Editor’s Note: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Queen to Play”
Director: Caroline Bottaro
Screenwriters: Caroline Bottaro, Caroline Maly, Jeanne Le Guillou
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Francis Renaud, Jennifer Beals, Valérie Lagrange, Alexandra Gentil
Synopsis: An inquisitive French Riviera hotel maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) becomes entranced by a vacationing couple (Jennifer Beals, Dominic Gould) as they play chess on the hotel balcony. Tired of her humdrum existence, she quickly cultivates her curiosity for the game into an obsession. Her working-class husband doesn’t share her fascination with the game, so she employs the help of the American expat and retired doctor (Kevin Kline) whose house she cleans a few times a week. As her passion for the game increases, her natural talent and hard work (done mostly in secret) lead her to a chance at a championship and a new shot at life.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Caroline Bottaro and I was born in 1969 from a German mother and an Italian father. I always lived in Paris, France. Before “Queen to Play,” I directed two short films, “Longue Distance” and “La Mère,” and I co-wrote many scripts, in particular for Jean-Pierre Améris.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
I love cinema and I always wanted to make movies. After directing my two short films and working as a scriptwriter, I started few projects that didn’t work out… I wasn’t ready maybe… I think now that a good project is the one that chooses you as much as you choose it… the one that resists through time and doubts… the one that brings you up and gives you the strength to overcome any obstacle… the one that you must absolutely do… and the one that becomes real! This has been the case for me for “Queen to Play.”
What prompted the idea for your film and what excited you to make you undertake it?
It was precisely on the beginning of October 2003, when I read the manuscript of Bertina Henrichs’s first novel “La Joueuse d’Echecs.” Bertina was then my neighbor in Paris and when she finished writing it, she asked me for my opinion. I was very touched by the story of this maid who reveals herself and blossoms through this passion for Chess and I immediately wanted to adapt it.
Also, the film is for me inseparable with my meeting with Sandrine Bonnaire who expressed her enthusiasm for the project since the first day. During the four years needed to finance the film, Sandrine and I became really close. The multiple script versions and the shooting were enriched by our friendship. For me, the stake of “Queen to Play” was also to make a portrait of Sandrine. And finally, I think that the film’s character, Helene, resembles to her, as much as she resembles to Bertina and me!
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.
I think that a film is the result of a lot of work, but also of a series of coincidence and decisive meetings: For “Queen to Play,” there was at first, the discovery of Bertina Hernrichs’ novel and the desire to adapt it for Sandrine Bonnaire. And then, there was the moment when on April 2007, Dominique Besnehard and Michel Feller, who just launched Monvoisinproductions, wanted to produce the film : they understood my project and were very respectful to my work and thanks to them, everything was possible, even the wildest dreams. Amongst these dreams, there was my desire to give Dr. Kröger’s part to an American actor. Kevin Kline, who I admired for a very long time, accepted the challenge to play for the first time in French in the film. He’s full of sobriety and the film owes him a lot for his charm and his charisma.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
The biggest challenge was to keep believing in my project and carry it, against all odds, for four years… and especially during times that could have led me to believe that it would never be made!
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
The success for a filmmaker is to succeed in making movies… and to keep making movies!
What are your future projects?
I was deeply invested in the “Queen to Play” adventure and as long as the film is not seen yet, not released in theaters, this adventure is not over for me yet… I have many ideas for other films: I’m waiting for the moment when one of them imposes itself!