Vincent Garenq on ‘Kalinka,’ And (Not) Directing Daniel Auteuil

Playing at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous, drama records an extraordinary case of a man’s love for his daughter

Courtesy: Studiocanal

PARIS – In “Kalinka,” André Bamberski waves his 14-year-old daughter off at the airport. She is going to spend the summer in Germany with her mom and stepfather, a caring and uber-romantic doctor, Daniel Krombach. He never sees her alive again. It is 1982. When Bamberski finally receives a translation of her autopsy, it suggests she might well have been raped and murdered. What follows is an extraordinary 27-year legal odyssey as Bamberski battles to bring to justice Krombach, the man he’s convinced killed her daughter, which rapidly leaves the spectator in awe.

Bamberski’s endeavour is extraordinary, as he fights the case with German bureaucracy, in a Paris court, with the press, on the streets of the village where Krombach lives, with Austrian customs guards, even finally taking the battle for truth into his own hands But it is again very familiar: the story of a man who, driven by work, didn’t spend enough time with his children, and realizes too late.

Sold by Studiocanal, based on a memoir by André Bamberski, who is played by Cannes, Cesar and BAFTA best actor winner Daniel Auteuil, truth is stranger than fiction yet again for Vincent Garenq (“The Clearstream Affair,” “Guilty”) as he carves out another based-on-true-facts story told with sustained detail of a notorious case of miscarriage of justice. Any spectator who has had parents may well be moved.

You could say that “Kalinka” is the battle to prove his the guilt of his daughter’s murderer. You could also say “Kalinka” is the story a father’s love for his daughter and a tribute to parents. Obviously, the two are very much linked. But it seems to me that they form the backbone – narrative, stylistic, tonal of the film…

Vincent Garenq: It’s about a man who launches an investigation, so a crime thriller, in the tradition of the French polar.  Except that the detective is a father who becomes, by force of circumstance, a little bit of a lawyer. And then, during the time this investigation takes, because of the sacrifice it means, it takes on a more mystic turn. As if this investigation gives a sense to his life. And, at the end, it’s like a poem. Through his willpower, from a horrible sensationalistic crime story, he constructs something that is beautiful, positive, he has woven all his life into an immense declaration of love for his daughter.

Following up from one, you have scenes of Andre Bamberski reading up on law, writing letters to French authorities and the tone given to the scene via the music is elegiac.

One woman reader of the book told me: “He’s done all that to keep her alive.” It’s women who feel the story this story most strongly, in their flesh. I see people coming out of screenings with looks on their faces that can’t lie. One of the first women to see the film said: “I’d have liked to have had a dad like that. I see, and understand, reactions like that, which often stir me with emotion. It really is a film about paternity.

This is a stranger than fiction tale. But while the film portrays an extraordinary case, the effect many of the scenes will have on the spectator is I think very familiar. Daniel Auteuil waving goodbye at the airport to his daughter in that parent’s mix of trying to express their love without making a whole song-and-dance of it…

Yes, that scene takes us back to ourselves, to our own family story. When we return to the scene at the end of the film, I don’t see the characters, I see my own daughter and son. It’s a very strange feeling and totally involuntary. It wasn’t written in the screenplay. It’s an idea that came up in the editing. And the effect that it produces still surprises me. At this precise moment, spectators connect the film with their own lives. Then the films ends. Credit roll.

”Kalinka” is hugely dependent on the talent of Daniel Auteuil. How did you work with him, and direct him? What indications did you give?

I wouldn’t like to use the word “direct.” I know there are directors who direct a lot and that can can sometimes yield excellent results, but I’m just not like that. My vision of the film is in the screenplay, so I don’t give too many indications about how to play it, I say the least I can. What I’m interested in is discovering the vision of the actor who plays the role.

The film, for such a tragic subject, is set in glorious locations. But it’s as if Andrés isn’t there. At first, he’s driven by work. Then he’s driven by proving Daniel Krombach’s guilt. It’s only when he does that he your camera opens up to the fully setting of the village he lives in, and he can admire the scenery…

Those extraordinary locations in the Pyrenees, I rediscovered going to interview Kalkinka’s mother for the screenplay. And when it came to choose the locations, instead of Toulouse where the real André Bamberski lives, I suddenly made an about-turn and asked the team to look for a little village in the Pyrenees. And this village lost in the Pyrenees, overlooked by a cementary, seemed to all of us to be the film’s principal location. The mountains attracted me, how overwhelming they are compared to our small lives. That’s why it was logical to not reveal them until the end of the film. They render relative our existence.

Inevitable question: What are you working on now?

On a biopic. The story of a celebrity, power, money, sex, drugs, death. It’s going to quite a ride!