Francis Veber on "The Valet"

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By Michelle Devereaux

Celebrated French auteur Francis Veber is nothing if not a gentleman-perhaps even to a fault. The writer and director of films like The Dinner Game, The Closet, and Le Jaguar (he also wrote the screenplay to La Cage Aux Folles) is so amenable, in fact, he'll even let you call him by the wrong name. In an interview the 69-year-old Veber gave to a radio station the same day he talked to GreenCine, a journalist kept calling him "Francois." But Veber didn't correct him once-and even referred to himself in a promo by using the incorrect name. "Francois is much more of a French name," he offers in defense. Actually, Veber's famous onscreen alter ego, Francois Pignon, was probably more to blame for the mistake. After all, character and creator have become so synonymous over the years, it's a natural one to make. In reality, though, the dapper, composed, effortlessly genial Veber doesn't much resemble the sad sack Pignon-at least not on the outside. No one would mistake him for macho, but he's certainly no "wimp" (he even has a penchant for boxing metaphors). In Veber's latest comedy, The Valet, Pignon is back-this time portrayed by the wide-eyed, Moroccan-born Gad Elmaleh, who brings with him a more naïve interpretation of the eternally put-upon everyman. As flamboyant and bubbly as vintage Krug, The Valet is typical Veber: often populated with despicable characters and washed in world-weary cynicism, but ultimately exuding the optimistic, innocent energy of first love. In Veber's world, the "little" guy is never nearly as little as everyone thinks.

 


Usually Francois Pignon is in midlife-crisis mode: middle-aged, worn down by life, hapless. This time around, though, you've made him much younger and less beaten. How come?

It depended more on the premise. He's a parking valet, and it's sad to see a 60-year-old parking valet. So it was necessary for him to be younger.

So you got the premise first then?

I always have the premise first.

What inspired you this time around?

Well, the fact that the billionaire, who's performed by Daniel Auteuil, is a kind of Donald Trump type-people that think they can buy anything, you know. And I was interested to have this man in a situation that was tough for him, between the wife--who could be ruthless because she's part of the business and he can't get a divorce from her--and this mistress, the supermodel. He's the whole time lying to the mistress, lying to the wife. The paparazzi get him in a picture with this girl, the supermodel, and this man is passing by. And for this reason, this billionaire lies and says, "She's not with me, she's with him." And Kristin Scott Thomas, who's performing the wife, says "This little man with this girl? But she's so beautiful." And he goes back to his attorney and says "What can I do?" and the attorney says "Just have her live with him for a few days. Your wife will check." So this man, this Donald Trump, he sees his mistress that he loves in this little apartment of this little man. That was for me a very interesting premise.

Of course, Pignon is actually quite charming, in a goofy way. It's not impossible to believe that this woman would choose him, especially since the billionaire is really quite a cad.

Well, you know, I think in real life, you have leagues, like in boxing. You have heavyweights and lightweights. And this little man is in love with a girl who's in the same league as him. This girl, the supermodel, is not in his world.

But Virginie Ledoyen (who plays Pignon's true love) is a pretty beautiful woman as well.

She is the same size as him. Same class. She was his first love, and he wants to marry her, when this girl arrives in his apartment. I think it rescues the film. It saves the film from being salacious. Otherwise, this little hairy man living with this goddess-he would always try to look at her in her shower and touch her in the bed and things like that. I didn't want that kind of movie. So I was happy to have this idea of him in love with someone else.

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