Jerome Cornuau on Fanny Ardant, Comedy, Power Play

Distributed by Studiocanal, 'Chic!' screens at the UniFrance Rendez-vous

PARIS – Starring a member of French film royalty, Fanny Ardant, Francois Truffaut’s last partner, and produced by vet Alain Tertzian (“Les Visteurs,” “Anthony Zimmer”) and Euro film-TV group Studiocanal, Jerome’s Cornuau’s comedy “Chic!” has Ardant as Alicia Ricoso a legend of haute couture who has lost her creative mojo. She finds inspiration when given a ride back home in a Julien (Eric Elmosnino, “Gainsbourg”), a rude Breton gardener, who knows nothing about fashion but knows his way around a shrub. Trouble is: He’s just been fired with no pay by the No. 2 at Alicia’s fashion house, Helene (Marina Hands, “Lady Chatterly,” “Tell No One”), a striking but buttoned martinet blinded by career ambition. Helene must now use all her inhumanity to persuade Julien to become Alicia’s muse, inspiring her with his love of landscape gardening. 34 years after she broke through to international fame in Truffaut’s “The Woman Next Door,” playing opposite Gerard Depardieu, watching Ardant sashay across a room is alone still worth the price of a cinema ticket. Variety chatted to Cornau at this week’s UniFrance Rendez-vous press junket:

Chic!” is structured around a contrast between the artificial and natural, which finally meld in a film that ultimately might be less about haute couture and more about pressured modern life….

The character of the gardener was partly inspired by Hal Ashby’s “Being There,” where a gardener, played by Peter Sellers, becomes an unlikely advisor in Washington politics. “Chic!” is a simple story posing two opposing worlds, which I tried to describe realistically, especially in their power structures. The fashion world has a strong vertical hierarchy, economic pressure on workers, and everything is urgent. Julien’s landscape gardening business is a traditional one, there’s no defined hierarchy, people enjoy warm relationships, say what they think. In the fashion world, people don’t say what they think. I’d agree: “Chic!” is more about modern life.

In terms of hierarchy, the film suggests that mistreatment at the top is mirrored right down the food chain. When Alicia and Helene finally honest up with each other and Helene calls Alicia tyrannical, self-centered, capricious, impertinent, Alicia observes that exactly the same terms describe Helene…

Yes, that’s it. I’d like to underscore that everybody at every level treats the people under them the same. It’s the absurdity of human beings. Julien lets his business partner say what he wants to say about how the company is structured, because his friend enjoys saying that. In te fashion world with its strict hierarchy everybody knows who’s the boss. In Julien’s small company in the countryside, Julien let’s his friend pretend to be the boss, though there’s really no hierarchy. At the end of the film, each world gives something to the other. Julien learns to appreciate Alicia’s creativity…

In “Chic!” Fanny Ardant is, well, very Fanny Ardant…

When producer Alain Terzian and I discussed the character of Alicia we were looking for an icon and to play with the idea of an icon. Fanny Ardant is famous and in her performance did exactly this. For Helene and Julien and Alan, Marina’s boss, I was looking for very good, trained actors, with both film and theater experience, the later because I used long sequence shots, like choreography, eight minutes for the charity party, one of the first big scenes. The actors had to lead the dance.

In its elemental oppositions, “Chic!” drinks from the well of Hollywood classic comedy…

Well, I tried to follow them, Howard Hawks, Blake Edwards, their elegant, fluent shooting style and the very careful delineation of character. There’s a mix of a fairy tale approach to prime the comedy and realism in the depiction of the fashion world.

“Chic!” costume designer, Pierre-Jean Larroque, suggested that if Alicia’s collection came close to any real-life designer, it might be Diane von Furstenberg….

We thought of inviting in a real-life couturier but thought that then Alicia wouldn’t design her own collection, it would be Lagerfeld’s, Von Furtsenberg. Yes, he was a bit inspired by her, only to a certain extent. The collection reflects more a landscape inspiration. Rather than a real-life designer, Fanny’s character is more inspired by Fanny. In “The Great Beauty,” the protagonist meets with Fanny Ardant and says: ‘Oh! Miss Fanny Ardant!” In “The Great Beauty,” Fanny played the roll of Fanny Ardant.

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