Rémi Bezançon’s vision in The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life
Small gestures always speak louder…
Before Marion Cotillard became a Hollywood A-lister, she took part in a French romcom production called Ma Vie En L’Air (2005). A love story between a man with a chronic yet hilarious case of fear of flying (played by the exotically handsome Vincent Elbaz) and his new blonde radio presenter neighbor (Cotillard), the film wrings out laughter through a few simple lines or gestures from the characters. But as stellar as Cotillard & Co. were, this feat is not achieved solely through their epic acting prowess. Rather it was owed to director and writer Rémi Bezançon’s ability to create spectacular scenes out of small things.
Three years later, Bezançon released Le Premier Jour Du Reste De Ta Vie (The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life). Inspired by a dialog from Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty, as well as an eponymous song by legendary French singer Etienne Daho (that is also used in the film’s soundtrack), Bezançon this time gave us the saga of the Duval family whose members’ stories were told through five important days in the span of twelve years in their lives. It is an ordinary tale with extraordinary execution – the key lies in the director’s vision in telling that tale.
Using a scene or a short moment to leave a strong impression seems to be Bezançon’s main trick of the trade. He started early: in the beginning of Le Premier Jour, during the funeral of the family dog (which belonged to eldest son Al, played by newcomer Pio Marmaï), he ‘hid’ middle son Raph (C.R.A.Z.Y.’s Marc-André Grondin) in the kitchen. By removing him from the rest of his family in that scene that lasted for no more than a minute, Bezançon immediately showed us the Duval siblings’ dynamics, of where Al, Raph and their sister Fleur (Déborah François) stood with each other. Instant chemistry and no back story needed.
In another scene, Grondin once again carried Bezançon’s mission to deliver substantial messages through subtle sequences. This one in particular is both silly and heartwarming. When his Raph joined an air guitar competition, Grondin created a beautiful father-and-son moment with Jacques Gamblin who played the taxi driver dad, Robert. Seeing Raph play his air guitar on stage, having followed his earlier instructions, Robert’s expression shone with so much love and pride that a tug of the heartstrings was inevitable. Again, all credit goes to Bezançon.
“The first person that I cast was Jacques Gamblin. I chose him because he has a special air about him and I very much like him, as an actor. After that I cast Zabou Breitman as the mother. I liked her very much, because she has a huge range – she can play comedy, she can play drama and I was very much drawn to the tragi-comedy that she brings to the role,” said Bezançon. “But in France, these actors aren’t particularly bankable. So it was quite difficult to get the go-ahead to make the film with them, but I really wanted both of them for these roles.”
We are betting he breathed more than a sigh of relief for the green light to work with Gamblin and Breitman, especially as the latter was involved in one of the most beautiful moments – a scene that also became Bezançon’s favorite – in the entire film, a scene that punches you in the gut and makes you smile at the same time. It is one that put Le Premier Jour in the highest ranks of quality contemporary French films: after Robert was diagnosed with cancer and eventually died, Breitman’s Marie-Jeanne sat in her husband’s seat in the taxi and let out the air from Robert’s inflated cushion. As she breathed in the last of her husband’s breath that still remained in the world, Marie-Jeanne’s face took on the most bittersweet expression that squeezed your heart because you can just feel how much she missed him but at the same time has decided to let him go. Powerful.
Assited by Sophie Reine’s stylish editing and even more exciting musical arrangements by French artist Sinclair, Bezançon’s stylish vision makes him a filmmaker that should never be underestimated. This admirer of Wes Anderson’s and Sam Mendes’ works seems to know that just by placing his camera from a slightly different angle, one small movement can bring a whole different effect. To call Bezançon a mere filmmaker might not be enough – what he is is a young cinematic wizard who has captured us with his movie magic. AA
But TF doesn’t love…
… Cédric Klapisch’s artsy-fartsiness in Russian Dolls (2005)
Excusez-nous. We love Romain Duris but seeing him run around naked in a Parisian street does not move us at all. It’s crass and over the top but does not have any meaning. The same thing can be said about those beautiful girls that did the catwalk in a Russian street – what in the world could that possibly mean? We’re guessing only Klapisch and God know the answer.
NOTE: This article is published in Indonesian language in Total Film Indonesia Issue #19. It’s my first original TF Loves column essay in the magazine, something that I volunteered to do because this issue came in the aftermath of the recent French Film Festival in Jakarta last April and because I’ve always been a great French cinema enthusiast. Being a huge fan of director Rémi Bezançon, naturally I picked him as the subject of the essay. I hope to bring more recognition to his works among moviegoers outside France–he truly is a force to be reckoned with in the future of French cinema.