On the occasion of launching the comedy 10 days without Mum we publish an interview with director Ludovic Bernard, known for The Climb, Mission Pays Basque and In Your Hands.
10 days without Mum opens February 28th in theaters in Romania and Hungary, distributed by Prorom.
What sparked the idea for 10 Days Without Mum?
It's actually a remake of an Argentinian film. Romain Brémond and Daniel Preljocaj, my producers, loved it and thought I might be interested. I immediately fell in love with the story, which was very funny but had an emotional core, even a bit of gravity, which I found interesting. Those are the ingredients I like to see in a comedy. Even though I'm fond of jokes and comical situations, I like for there to be something else between the lines. Here, it's about a man's redemption, a father's redemption. Will he be capable of change, and to really take care of his loved ones?
Is there anything personal that appealed to you?
The story impacted me because I'm the father of two daughters, one of whom is similar to Chloé, one of the characters in the film. I'm well aware of how much I've worked and travelled the last few years. Yes, I've been absent, and thankfully my wife was there to find solutions for every little thing that comes up day after day. And I sometimes had to make up for lost time. That's also the reason I wanted to invest myself fully in this project.
How did you modify the original script?
With my co-screenwriter Mathieu Ouillon, we worked to adapt it to French culture, to the habits and mannerisms of French children and teenagers, which are not always the same as in Argentina. Other than that, in the roles of the mother and father, there were a lot of universal things we chose to keep. It's a universal subject.
Is it fair to say that it’s a family comedy about family issues?
It's absolutely a family comedy. The story takes place in the south of France, in a typical large family in which there's no cheating, no fighting, and a lot of love. But the father is too preoccupied by his work and because of this, he overlooks all kinds of small things that are important to his children. He overlooks his children because of his job. He hasn't really seen them grow up. He doesn't know them, really. What the movie highlights is the absence of this father, despite his physical presence, as well as a lack of paternal structure and authority. Children need love as well as guidance.
So, the title, 10 Days Without Mum, is meant to make us wonder how the father is going to manage in her absence?
Exactly. Isabelle, his wife, decided years before to quit her i b as a lawyer in order to take care of four children and her husband, which is basically like running a small company. When she decides to take a vacation on her own, because she's tired of being invisible, he must manage all the things he's never taken care of. I know how much work that entails.
The film deals with the dynamics of a family, as well as the dynamics of a couple...
The character of Antoine and his wife Isabelle have a bit of an outdated relationship—the man works, the woman stays at home... This has totally evolved, thankfully. I would say this is an old formula, that of the previous generation, our parents' generation, but it's nonetheless what Antoine represents at the beginning of the film. So, he has a long way to go.
Isabelle seems to be the pillar of this family. She handles all day-to-day responsibilities, as well as her husband's contracts... Wouldn't you say she is a bit exploited?
She's more the problem solver. She's the mother who knows all, iust like in a lot of families, and who manages to handle everything without getting overwhelmed. Whereas a father, if he's preoccupied with something, will often postpone things, and answer with "not now, come back in 10 minutes, let's see tomorrow". The more you defer the answers to children's question, and fail to sort anything out, the more your risk losing them. You shouldn't minimize their questions. What might appear insignificant to us in the moment is often crucial in their eyes. Plus, concerning the dynamics at the heart of this family, I started thinking about Freud's claim that parents are like a bone that children chew on, which I always found very funny.
How did you select Aure Atiko for Isabelle's character, this mother who, at the beginning of the film, seems to swim in a sea of domestic bliss, and has a saintliness about her?
I wanted this woman to be loved and beyond reproach, so that you couldn't |udge her for leaving her home or think that she was abandoning her family. On the contrary, I wanted the audience to think "break free and let them figure it out for once." I liked Aure immediately. Other than the fact that she's beautiful and talented, she has this smile and this benevolence in her that legitimizes the character's choices.
Children play an important role in the film. How did you pick them?
It was a long casting process during which we saw many children from different age groups. We gravitated towards those who were comfortable in front of the camera and around adult actors, and who also understood the emotional content we were asking of them. Evan Paturel who plays Jojo, 2 years old, was a natural fit. I was committed to working with someone that age despite the problems it poses, because he doesn't speak very well yet and Antoine is the only one who doesn't understand him, which is a sign that he doesn't pay attention to him. Secondly, Violette Guillon who plays Chloe, age 12, was incredible during auditions. The choice of Swann Joulin for the role of Arthur, age 14, and llan Debrabant for Maxime, age 8, eventually fell into place. It became clear, when we took family photos with the four of them, that they created a beautiful family with Aure and Franck. The family ties seemed completely credible.
And how did things shake out with them?
Let's just say it was a matter of patience. You must learn to wait and wait, and not to give up on anything even on days that are jam-packed. Especially with the little one, whose desires didn't always line up with ours. Evan is a brilliant child but, on some days, he didn't feel like dressing up or participating in the film. Small children don't deliver the script on cue. If they say the line at all, they'll speak a little bit before or after the ideal tempo. Basically, they do what they want and there are a lot of unknowns to balance. That back and forth with adult actors can be complicated. I couldn't have done it alone. There were days where I wanted to pull out my hair, but Franck was an incredible partner to have, always patient and amused—a wonderful set dad who was incredibly patient with the children, even when he felt discombobulated. And honestly, I sometimes took advantage of his desperation and left the camera rolling. This obviously worked with his character as an overwhelmed father.
Antoine gets swept up in a series of hilarious domestic catastrophes that he doesn't seem to be able to contain. How did you envision these scenes?
Like pure action scenes, with the rhythm of the Home Alone anthology. As soon as the mother leaves, it's a complete disaster, a jungle with no rules. I wanted things to move in a crescendo, with the camera following each movement, and for it to go in every direction and leave you gasping for breath.
Why did you go with Franck Dubosc for Antoine's character?
When I saw the South American version of the film, I immediately thought of Franck for the role of the father. It had to be him and no one else. I was really moved by the film he directed, Rolling to You. I found it beautiful, subtle, and intelligent despite being built around a risky subject. And it seemed to me he wanted something more than a slapstick role, even though I am totally on board with that. But I felt it was good for him to show another facet of his personality, a softer, more reserved, emotional side that is about expressing your feelings, which he hasn't done much before. This is what we looked for together, while making sure not to eradicate his incredible range as a comedian. Franck blew me away with the range of his acting. He manages to make this lost, indefensible character both likeable and charismatic. All I want is to make another movie with him.
Antoine works in human resources but knows nothing about his four children. He thinks more about climbing the social ladder than raising his children. But isn't he a bit of a child himself?
He is, within the family dynamic. His wife mothers him. When he's at home, Antoine lets himself get taken care of. Outside of the home, he is obsessed with the promotion that he has been waiting on for several years. You can't fault him for that; it's understandable. However, it is true that the relationship he has with his rival, played by Alexis Michalik, could also seem childish. They often act like kids on a playground, showing off their muscles, trying to see who comes out on top. Which is something that, it seems to me, happens in some companies.
Their rivalry brings about on unbelievable scene around the loyoff of a warehouse worker, played by Alice David.
Yes, it's a pissing match, a display of power in order to be recognized, which makes them look completely ridiculous and brings them to fire this young woman for stealing three screws. Even if we are exaggerating a bit for comic effect, I still feel like reality isn't too far off. I recently heard that a cashier lost her job for a mistake in her tally totalling 24 cents. It's iust as ridiculous and absolutely tragic.
The character played by Alice David, Julia, is important. She comes to Antoine’s rescue without knowing he led to her demise. Is she the voice of reason?
When he tells her that in his world, people shouldn't steal, she responds that in hers, people should take care of their kids. She triggers something; she makes Antoine face his responsibilities. Alice immediately understood the subtleties in her script. She has several scenes face to face with Franck, with a lot of dialogue, different emotions to communicate, and she placed the bar high. Thanks to these two actors at the top of their game, this resulted in scenes I'm very proud of.
The women in the film, in fact, are all the "good guys". Is this intentional?
Completely intentional. I wanted to show that mothers, hence women, generally have a better perspective on how to approach life.
What does this movie hove in common with your first three films? Aren't they all about men who ore changed because of love?
Antoine does change. As he becomes able, again, to show his children love, he transforms them as well. I've always told stories in which notions of transformation hold an important place because they allow protagonists who start off on the wrong foot to find their way towards a new life. But I had never thought about it in this way and you are indeed correct: women help elevate men. That I firmly believe.