A young single mother and her young son living on skid row through a series of accidents, bump into a homeless guy living in the woods near the Versailles Palace. After they spend the night together, come morning, the guy finds the boy sound asleep but the mother missing. Not knowing anything about them, he has no choice but to take care of the child. But as they both grow accustomed to their new life in the woods, he makes a crucial decision. He decides to leave the familiar forest for the boy’s future......
This is the story of “Versailles”, the first feature film by French director, Pierre Schöller who managed to successfully merge the different perspectives within the story. The mother Nina’s, the homeless guy Damien’s point of view and the child Enzo’s point of view were brought together with the audience’s perspective. Having worked with directors such as Eric Zonka, Jean-Pierre Limozin as a screenwriter, he put his bet on the actor Guillame Depardieu. As the son of the great French actor Gerard Depardieu, their grudge had been much rumored, but as an actor who can reflect on his own pain and difficulties from his personal life, there was no better choice. As his unexpected death last year, after contracting viral pneumonia during the production of a Rumania film, was a great loss for the entire film world, “Versailles” became one of his last films. While dealing with contemporary problems such as homelessness, single parent situations and the difficulty of rehabilitating back to society, the film found the last perfect to complete the picture in the form of a child actor with magical eyes that would instantly captivate the audience. Yet as Schöller cleverly avoids the trap of sentimentalism to find the right balance between a realistic documentary and emotional drama, he tells us of how he managed to get there.
How did you start out to construct this film?
This film actually had sprout from my previous film, a TV movie, which was called “Zéro défaut” with a factory worker as the main character. The overall tone of the film was cold as metal and was very different from “Versailles”, so I wanted the next film to be something more emotional. This was a risk I was willing to take. This is how it started.
Based on this, I wanted to make a film that was melodramatic in a way. One day, as I was walking in the woods, I saw a figure that was to become the model of Damien who is one of the main characters of the film. As he was carrying a backpack and being homeless, he became the main focus of the film. So it started to flow from there.
I had guessed you might have worked in the opposite way, like starting from a more dark and yet sentimental place.
Of course there is that aspect, but since you asked the very beginning. Actually, there were obviously other films that deal with this theme; poverty. Moreover, there were films that were successfully made by other directors that people found exciting. The big difference between “Versailles” from the other films dealing with poverty is that although they do live in poor conditions, they are very energetic, powerful and have a strong desire to live. This is the difference.
Can you tell me about how you intended to use the child, Enzo’s perspective?
When you direct children, or when a director chooses a child, well, I have to say that it is a difficult choice for anyone to make. For example, there are many limitations just being a child. Before even directing the child, the director would need to help him by bringing down various obstacles that stand before him. For example, Enzo, or Max which is his real name, was frightened of fire. He was born in the city, and not a child used to being around nature, so he cannot help being scared of things like fire. But you still need to have him understand that there is nothing to be frightened of, that there is no fear of getting burnt, that he can keep warm by going like this (he rubs his hands). This was a challenge. Through this gradual process, Enzo probably found out for himself the joy of bettering oneself. After that, there’s a scene where Enzo is running. He is seeking for help, and as he gets tangled in burr, each time, I had to explain to him that we had taken off the thorns and that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but this was still a huge challenge for the boy. Guillaume and Max connected very well, and every moment he found, he would talk to Max and to nurture the child’s imagination. The relation between them was going very well, and he would talk to Max on every little detail. Even on set, he would talk to Max to stimulate the child’s imagination.
Was he ever hard on him intentionally, being in the role?
No, not really. There are scenes where he would brush Enzo off, but nothing like that off the camera. On the other hand, if there were scenes like that, or even if he had to raise his voice, he would tell Max beforehand that he is only going to shout because it is required in the scene. He would be very careful the whole time.
Enzo played by Max was a very difficult role to play. So not just Max, but for whoever was chosen to for the role, our concerns were how a child could come to play this cruel and difficult role. But Max coped with this so well, like a boxer taking in the hits, and the more they come, even as a child, he would hit back with what he had. He was this kind of child.