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Canneseries: Jean-Jacques Annaud on His TV Debut, Hitchcock, and Sean Connery’s Socks

Writer-director of Canneseries Official Competition opener ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair,’ Annaud gave a masterclass at Cannes on Friday

Jean-Jacques AnnaudJean-Jacques Annaud photoshoot, Cannes International
David Niviere/SIPA/REX/Shutterst

CANNES — Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair,” the Patrick Dempsey drama which will be showcased via a sneak peek of select scenes tonight at Canneseries, was inspired in part by advice given to a young Annaud by Alfred Hitchcock.

The French director’s first feature, the Africa-set “Black and White in Color,” won him a foreign-language Oscar, and bought him a ticket to Hollywood. Once there, he was asked if he’d like to meet Hitchcock at his chalet on the Warner Bros. lot.

“Most of all, don’t do like me; the same thing all the time. That’s very boring,” Hitchcock told him. “Crime stories bore me out of my brains.”

At a Canneseries masterclass on Friday, which was rich is such anecdote, Annaud reviewed a career which includes some of the great movies of the post Nouvelle Vague, led by “Quest for Fire” and “The Name of the Rose.” Its leitmotif was why he had written and directed his first TV series, a question Annaud attacked from various angles.

“I really like to change. I don’t want to be locked into one genre,” Annaud said, recalling how, even when he directed commercials, he changed from dogs to cats to parrots, babies, children and finally adults, how, “to maintain my mental health,” he made “The Name of the Rose” between “Quest for Fire” and “The Bear,” and his happiness at directing actors who had dialogue in the TV series.

An adaptation of the same-titled novel, the select-scene screening of “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” comes at the April 7 opening ceremony of Canneseries’ Official Competition, the series playing out of competition. Weighing in at over 700 pages, the novel could never have been made into a movie without losing much of its impact, Annaud argued.

“Much of the joy of reading it was going along on a journey with all the different characters. 10 minutes [for its four main characters] wasn’t going to be enough to deal with them properly.”

Annaud confessed he had been hankering after doing TV for 10 years or so. “The degree of notoriety of the film, especially in international, hinges on how it does once it’s screened on TV.”

He added: “When I started my career as a filmmaker, TV was just a quaint black-and-white little gadget that one hardly ever bothered to watch. Now people have huge TV sets, big screens, HD, with quality sound systems.”

On “The Truth,” Annaud used a three-camera set-up he has employed since “Quest for Fire.” But TV also allowed him to explore a shooting style which he hadn’t really used since he started off making commercials.

“I’m the type of the director that likes spontaneity. More and more, I tend not to rehearse. There is a unique kind of spontaneity which you’d never achieve on the fifteenth take.” So on “The Truth,” Annaud made it clear there would be a maximum three takes and forced himself to “adapt to a method of shooting: No overelaborate and highly-complicated mise-en-scène with lots of extras.”

Annaud claimed that he has made his films and now TV series “with total liberty.” TF1, the series’ French broadcaster, asked him some questions and he answered them and that was the limit of its editorial control.

But that doesn’t mean he has always been totally in control. Take Sean Connery’s socks. They provided the best anecdote of Friday early evening in Cannes.

“The first day on set, I saw Sean Connery wearing blue woolen socks, in sandals. So I said to him, ‘Sean, what’s this? You can’t. The Franciscans were poor. They normally went bare-footed.’ And he said to me: ‘No. This Franciscan wears socks.’ I said: ‘No, this Franciscan can’t wear socks, because he is the thinker, the man who guides the thinking of the Order.’

Connery and Annaud reached a compromise: “For long shots, when you see a full-body shot of Sean as he walks, with his priest’s robe hanging down to his feet, he could wear the blue socks, because they wouldn’t be seen. For other shots, he would remove them.”

Shooting fiction means “you have to see to all sorts of little details, which in principle have little to do with direction.”

That’s why Annaud hasn’t had one day off, working all weekends as well as workdays, in the near two-and-a-half years since he began “The Truth” in December 2015, he said at Cannes.