French director Patrice LeConte‘s “My Best Friend” (Mon meilleur ami) centers on Francois, a middle-aged antique dealer with a stylish apartment and a fabulous life. At a dinner with a group he considers his dearest acquaintances, he is blindsided by the revelation that none of them actually like him. He’s arrogant, self-centered and harsh, and they don’t believe he knows the meaning of friendship. His business partner Catherine makes him a bet: if he can produce a best friend, she will let him keep a massive Greek vase he acquired that afternoon on the company tab. If not, it’s hers… LeConte won a BAFTA as well as French Cesar Awards for his 1996 film “Ridicule,” including best film, which screened in competition at Cannes that year. IFC Films opened “My Best Friend” Friday.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
Initially, that is to say since [the beginning], I wanted to have a job which would enable me to express myself, tell stories, transmit and share emotions. This desire was at once confused and rather simplistic, but always completely genuine. And today, more than 30 years later, I realize that my motivations are the same, with less confusion I hope, but with just as much sincerity.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
Before stopping this exhausting work (the day will come), my dream is to shoot a musical film. Music has always had an important place in my films. But a real musical–sung, danced and modern–would please me above all. Otherwise, on a purely technical level, I don’t have any particular desires, special effects having never been my cup of tea (although I am fully aware of current technical progress and what it can bring to our work).
Please elaborate how the idea for “My Best Friend” came about.
The film stemmed from a very simple idea: a guy goes to a funeral attended by very few people and asks himself this question which we have all asked ourselves once or twice: “What about me, who will come to my funeral?” He believes he has lots of friends, but must soon confront an opposite reality: he has no true friend. The question is: Who are our true friends? Does one ever have a best friend?
Jerome Tonnerre, my co-scriptwriter, and I wanted to do a film based on this very subject: friendship.
Please discuss your approach to making the film, including your influences…
The initial idea was to create a universal comedy that would also be firmly anchored in reality. A naturalist, light, charming and funny film that also asks real questions. I know that when audience members leave the film, they almost always ask themselves the question: “Do I have a best friend?” This proves that the film moved them or, at least, that it did not leave them indifferent.
I haven’t thought about any specific references. A lot of Italian, French and American films include characters that are friends. I am nourished by them and by many other films, but this is rather vague and I am unable to mention a specific film that would have inspired us to write this one. It’s better to be inspired by life than by other people’s movies!
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
No specific challenge, other than that of making a good movie! This type of film is not too difficult to create in terms of production and distribution (a universal popular story with good actors). However, it’s more difficult to shoot if you want the film to have allure, rhythm, emotion and style.
How did the casting for the film come together?
The producer offered the project to me. At the time, no casting was planned. We were able to write the characters without ever thinking about actors. Only afterwards did we consider who could act in this story. We had to create an unusual couple made up of complementary actors. Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon were perfect, above and beyond any of my expectations.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker, and what is your next project?
I mentioned wanting to do a musical film. My next project could be a film shot in the United States, in English (I will have to make some progress between now and then!), a new adaptation of “Monsieur Hire,” written by Paul Auster, which would be called “Homeland.” I cannot say anything more for the time being, other than the fact that the shoot is scheduled to take place in New York during the spring and summer of 2008.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
In France, the only more or less independent films are those that manage to be made on a small budget and without a TV channel as co-producer. But one can only shoot limited things within this financial context. The practically unavoidable partnership with TV stations make our films less and less independent, and tends to normalize the projects and ideas we have, which is rather sad.
What are your interests outside of film?
Besides movies, I like theater, I direct plays on a regular basis (the last one was the theater adaptation of a film I directed in 2004, “Intimate Strangers“), I like painting (I would have loved to be a painter), I write a little and I do a lot of bicycling!
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
My advice is: know exactly what you want, have specific ideas in mind and hold on tight because as soon as you start letting go, things begin to unravel and you can’t do anything about it.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of…
What I am probably the proudest about, is to have made all of my films with the same passion. Some were successes, others failures, but I always believed in them. It is only with this energy and genuineness that we can hope to make, one day, a film that will connect with the audience.