‘Valentin, Valentin’s’ Pascal Thomas: ‘Female Desire Is Apparently Still Scandalous’

French director talks about adapting Ruth Rendell

‘Valentin, Valentin’s’ Pascal Thomas: ‘Female Desire

British crime can pay handsomely in France, at least when its fiction. Paybox Canal Plus aired pastoral sleuth saga “Inspector Morse” from 1988; “The Little Murders by Agatha Christie” has been a staple on pubcaster channel France 2 since 2009. Produced by Les Films Francais, Said Ben Said’s SBS Productions – the producer of “I’ve Lovec You So Long,” Roman Polanski’s and Brian de Palma’s “ “ and France 2 Cinema, “Valentin, Valentin” enrolls a strong ensemble cast in a Paris suburbs makeover of Ruth Rendall’s slim 2010 novel, “Tigerlily’s Orchids.” At one crux in “Valentin, Valentin,” one character is asked of another, with whom she had a relationship, if they knew him. “Not really,” she replied. While Ruth Rendell’s center on the capacity for crime of the most respectable of people, “Valentin, Valentin” turns on this: Other people are not hell, but a mystery. Director Pascal Thomas talked to Variety about his latest film:

Valentin falls under the spell of a young Asian girl who lives across the street, seemingly a captive of petty Asian drug-dealers. Part of that fascination is her mystery: What lies beneath that face of pure young beauty? His gaze in a way is a decoy for your director’s gaze: Your interest in what lies below the surface of people who seem completely ordinary, their mystery?

Through Valentin’s gazing at the young Asian girl, Lys Tigré, we are made privy to Valentin’s dream. He seems to see in her, as is said in the dialogue, “the sister of the young girl from Singapore.” whom he’d fallen in love with, and who died from drowning. Valentin’s look is, in a way, that of a film in which showing what lies beneath the surface is paramount, unveiling the secret, darker side of human beings, what’s hidden “behind the façade” Everything seems fine and rosy in that building, people apparently have good, cordial relations with one other, but the truly grim nature of what really obtains therein, the more unsavory sides of the people there eventually come to the fore.

You come away from the film with a sense of wonderment at the passions of others, Valentin’s dream of repeating his experience at the Raffles Hotel, and wonderment at the turns life takes…

I’m interested in the dreams people have, those little scenarios they write for themselves every day, the games the play with themselves and each other, all the time, and how they are prisoners of their own illusions. That sense of wonderment you talk about probably stems from the fact that we chose each actor because of the emotional weight he/she could bring to the table, and from the fact that every scene was written and shot to revolve around that very principle of emotion. In the hope that that added weight of emotion would bring even greater charm, grace and emotion to the film.

One of the three girls who live together one flight up from Valentin is studying art, has models who pose nude for her in the flat. In this, the cleaner who comes on to Valentin, or his mistress, who has a rampantly physical relationship with him, there is an acknowledgement of something which most people attempt to disavow in normal life: Sexuality. Here is a “respectable,” if down-at-heel community, but you only have to think how they really behave to see that respectability does not mean a suppresion but rather channeling of sexuality…

The film depicts, through a series of portraits of different men and women, different aspects of love. Violent and secret love (Elodie), love in all its carnal extravagance (Claudia), selfish, maternal love (Valentin’s mother), the late, sedate flowering of love and passion in the autumn of one’s years (Rose and Marius), forbidden love (Roger, the paedophile), the frustration of unfulfilled desire (Antonia, one of the three flatmates), suicidal love (Jane, who drinks herself to death), love and bereavement (Sergio), love as a dream, as something sublime, because it is too distant and unattainable (Valentin and Lys). But “Valentin Valentin” speaks clearly and bluntly about female desire fuelled by male desire. Female desire that in the light of certain reactions, is apparently something that many still find scandalous, and remains very much taboo…

Your treatment of Valentin seems more sympathetic than the character as it emerges from in Rendell’s original….

In Ruth Rendell’s original work, the character is more selfish and calculating. Valentin is more secretive, described as someone “hopelessly lost in his own dreams,” but, most of all, still very much marked by a secret wound, whose source probably is his mother’s frivolousness and selfishness, or perhaps that lost childhood love he can’t forget. He is also in some ways reminiscent of a character one finds in the previous films.

What were the major changes you made to the novel and in what way or ways, if at all, would you describe this as a “French” adaptation of the original?

Adaptation had to address first and foremost the neighbor’s relations that are no doubt familiar to us, and seem, to us, to correspond very much to French manners, those seemingly perennial French behaviour. More so than to those of any given area or district today where apprehensiveness and fear of the other seem to be the order of the day… All those characters were modified. Valentin, the inveterate dreamer, comes to be defined by others; the janitor, who loves young girls but doesn’t dare approach them, becomes someone who evokes pain and pity, rather than someone who is perverse. The women in the film, whose sensual, carnal behavior serves to depict the different facets of French women as far as love is concerned, are very different from the Anglo-Saxon characters of the original work. Noor, for example, in Ruth Rendell’s original work, is young, happy and well-off, betrothed to a young man who’s also from a well-off family. In the film, Noor is an independent young woman, a Fine Arts student whom we see chosen as a model to be painted – the setting for that pose is emblematic, against a Matisse-like backdrop, which allows all her splendid beauty to stand out, emphatically underlining her great femininity, and her refusal to be shackled by any dictates of religion, fashion or custom, by posing nude, with no qualms about baring her pubic hair. Something which, of course, wasn’t in Ruth Rendell’s novel. Neither was the Bourgogne and Bordelais wine tasting scene.

The film seems a play to more adult audiences at a time when such films, of which SBS Productions is something of a specialist, can have an audience in France both in theaters and on TV.

What can I say? I’ve seen cinemas full of children whose reactions were very grown-up. And vice versa.