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“What I see in real life is worse”

Interview: director Cédric Klapisch. While Klapisch began his career in comedy, he now moves on to more serious affairs with Ma part du gâteau (Mein Stück vom Kuchen).

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Photo by Anna Achon

Cédric Klapisch entered the cinematic scene in 2001 with the critically acclaimed comedy L’auberge espagnole and Klapisch’s latest creation represents a migration to more contemplative territory.

Ma part du gâteau (Mein Stück vom Kuchen) follows the plight of a young female factory worker in the small harbour city of Dunkirk forcibly left unemployed by a high-flying, womanising businessman. With the obvious allegory to the current global financial crisis, to some the film may be pedalling pessimism but Klapisch tells us why he doesn’t see it this way at all.

See our review of Ma part du gâteau here.

Did the global financial crash actually affect your story?

When I chose Dunkirk everything was going well in the city and then suddenly the workers of Total, the gas company there, were kicked out of their factory and made unemployed. In fact, several companies had to leave the town and relocate elsewhere.  Then when I shot in Dunkirk there were a lot of problems. So I used that; the extras in the film are actually the real workers who were forced to leave.

Main protagonist Steve is pretty much the archetype of the villainous businessman but still human.

What I saw in real life was worse than Steve so I had to humanise him in some way. For instance, I met a traders’ wife who said that she’d overheard her husband’s friend say that he’d no longer go out with normal women anymore; he’d only go out with call girls because they cost less money.

When you have a reality like that, because these people do exist, you cannot use this person as a hero in a movie; you hate him too much. So you have to introduce positive aspects to the character.

How difficult was it to create his character?

He had to be seductive; he had to be charming somehow. That’s the engine, the motor of his profession. Essentially, I wanted people to understand that he’s dangerous, he’s aggressive and yet he’s charming and you can understand why France falls in love with him; he has likeable traits too.

Tell us about the creation Karin Viard’s character, a Frenchwoman appropriately called France.

It’s a combination of both really because she (Viard) added a lot of things herself to that scene. I interviewed people who had taken classes specifically to learn how to clean apartments. This position of being a maid very often involves the teacher saying ‘you are going to work for rich people and you have to act like this or that.’

There is a social game that these people have to learn and it was interesting to see these real classes. Very often they are immigrants and I really tried to use in the film what I saw during these classes.

From an outsider’s perspective, there’s simultaneously something very sad about it and very funny. I explained that to Karin (Viard) and I think that she really tried to work with and make fun of that.

Speaking of outsiders, there is a contrast between capital city and industrial living. What is your opinion of Paris vs. the rest of the country?

I think there are three countries in France; suburbia, Paris and people from the country. Yes, people from outside of Paris are very often scared of Paris. They are scared of the enormity of the city.

It’s strange, for instance, when you watch the news in France; they tend to always only speak about Paris, not France. Even when you live in a big city like Marseilles or Lyon, you don’t see your life on TV when you watch the national news.

The film has a very ambiguous ending. Why?

I imagined many different film endings but I was relatively clear that a Pretty Woman ending where at the end the two main characters have become a couple, would be the least interesting ending possible. I had in mind something a little more complex and sophisticated. I eventually decided that we would have an ending in which everyone wins something but also loses something.

Is it a pessimistic ending?

The ending is not pessimistic because of the people all gathering together around France. That’s a symbol of hope for me. Even if you’re lost or if you’re a victim, like France at the end, you get something positive by having all these people around supporting you and I think that’s uplifting. So yes, there’s something sad but for me, there’s also something enthusiastic about the ending.

Ma part du gâteau opened on Sep 15