optimism. I think it is a very optimistic movie and I like that; I think cinema can do that. If I go watch a movie I want to leave the theater happier than before.

MOVIEMOVESME: After securing 2nd place in the European Song Contest Liliane became famous. However, she finds herself working in a factory 30 years later. Do you think it was her way of disappearing?

Bavo Defurne: Yes, totally. I think she doesn’t want mediocrity, she wants it all or nothing. Since she didn’t get it all, she then wants nothing. It goes very well with casting as Isabelle always plays these characters who wanted all or nothing. You know she could work in a fashion store or in a chocolate boutique or something and be like a semi-diva. But she doesn’t want that. If she can’t be there at the top she’ll be disappearing in anonymity.

MOVIEMOVESME: Theoretically there’s a substantial age difference between the two protagonists. However, it doesn’t show on screen. So can you to talk about the casting choice?

Bavo Defurne: We wrote this story with Isabelle in mind and then it took some years to finalize the financing, get Isabelle on-board. I think she’s very charming, very beautiful and she’ll always be a girl even if she now has a lady’s age! She still has this girlish charm, is playful and vivid. Also I think the young guy, although he’s very young, he has this gentleman like oldness. I think his mustache helped, which made him look more than just a silly young boxer. It’s not a realistic film, let’s all accept that. I didn’t want to make a realistic film but in the heart it’s a true couple in the sense that somehow mysteriously they fit well together. Also because it’s non-judgmental and that’s the first and only thing I said during the rehearsals to the characters, to not judge the characters and that’s visible in the movie.

MOVIEMOVESME: The image of Liliane wearing Red lipstick and the dress performing her favorite song was very impactful. Can you talk about that scene?

Bavo Defurne: What’s really amazing about that is that when Isabelle Huppert wears the dress she becomes the character. The dress wasn’t supposed to be there actually; it was more of an accident that we stumbled upon this dress. She (Isabelle Huppert) looked wonderful in it and we were thinking where would we use it. I think red is a very good color and it also enabled her to find the strength when she was on the stage. Since there was not a lot of dialogue in the movie, we worked a lot with colors, shapes, gestures. For instance, he is all blue, a blue kind of guy and she starts in this brownish, earthy tone and disappears in this brownish interior. The first spark when her youth and optimism comes back is here when she wears red. She’s singing in a small bar and because of the light it seems there’s a spotlight on her, which is not the case. She feels that the spotlights are back, so we tried to convey that when she starts singing, with the red everything comes back. These are old tools of cinema which Hitchcock also used; they’re so beautiful and I think we should use those tools.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is the story about? Is it about love, life, not giving up or all of the above?

Bavo Defurne: I think it’s about everything. Sometimes I that this movie as about self-realization. It is about being yourself and living the way you are. In the beginning of the movie Liliane doesn’t live who she is. She’s not a factory worker, she’s not a 9 to 5, watching silly television shows lady. That’s not who she is; it doesn’t feel right. I think it’s an emotional story about your own identity. It can be light-hearted on the surface and I’m happy with what’s happening at the background. It wouldn’t have been such a good movie if the actors weren’t amazing. Sometimes in life luck just passes by; you need to be open to it and grab it just like Liliane does.

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