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Paradis Regained: Heartbreaker

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Paradis Regained: Heartbreaker

Matching up diminutive Gallic songstress Vanessa Paradis with hunky acting heavyweight Roman Duris may not have been an obvious fit, but the combination has proved electric. Richard Mowe talks to both actors ahead of the EIFF screening of their film, Heartbreaker

When the Americans buy a French rom-com for a remake it must have that certain, quirky je ne sais quoi that occasionally causes Hollywood to dip its toe into European ideas. It must also have obvious box office potential. Heartbreaker, by a little known director from television, Pascal Chaumeil, has already proved its marketability at the French box office (more than three million admissions) and is about to make its mark overseas, including in the UK, through a wide release of its original subtitled version.

Factor in the participation in the remake of Working Title, the British company behind smashes Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, and the future looks very bright for this light-hearted French fancy.

Yet despite these connections and the stellar presence of Vanessa Paradis and Romain Duris as the romantic leads, Heartbreaker (or L’arnacoeur in French – a play on words meaning ‘heart scammer’) struggled to find funding in the pre-production stage. There was scarce interest in a relatively untested director working within a traditionally underwhelming area of French cinema. Luckily for Chaumeil – a television veteran and a former second unit director for Luc Besson – he had enough industry experience and belief in his project to see it through.

In Chaumeil’s film Romain Duris plays an amiable conman (the heartbreaker of the title) who makes a living breaking up mismatched relationships for boyfriends too gutless to do their own dirty work. The trouble begins when he is paid by a bunch of marauding loan sharks to split a harmonious pairing between Paradis and Andrew Lincoln. Duris promptly falls head over heels for Paradis. What follows is frothy and inconsequential, but is lifted by an endearingly quirky tone and the strong acting of the leads.

Was the teaming of Duris and Paradis a match made in heaven? Both are passionate actors and music-lovers; both have grown up and matured in the public gaze, and have developed into French screen icons. Duris, now 36, spent his youth painting and playing drums in a rock band before being spotted on the street by a casting director who persuaded to him to do a screen test. The director was Cédric Klapisch and the film, Le Péril Jeune, from 1994, launched a long-term partnership. Klapisch and Duris have since made six films together. ‘Working with him is when I discovered I adored acting,’ Duris says of their relationship.

Duris’ highest profile film to reach UK audiences has been Jacques A Prophet Audiard’s 2005 feature The Beat that my Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s’est arête), in which he played a piano-playing hood learning to grow out of violence and into civilised life. The role echoed his maturation as an actor moving on from playing mixed-up youths. As Audiard has remarked of him: ‘Romain is entering adulthood after a prolonged post-adolescence.’

Duris himself does not demur from this impression. ‘I play characters who ask themselves questions, are seeking something, are somehow unfinished, or immature. To me it’s clear, I’m getting older and so are my roles ... Maybe I take emotions too much to heart. I’m never happy with what I do. When I watch myself on screen I say, “It’s horrible; there are a million ways of doing that scene and we’ve only tried five.” Doubt is there constantly – the main thing is not to let it eat you up.’

Doubt also overshadowed his first reading of the Heartbreaker script. ‘Not everyone has the same sense of humour but I became reassured in talking to Pascal Chaumeil. He chatted about the work of Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch and Joseph Mankiewicz, who made all those classic and sophisticated American thrillers and comedies that I loved [think Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief or Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife]. And then there was the fact that Vanessa was part of it all. I had wanted to make a film with her for a long time and even without knowing her I imagined that we would get along.’

Paradis, at 37, is a year older than Duris and has more strings to her bow as a singer, actress and model. At 19 she became the face of Chanel No 5, appearing in an advert covered in feathers, tweeting and swinging on a trapeze in a gilded cage. Chanel’s then creative advertising director, Jean-Paul Goude, said he had dreamed up the concept because she reminded him of the cartoon character Tweety Pie.

Having grown up in a suburb of Paris, she now divides her life between a château in southwest France, a country home in Somerset, a house in Hollywood and a private 45-acre island in the Caribbean, called Little Hall’s Pond Cay. She shares this lifestyle with husband Johnny Depp, with whom she has two children. Out of a need to keep her family commitments and singing career in the balance, as well as to guard against creative burnout, Paradis rarely steps onto a film set; Heartbreaker is her first film in six years. It was an opportunity she felt she couldn’t turn down.

‘I was in the middle of genius actors, including Romain and Julie Ferrier. They made me laugh so much. What’s good is that I play the straight character in this. I love to laugh but I can’t say I am good at making other people laugh. I’m very picky about films; I only do the ones I really like. But when I’ve spent a lot of time on an album or been on tour, I often want to go back to a film set.’

With simmering on-screen chemistry, Duris and Paradis both agree they would like to repeat the experience of working together. Intriguingly, they also share a secret longing to make a musical. ‘We just need someone to come up with a proposal,’ says Duris.

Heartbreaker (L'Arnacoeur)

  • 3 stars
  • 2010
  • France/Monaco
  • 104 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Pascal Chaumeil
  • Written by: Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner, Yohan Gromb
  • Cast: Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis, Julie Ferrier, Andrew Lincoln

Monte Carlo-set light-hearted romantic comedy about a man who is paid to break up couples by any means necessary. The heartbreaker's cynical attitude to love is questioned when he's employed to stop the impending nuptials of Juliette (Paradis) to a seemingly perfect Brit (Lincoln).

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