My Life? My career? Je ne regrette rien … confesses French film icon Funny Ardant

A retrospective on the life and the career of Funny Ardant, Close Encounter, at Rome Cinema Festa, 14th Edition, Rome October 2019.

Muse of Francois Truffaut and a true icon of the French and international cinema, Fanny Ardant comes back to the big screen with grace and charisma in a genial, intense and exhilarating movie that is all about nostalgia and recapturing the past to make sense of the present;  La Belle Epoque by French director Nicolas Bedos. The film has been presented in the competition section of the 14th Edition of the Festa del Cinema di Roma 

But forget about being lost in the past; at 68 years old and with more than 80 films under her belt, Funny Ardant is more vibrant and beautiful than ever – we met her at the Close Encounter held at the Auditorium during the Festa del Cinema di Roma.

Funny Ardant Rome Cinema Festa, 14th Edition, Rome October 2019.

How did you approach your character in La Belle Epoque?

She is a pretty awful person, isn’t’ she? (laugh) I think she is a mix of cruelty and fragility, she wants to shake up her husband, she wants to shake up herself and recapture a youth she has lost. Her cruelty towards her husband and her unfaithfulness, in reality, is a way to recapture the early moments of their love, their marriage, but her desperation makes her act in such a mean way. What I loved is a richness that comes with the contradictions this character brings… her fury, her violence…. it always comes down to fears. 

 

If you had to relieve a period of your life in movies; which one would you choose?

Maybe, I d like to re.live the period of the Woman Next Door, my first film. When I got that part I felt all the planets were aligned in my life to bring me good luck. 

Funny Ardant Rome Cinema Festa (Festa del Cinema di Roma), October 2019

Do you identify with a sense of nostalgia as the characters in the film, and what is your relationship with nostalgia?

I think nostalgia can drive you crazy, you need to be able to make good use of it. And yes, I am a very nostalgic person in the sense that I cherish and value my past. I am an expert on getting lost in my memories, even if they tell me is not good to look back (laugh). I tend to indulge in that but I also love the present. But the past and presents are like twins. For this job, I had to tap into both, the past and the present. If you want to cherish your present, you need to understand your past without getting lost in that.

You are a veteran actor and have worked with some of the best directors in the world. La Belle Epoque is Nicholas’ first feature film. What is it like for you working with newcomers? 

I don’t have prejudices against young or new directors, like many colleagues. I think Nicola was very careful about timing, about the music, about the rhythm and he has a really strong sense of the structure of storytelling. When a director shows these qualities, for an actor is a real joy. And, even if you don’t know where he’s going, it’s enough to trust him and feel safe.. A director with no experience can be at times a breath of fresh air. I never strategise, I am not a strategic person, I am an instinctive person … and the two things can go well together. 

You are very loved by Italian cinema and you speak Italian fluently....

Yes, and I love Italian cinema back and acting. I learned to speak Italian thanks to some great Italian actors and directors I worked with. The first one was Marcello Mastroianni, then Ettore Scola, Vittorio Gassman. Gassman and I have met him through a Belgian director I have worked with. Gasman was able to speak French very well – he had such a charming accent. 

What do you remember about him?

He was very impatient and he had this great sense of humor, he was a man I loved so much for his intelligence and his love of theatre. I had the impression he was a humanist. 

The Woman Next Door by Francois Truffaut, 1981; You have been muse and partner of Francois Truffaut, and this was your first film ever. What memories do you have about working with him in this movie?

He was not a big talker yet he always managed to dialogue with his intimacy in life as on the set and the imaginary power of cinema which he managed to communicate to his actors very well. Francois was one of those film-makers who didn’t talk much. When I did this movie with him, which was my first movie ever, he sent me a script with six or seven pages of notes, about his thoughts, considerations, and analysis of the characters and of the story. I felt an immediate affinity with the notes he had written, I felt it reflected my way of seeing life which made me feel a deep connection with him. He had a strong sense of the actors’ job. And even if more than talking he wrote down he is thoughts, I never felt his work was heavily scripted; it felt like he was always improvising. 

Which scene do you think captures best the tragedy of the story? 

In the film, there is a character that says a very important thing: with you or without you. This is the sentence that carries the tragedy of this story. What I remember also about shooting this film is the strong friendship between Gerard Depardieu and Truffaut. He simply adored Gerard, he was like a brother for him. They managed to laugh one minute and the next, they were able to go back to the intensity of a very dramatic scene. It was great watching them to work together. 

What was it like to work with Gerard Depardieu?

 I met Gerard on a tv set, years before. The first thing that comes to mind about him is his handshaking in The Woman Next Door. We have a scene in the film, where the character of Gerard shakes my hand. He had to pretend in front of my screen husband that he had never met me before. The way he shook my hand was so strong, so deep, so intense. I knew immediately on that set that he is one of those actors that makes you forget you’re acting. Playing that role with Gerard in The Woman Next Door, made me realize that he had a very powerful impact on the way I viewed acting. Gerard showed me an intensify that I didn’t think existed in acting. 

 Finally Sunday, by Francois Truffault, 1983; Can you tell us about this beautiful black and white French film by Truffault?

Francois was always thinking about films in the 40s… He was so fascinated by Hitchcock’s film-making and that sense of suspense, tension, which Francois always wanted to bring to its viewers. He always told his actors…., fast fast, as he didn’t want to leave the time to the audience to think. He was a very charming man, with a sparkling personality like a glass of champagne, he liked to privilege the ambiance, atmosphere. This film was an homage to Judy Garland.

 La Famiglia by Ettore Scola, 1987; Can you tell us about your work with Ettore Scola in La Famiglia? 

It was an amazing experience, almost surreal. I never knew why Ettore Scola chose me as I was a French woman in this very Italian film about an Italian family and household and I had to play an Italian role. It’s on this set of this movie that I have started learning Italian. 

Is there a big difference in working on a French set and an Italian set? 

Oh, there is a big difference. During the shooting of a film, you become kind of family with the actors, the crew I remember, we used to meet in Fregene, by the sea during the weekend and we played poker together. There is a sense of friendship and camaraderie that you don’t find on a French set. I remember that I came to do this film with my dog. I took him on the set too and this dog was following me everywhere. We had these recurring scenes in the screen family house’s corridor, and the dog would not stop following even during shooting. Eventually, Ettore decided to include the dog in the scene, this is an unforgettable memory for me!

And, I loved the sense of joy on an Italian set. The chaos! I think it suits me more for some strange reasons, the chaos helps me concentrate. In the silence, I found it more difficult, but the moment when they say “ACTION” that’s it, the silence descends on the set. So what is the need of silence before the scene ..like on a French set … that’s boring….(laugh).

Clip from Ballando, Ballando by Ettore Scola, 1883

What memories and what you liked about this other film of Ettore Scola? 

Oh, it is so dear to me. I tell you a story. My 8 years old nephew adores it – it has seen this film seven times. Isn’t it amazing? I loved the fact that Ettore Scola’s cinema can be discovered by new generations but cinema in general. This means that great movies never goes out of fashion. 

Callas Forever by Franco Zeffirelli 2002; What emotions does re-watching this Zeffirelli’s movie bring backs to you?  

It brings back lots of emotions, painful emotions too. Talking about La Belle Epoque, talking about what period of acting I’d like to go back to… (she gets tearful)..there are so many … and working on Callas Forever with Zeffirelli is one of that. A lot of the people that I was in these films with are gone .. it is very touching for me …. they are dead now. It is amazing to remember them but painful too. 

Have you ever met Maria Callas?

I have never met her or never saw her singing live but I knew her voice very well. I used to listen to all her music when I was growing up. When I was 11 years old, my father gave me and my sister a shared gift: a record of Carmen played by Callas. I have never stopped listening to her, I was very fascinated by her. When Zeffirelli called me to bring her on the screen, I could not believe myself. I referred to existing performances to play her, from pictures of her, and Franco’s script, of course. It was very clear that the film should have not had a documentary feel. I trusted Franco, I let him lead me in exploring the psychology and life of this incredible, very complex woman and artist. 

You have a great passion for music then?

Yes, but not only opera. I am completely fascinated by the power of popular and contemporary music for its immediate storytelling impact that has on people and on their emotions, which can be sometimes even more immediate than films. 

Stalin Couch, by Funny Ardant 2006; This is your last directorial work …why a film about Stalin and why Depardieu for this role?

It was a movie with a tiny budget.. Gerard is the first actor that came to mind when I wrote this movie. I said to him, “I’d like to have you, but you’re not necessary for the making of it” But he accepted, he’s such as generous actor. I never intended to do a historical film about Stalin. I wanted to present Stalin as a Shakespearean character, a tormented character. I had no pretense, I wanted to bring on the screen a complex character and who is better than Gerard for that?

Can you tell us what motivated you in becoming also a director? 

I didn’t want to become a director because somehow I was losing interest in acting. I think my desire to become a director doesn’t spring from my passion for acting but more from my passion for writing. There was a time when I was doing lots of theatres and in theatre, while you are sitting on backstage and you have a lot of free time. I use this time to write. I always like to write very intimate stories. I have never had the ambition of becoming a box office director. I knew that my stories were too intimate to find a budget and a producer… This is why probably I always wrote such intimate stories (laugh)..

What do you think is the impact of women directors in the today film industry?

I have never wanted to make a gender distinction in film-making. I think in terms of human beings, and not in terms of films made by men or women. One day a journalist asked me what did I think about being directed by a woman. And I asked him; “why, is she a woman? “ I have never felted oppressed by the idea of male power. I always felt very free to be a woman and to be who I am. I think in terms of humanity. In that sense, I can’t say that I am a feminist. 

In a few words, how would you summarise your life and career so far?

Je ne regret rien …. ( I don’t have any regrets)

 

Francesca Lombardo, Journalist and children’s book author.

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