After depicting a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship in “Florida,” popular French director Philippe Le Guay is back with his long-gestated comedy/drama “Normandie Nue” starring Francois Cluzet as an endearing French mayor on a mission to save his village’s community of struggling farmers. The film tells the story of this modest Normandie village getting turned upside down by a famous American photographer who sets off to have the whole town pose naked for him in a field.
Mixing a few well-known actors such as Cluzet and François-Xavier Demaison with non-professionals, “Normandie Nue” is produced by Anne-Dominique Toussaint’s Les Films des Tournelles and represented in international markets by SND.
Le Guay has established himself as one of France’s most successful directors of sophisticated French comedies with films like “The Women on the 6th Floor,” a 1960’s-set tale about a conservative couple’s lives which are turned upside down by two Spanish maids in Paris, and “Cycling with Molière” about a pair of egocentric actors rehearsing for a play. Both films performed well in French theaters, traveled to key territories, played at festivals and won awards.
SND, which will host the market premiere of “Normandie Nue” at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, has already scored a flurry of pre-sales, including to Germany (Concorde), Benelux (Paradiso), Spain (Vertice), Greece (Feelgood), Portugal (Ludomundo), Switzerland (Filmcoopi), Poland (Kino Swiat), Canada (MK2 Mile End), Mexico (Nueva Era), Taiwan (Cai Chang), Australia/New Zealand (Palace), Israel (New Guys/Nachshon) and Airlines (Encore).
Le Guay spoke with Variety about “Normandie Nue” at the Rendez-Vous in Paris, ahead of the market premiere.

“Normandie Nue” is different from all your previous films in that it takes place entirely in a rural environment and talks about the lives of farmers. What’s the genesis of this film?

It goes back a long time. My grand-parents had a home in a Normandie town and I would go visit them when I was young. During these visits, I discovered that the daily lives of farmers and their world is so much richer than what we’re used to see in films so I had the idea of making a film about this community. There are very few films about farmers and I think that’s because filmmakers don’t know how to depict them in a non-documentary style.

The farmers in your film are very colorful characters. How realistic is their portrayal?

Yes, it’s a colorful community. When you spend time with them, you discover how much fantasy, humanity these people have and as a writer and filmmaker they give you a rich canvas to work with. And I also didn’t want the film to look like a documentary so I accentuated certain traits.

How did you come up with the idea of this famous American photographer who wants to take the village inhabitants naked?

I found it an interesting narrative device to have this conceptual artist who comes from a very different environment and absolutely wants to get everyone naked in his photo. The mayor sees this art project as an opportunity to give visibility to the village and the plight of local farmers who have become invisible in the media; but ultimately, locals have to take their destiny in their own hands. It’s like a social fable showing how these people are able to overcome their fears of stripping down because they are driven by their convictions and collective spirit.

It’s your first collaboration with this cast — Francois Cluzet, Francois-Xavier Demaison and Gregory Gadebois and the film is full of fresh faces.

Yes, it’s my first time working with this great cast. Cluzet was perfect in this role because he has this endearing charm, he can be both childish and fraternal, and he can also get really mad. Half of the cast is made up of non-professionals, mainly real-life farmers and Normandie locals who were wonderful.

Like your previous films, “Normandie Nue” has a high-concept and a polished look similar to some American comedies. It’s not a typical French social comedy. Was that intentional?

I’ve always been inspired by American cinema, some iconic filmmakers like Sidney Lumet. I like the way Lumet could make films that were very contemporary, grounded in real life and at the same time be bigger than life, provide audiences with a truly entertaining experience. That’s what I tried to do with “Normandie Nue.” There are different levels of narration, a wide range of characters and sub-plots, and the underlining theme is the difficulties that farmers face today in rural France; which is a universal theme because farmers around the world are struggling today.

Is there one film in particular that inspired you for “Normandie Nue”?

Yes, “The Quiet Man” by John Ford, about a retired American boxer who returns to his hometown in Ireland. The way John Ford describes the village that comes together, the tenderness and humanity that emanate from this portrayal inspired me for “Normandie Nue.”

What are you working on next?

It will be a completely different film! A romantic comedy about a love triangle. The title is “What are you doing in my dreams?”