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UniFrance Rendez-Vous: Hector Cabello Reyes on ‘An Indian Tale,’ Directing Actors, Its Characters Connecting With Life

The cross-culture dreamed plays at this weekend’s UniFrance Rendez-Vous

An Indian Tale (Un Conte Indien)
Courtesy: Other Angle Pictures

PARIS — In “An Indian Tale,” which screened over the weekend at the 2017 UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, France-based, Chilean-born Hector Cabello Reyes makes his feature debut  directing Belgium’s Benoit Poelvoorde (“The Brand New Testament”), France’s Alexandra Lamy (“Ricky”) and India’s Bollywood and Hollywood actor Pitobash (“Million Dollar Arm”).

Inspired by Ricardo Darin starrer “Chinese Take-Out,” “An Indian Tale” is an odd couple/second-chance-in-life dramedy, kicking off when Pierre, (Poelvoorde), an irascible, short-fused stand-offish hardware store owner with a compulsive obsession disorder rebuffs the love interest of Jeanne (Lamy), the beautiful and life-loving sister of a client. Then he stumbles across a Bengali immigrant, Ajit (Pitobash), who doesn’t speak a word of French. Pierre does everything to get Ajit off his hands, taking him to the police station, the Indian Embassy and to meet possible relations, but ends up having to put him up in his home, in the back rooms of his flat. It is Ajit, however, who finally forces Pierre out of his shell, and to accept others into his life. A cross culture movie which underscores common humanity, “An Indian Tale” has a pedigree producer backing, from Léonard Glowinski at 22h22 and Philippe Carcassonne at Ciné-@. Other Angle Pictures handles international sales. Variety spoke with Cabello Reyes, a co-writer on  Radu Mihaileanu’s “The Concert,” after “An Indian Tale” premiered at the UniFrance-Rendez-Vous.

The film suggests that people from very different backgrounds, India’s Bengal and the French provinces, are in fact in many ways similar and can develop a heartfelt friendship. In this, it is a portrait of our common humanity, which gives the film its emotional charge. I wonder if you could comment….

Absolutely: There is something very “Far East” in this story, because it essentially says two things. There is the physical and rational world (what we see, what we say), we give it a lot of importance; but the most essential part of our life lies somewhere else, in an underworld made up of emotions and feelings, which are not observable through our eyes, nor can be spoken. None of the three main characters can explain why they feel the way they feel, nor explain why they are where they are. They just do, and in some way, they learn through each other to connect with the beauty of the world and what life is all about. It’s no coincidence if Ajit, the Bengal character, even being a younger man, is the one who teaches Pierre, the older French man: He somehow represents a beautiful way of connecting to life, despite of all the terrible things he had to live through.

The film is a showcase for the acting skills of Belgium’s Benoit Poelvoorde and Bollywood’s Pitobash. They come of course from very different acting traditions, though Pitobash also had a major role in Hollywood’s “Million Dollar Arm.” Were these differences an asset not a liability for the film, however? 

I have always been an admirer of Peter Brook’s and Ariane Mnouchkine’s work in theater, where they reached an incredible degree of humanity and emotion, also because they worked with actors coming from all around the world (even from my country, Chile!), and I guess it had something to do with the particular attraction I felt towards this story. So I definitely think it was a huge asset on the set, and they felt it too, I think. Besides, both Léonard Glowinski and Philippe Carcassonne, the two producers, have worked for a long time on international pictures, with directors, writers and actors from all around the world , which means they also share that feeling that when it comes to emotions, the color of the passport not only doesn’t matter but it can even create a more interesting mix.

And how did you direct the actors? 

I’d love to tell you that I had to show all my directing skills on the set. But, truth is, I didn’t, because there was no room for it: None of them needed any direction. They were so brilliant, they got so deeply what their part was about, they enjoyed acting with each other like very small kids, they were so generous and full of humanity, laughter and professionalism that I basically was their first audience, and that’s all. My directing was a lot more about the images and the construction of the movie than on directing the actors. It’s true when they say choosing the right cast is 90% of the job.

Maybe one of the biggest challenges, I sense, was to make Poelvoorde’s character at once near outrageously self-centred, cantankerous, irascible at the same time a character for whom the spectator can feel sympathy and feel that Jeanne’s love for him is credible.  I wonder if you could comment? 

It was definitely an important point and challenge. The story needed an actor capable of reaching that territory, where something about him is not under his control, and even if he tries to appear unpleasant, the audience, we all can feel that’s not true, just because there is too much humanity and deep kindness in him. Few actors have or had that gift : I think Philip Seymour Hoffman or Robin Williams. Benoît is precisely that: No matter what he does, there is something moving about him, something that has to do with childhood, with fun, with wounds and sensibility, and which means we just can’t help loving him. And I think that’s also the case with Alexandra Lamy’s character, Jeanne.

At a time of aggressive my-country-first nationalism, do you think that “An Indian Tale” has especial significance in its insistence in our commonality?

Sure. It’s the first time we have a story talking about such tough things, tragedies, even terrorism, with real comedic elements in it. It’s realistic and poetic at the same time, which allowed us to talk about these topics without ever being political or a lobby. For me, it’s a love story, a sensitive comedy and we wanted it to be a feel-good movie: Being Latin American myself, I’m always inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “magic realism”, because Latin America is bathed in it, and I think the fact that a Chilean director makes a movie with producers who come from France and Poland with Belgian, French and Indian actors, directing them in English – all that is no coincidence and is an example of what our world can be when people gather and work hard to reach something they believe in.

When directing the movie, what were the guidelines you gave to yourself?

My guidelines ran up against the reality of a shoot, the budget, the unforeseeable difficulties of any movie. Besides, every actor brought their own “luggage.” But basically, I had three guidelines:

-We shot a lot in Belgium during winter. But I wanted it to be warm, along with the feelings of the characters. So I wanted the movie to have the most beautiful frames we could, that’s why I studied a lot of Flemish paintings. The portraits have beautiful, warm flesh colors, and a sensibility about humanity. Frédéric Noirhomme, our director of photography, perfectly understood this.

-Since we had to deal a lot with inner feelings and modesty, I wanted music to be a real character in the movie. Jacynthe Moindron-Jacquet created a amazing score, an organic part of the movie the way I wanted it.

-My last guideline was not to talk too much, and try —it’s very difficult— to give actors just adjectives. I always felt it was the most efficient —because condensed — way to help an actor. As an actor myself, I always hated directors telling me “think of what the character may have felt when he was a kid, and when his father, who didn’t love him, never spoke to him: Now let’s shoot the scene of the car chase.”. I always preferred hearing just “More fragile” or “less aggressive,” that kind of concrete, short and open directions, because actors can create something with it. And they did !