PARIS – She bursts into the room, apologizes for being late (she hardly is), asks for a coffee.
Some actors are bigger than you expect: Think Tim Robbins, a gentle giant. Many are smaller (Mel Gibson). Audrey Tautou is just mega-slender, mignon, as the French have it: Pert nose, pert hair, eyes as dark as almonds.
She has an effect on men. Tautou has agreed to work the international press at a UniFrance Rendez-vous junket in one of Paris’ most-lap-of-luxury Grand Boulevards hotels. For the group interview, a rough half-dozen journalists sit slumped in a ragged campfire circle of chairs. Some wear dufflecoats, others jerseys that might be better used for a cold day’s gardening. Even in jeans and a blue jean shirt, Tautou still exudes a touch of Audrey Hepburn chic effortlessly.
One senior British journalist has cunningly managed to sit two chairs down from the interpreter. He zealously guards the intervening chair “for Audrey.”
Tautou sits down. For the next 27 minutes she answers questions on Cedric Klapisch’s “Chinese Puzzle,” the third part of the trilogy begun by “L’Auberge espagnole,” wit Romain Duris as a kind of Candide of affairs of the heart, who falls in love with Tautou’scharacter, Martine, in Barcelona and still carries a candle for when she swings by New York 15 years later.
And for the next 32 minutes, Tautou doesn’t stop moving.
Along with Romain Duris, Cecile de France and Kelly Reilly, she accepted reprising her role of Martine in “Chinese Puzzle” even before Klapisch had written the screenplay, she said.
“We’ve had a wonderful time together. I love his cinema,” she explained.
She doesn’t know if the franchise has ended. “That depends on Cedric. Whether he feels inspired or has something to say about the characters in the next decade.”
She has “particular affection” for her character, Martine, who is “a bundle of striking contradictions which make her moving and drole at one and the same time. She can be a rock or a lost little thing full of doubt.”
As Tautou delivered each answer, she raised her right arm, palm towards her face, then extends it graciously towards the listener, as if physically offering the reply. Her left hand fingered her neck, then, if she needed it for a more involved observation, began to windmill.
Would she work with Klapisch again? “Of course!”
Another character Tautou would like to reprise is Coco Channel, she said but when the couturier was an aged woman, and had almost become a character herself, out of provocation.
She can be serious: Hasn’t she thought of slowing down? Age, she said, can give a “psychological stability,” also in one’s private life. But she’s reached a point in her life, she added, where the present is more important that what’s to come.
Above all, Tautou was engaging. Answering questions, she looked each journalist straight in the eyes She could ironize about her own answers, such as her frustrating refusal to talk about projects in more than vague terms – “the girl’s creating a lot of mystery, but not telling you anything,” she laughed. At the interview’s end, she shook every journalist’s hand.
And she was a moving feast. At one point, telling a joke, she jigged her body sideways while managing to stay on her chair. Her voice is already gravelly. But it goes down a tone as she purses her lips and say something funny; which is often. Her laughter is explosive, double barreled, as if she’s laughing at her own gale of laughter.
All the show – the windmill arms, vocal oscillation – I’m told at the junket by expert France analysts – Canadian journalists – is so, so French.
If so, it looks like natural artifice. But that, in a way, is what “Chinese Puzzle” is about. Xavier (Duris), a novelist maudit, is, in many ways mega-French. He spends much of the trilogy philosophizing about his relations with women, life. That is not the stuff of philosophy for Anglo-Saxons.
Yet, he also marries an English-girl, sires a child with a Belgian, gets on in a civilized-fashion with his ex-wife’s new flame, grows up in an adultescent kind of way in New York.
“Chinese Puzzle” shot on location in New York. Tatou said she was “stunned” by the amount of shoot regulation concerning extras: For example, if Klapisch himself asked one to do something, their status changed to a cameo actor, with a consequent wage-hike as well.
Tautou hardly came across in interview like the Creature from the French Cultural Lagoon. New York, she said, is a highly “cinegenic” city, with “such an inspiring, young, and chaotic energy, like that of ‘Chinese Puzzle’ itself.”
Near the end of “Chinese Puzzle,” on a New York subway platform, Wendy, the ex-wife, tells Xavier that what he needs is a woman who is sweet and soft, who doesn’t rub him up the wrong way. Cue for a romantic finale with Martine. In other words, Xavier’s problems with women are one of personality, not culture. Anybody who thinks they have crossed culture-barriers could hardly disagree.
Tautou hardly touched her coffee.