Interview with Geordy Couturiau, director of La Flûte enchantée [The Magic Flute]
Wednesday 23 February 2022, by ,
While he is overwhelmed by his debts and coping with his dying mother, Arnaud meets Momo, a magician from his neighborhood with unusual and mischievous behavior. This meeting will not ward off bad luck, quite the contrary. But perhaps the discovery of an old flute may be the solution to all their problems and change their destiny?
Tell us a bit about Momo and Arnaud. Are they based on people you know in real life?
The character Arnaud gets his name from a close friend of mine, Arnaud Orengue, without whom the film would not be what it is. He was with us from the very beginning up to the very end and we filmed in his council estate, Les Mordacs. I wanted him to play the part but things took a different turn. Even though he has nothing to do with the man that emerged from my imagination, the one I invented wouldn’t exist without him. So the film gets its inspiration from a genuine friendship, and that seems like one of the main themes of the comedy to me. Equally important is my friendship with Eliott Brunet, my producer and close collaborator. He’s enormously talented and I sometimes steal ideas from him, or rather he lets himself be robbed for the greater good of us both. The film and its characters owe him a lot. Momo is a big dreamer. He’s both entirely in his element and not at all. To be honest, I wanted to play him. So as I was writing, I was thinking of my friend and myself.
What interests you most about their relationship?
What developed on set and wasn’t in my words. I’m quite proud of my casting job and I’m very fond of their relationship. In real life, they don’t necessarily share the same interests or the same reflexes, but there’s something obvious that brings them together.
Why did you choose to add a surrealistic element?
I couldn’t help myself. I don’t know where the ideas come from, otherwise I’d go there all the time. But this one came when I was getting bored during a very good Jarmusch film. The main character was getting bored watching the news on tv. They were saying that an old treasure, from who knows how many thousands of years ago, had been found. At the time, I was listening to Mozart’s Magic Flute again and I’d seen Bergman’s version which is old-fashioned and comical. My version has nothing in common with the opera, except for a few nods that I get a kick out of, but the idea of a “magic” flute and of boredom spurred me towards that choice.
How did you go about casting the actors?
That was one of the best moments. Most of the characters in the film are residents of Champigny and the Mordacs council estate. For the supporting roles, the community center helped us out. First there was one person, then instead of leaving after the audition, each person stayed on, until there were twenty of us there at the end. Outside the window, people in the street would holler lines from the film. It was a lot of fun, they treated us like friends and there was extraordinary goodwill among them and towards us. Aside from the police officers, there are almost no professional actors in the supporting roles, and yet I think they’re all totally appropriate. For the group scenes I was worried I wouldn’t be able to figure it out, but quite the contrary, it was really a pleasure. As for the two main characters, Arnaud and Momo, we chose them after a long, more traditional casting search. And then I met Esdras Registe. He’d learned the part for the wrong character, but I immediately knew it was him. He’s tremendously talented and in addition to being very handsome he’s got a unique energy. On screen those ingredients mixed well and I was lucky to be able to take advantage of that. For Momo, it’s that question of friendship again. One of my best friends, Guillaume Dietrich knew that I was casting for the film and asked me if he could try out. He said that for a laugh but I took him very seriously. In real life he’s a writer and composer and he’s one of the most talented artists I know. We set up the tryouts to convince my producer, but I already knew he was going to play the role, and he’s one of the big reasons that made me want to make this film.
What topics or genres do you try to tackle as a filmmaker?
In real life I deeply love Haneke’s The Pianist, but also Babe, for example. They’re two extremes, but that’s important. Scriptwriters are often asked what they’re trying to tell… I always make up an answer to be polite, but in reality I don’t know. I need it to be wide open, so that whoever wants to see the film will have enough space to be at home and make up their own story. That doesn’t answer your question.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
My go-to short film is Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Things I Like, Things I Don’t Like. It’s a brilliant, timeless film, and I was born the same year it was made. More recently there’s The Last Name of John Cage by Margaux Guillemard which was at the Entrevues festival last year… It’s four minutes and thirty-three seconds long and has a completely gripping force. It’s a rare film that’s both personal and universal, which is admirable.
What’s your definition of a good film?
That’s obviously subjective. I think time decides and reveals what is left to us of a work. For me, it’s simply a question of emotion and feelings.