Movie News

Exclusive Clip and Interview: Cedric Klapisch's My Piece of the Pie

Source: Edward Douglas
December 8, 2011

While France has produced more than their share of romantic comedies, and there have been plenty of recent movies about the current economic and political climate. Seldom if ever have those two very disparate ideas been put together, but in My Piece of the Pie, the new movie from Cedric Klapisch (Paris, L'Auberge Espagnole), the French filmmaker has found a way to tell an entertaining and comical story within the world of high finance.

It's really the story of two people, Karin Viard's France, a mother living in the suburbs of France, working at a factory until it's closed down following the economic crash forcing her to commute to Paris to train as a maid. It's also about Stéphane, played by Gilles Lelouche, a ruthless daytrader who will do whatever he can to get what he wants. When France gets a job as Stéphane's maid, it takes some time for them to figure out a way to coexist, and after his 3-year-old son is left at his doorstep, he's forced to rely on France to help take care of the boy, even while she's neglecting her own kids back home. Through this arrangement, the boundaries between master and servant eventually break down, but can a financial shark like Stéphane really change his nature? sat down with Klapisch at New York City's historic Chelsea Hotel way back in May when he was in town for his film's Tribeca Film Festival premiere, but there's something even more timely about the movie getting released now with all the protests taking place about the state of the country's economy and how rich people like Steve are profiting on the misfortune of the poor. (Some of the things Klapisch said to us are fairly eerie when you realize this interview took place months before "Occupy Wall Street.)

Before we get to that interview, we also have an exclusive clip from late in the film after France and Stéphane have known each other for a while and she's taking care of his son, and he tries to convince her to be his date to an event, pretending to be a Russian escort instead of his maid and nanny. This is your second Tribeca Film Festival, since your earlier film "L'Auberge Espagnole" played at one of the early festivals.
Cédric Klapisch:
It was in 2003 and I wasn't there. I was shooting I remember when it was in Tribeca so I couldn't make it. I really missed the release of "L'Auberge Espagnole" and also the movie being in Tribeca, I was really sad not to be here.

CS: It's great you're back. This movie is also a comedy, maybe a little more comedic than that one, but both of them had a bit of drama as well. How long after you finished "Paris" did you come up with this idea and was this something you were thinking about doing for a while?
No, I actually worked on another film and I wrote a script for six months, and I ended up forgetting about that script because it was too complicated and then I wrote this one in two months, so it was really a reaction to what was happening and so it was something that came really fast, this movie. I really wanted to do something really simple in the way of shooting and to talk about our society today.

CS: Was this after the economic crash?
Yeah, it was definitely a reaction to what happened after the financial crisis.

CS: It's interesting that you created romantic tension between a man from the world of finance with Karin's character, who is more from the working class. Was it important to show these different classes and show what happens when they're brought together?
Yeah, because it's really what I feel about today where you have the rich being richer and richer, and the poor being more and more poor, and there's less and less connection between the two worlds. Before, we used to say that it's possible when you come from a social background which is poor to be able to go to university and change your status, and it's less and less true I think because the difference between rich people and the common people is too strong now, so it becomes too cynical, too aggressive, the difference, so that's why I started with that, and I tried to make a comedy with that conflict.

CS: What about having her be a maid for a rich man? I don't know if you've seen the Chilean film "The Maid"...
No, I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it.

CS: It's interesting because the director based it on his own childhood where his family had maids at his house. Did you know any maids or did you have any experiences with them?
No, I saw "The Servant"--I don't know if you know this movie--but it's a movie that was made in the '60s probably and it was in London with Dirk Bogart, and he was the servant of an aristocrat in London, and it was really about power and about the fights of classes. You take two characters and one is submissive and the other is directive, and it really describes the whole society just with two characters. So for me, it was really just the idea of showing the game of who gets the power over the other one, and what kind of power you have when you don't have any power? You know, those kinds of questions (are the ones) that were interesting to me.

CS: Did it take a long time for you to arrive at Karin and Gilles to star in the two main roles?
Well, Karin I had her in mind since the beginning, and I really wanted to make a movie with her. I think that only she could play that because she's the only actress right now in France who can do very strong drama and very light comedy - she can do both, which is really rare. Usually, you have actress who are really good at comedies and actresses who are tragedian, and she can do both, which is really incredible.

CS: As I was watching the movie, I was thinking of Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria," and its star Giulietta Masina, since Karin has a similar ability to mix humor and sadness, and when I read the production notes, I saw that you referenced that film as well.
It was a real inspiration. I really love this movie.

CS: Since you've worked with Karin before, did you automatically know she could do this kind of comedy? There's different levels of comedy, there's madcap and more subdued and she does a little bit of both.
Yeah, well she was in two of my movies. The first movie I made 20 years ago, and my last movie "Paris" where she was the baker, so I really wanted to give her something that was bigger than what I gave her before, so that was really one of the starting points. With Gilles, it was different. He was also in "Paris." I asked Vincent Cassel at the beginning. I thought about him, but he was doing "Black Swan" so he couldn't do it, then I had this idea with Gilles, who wasn't really a lead actor when we decided to take him, and now, he's done three movies that are major movies in which he's the lead character.

CS: I saw Point Blank a couple days before seeing your movie and in that movie he plays such a nice guy but he's really violent, but in this movie he's not a nice guy, and it's quite a contrast.
Well, he's a great actor.

CS: There's an interesting line in the movie about the stock market saying "This is not a sport for good people" and usually, for this kind of movie, you want your leading man to be nice enough to win women over. He's not a nice guy, but he does a change a little. How far did you want to take his character into being bad without losing the women in the audience who might stop liking him?
It was very subtle, I have to say, to keep the balance between hate him and love him, because I needed the audience to love him somehow. He has to be attractive, he has to be seductive, for her and for the audience. For example in the scenes like Venice, he couldn't be completely mean, so I tried always to be in between something which is acceptable, where he's crummy and you feel that what he's doing is not nice, but there's something charming about him that always saves him. That was complicated to find the balance in fact.

CS: You have him working in the stock market and building upon the cutthroat dog eat dog aspect of that business, so did you have to do a lot of research into that area?
A lot, because I didn't know anything about that, and I couldn't be inaccurate with that, so I had to learn a lot, talk with many people. I really documented myself a lot, and same thing for Gilles, because to play the character, he also had to document himself.

CS: "L'auberge Espagnole" was mainly made in Spain, but you stayed in Paris for "Paris." With this movie, you went to London and Venice. Why did you want to start Gilles' story in London?
Because now, the financial market, you have three places: you have Hong Kong, you have New York and London, and the three places do 24 hours around the world, and you have Asia, Europe and the American continent. It's very clear that nothing is in Paris anymore, so if I wanted to talk about big finances, it was more in London than in Paris, so that was really the idea.

CS: What were some of the challenges with shooting in London?
The one thing that is interesting about London is that you feel the money in London, maybe more than in New York, because with the cars, you have a lot of Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Ferraris, Mazaratis in the streets. People who have money want to show their money in London. In Paris, it's impossible. If you have a Rolls Royce, you hide it. (laughs) And it's probably the same... well, here, you have limousines and stuff like that, but it's not the same.

CS: It's all integrated where you have homeless people living on the streets of the wealthiest areas of the city.
But it's not like in London. There's something about money that's showable there.

CS: What about Venice? How much time did you spend there shooting those scenes?
It was one week only, and it's really something I wanted to do for a long time, because I love Venice, I go there very often, and I wanted to use that as a place that's real but it's a fantasy, and so for me, that scene was really about he believes he can buy everything, he can get everything because he's got money, so he's always in between reality and virtuality, so that's when he's in his job because he's always clicking to get what he wants, so I put that sequence to show that with a woman you can't really click to get what you want.

CS: Have you ever worked with kids in your other movies as much as you do this one? In this one, you have the daughters and Steve's son.
No, this was probably the movie where I had more kids. I thought it was an important issue also to talk about reality. It's really a movie about the opposition between virtuality and reality, and I think that kids bring you down to earth, they put you into reality and you have to deal with reality when you're a parent, so it was interesting for him. His way of escaping reality all the time is also his refusing to be a father, because it's too painful and complicated for him. She teaches him how to become a father, and he kind of likes it at the end, so I think she really teaches him to like reality in a sense.

CS: And what's that reality as a filmmaker who has to get a kid who literally is so adorable he's stealing scenes from your two main actors? So how did you find him first of all?
It's very complicated and when it works, it's great, because it's as you say it steals the scene. It's both complicated to put together and easy when you work with good children, then it's easy because they're so nice and so charming, and I was really lucky with all the children in this film, because they were really into the story. I never fought with any of them, so it was really easy in a sense. It was complicated to find them but once I found them, then it was easy.

CS: One other reference I wanted to bring up, which was also in the notes, was "Pretty Woman," because as I watched this movie I thought Karin's part was the type of role Julia Roberts would be playing 15 years ago or even now. I can't imagine an American producer watching this movie wouldn't think, "This is perfect for Julia Roberts." But then you went and used Roy Orbison's song "Pretty Woman" in a lighter section, which drives home the point. Was that on your mind while writing it?
Yeah, of course, because you think about it when you have a trader and he deals with someone--she's not a prostitute, she's a cleaning lady--but you have the opposition between the two statuses and the two worlds, and for me, it was funny that instead of going to the Gucci stores on Rodeo Drive, she goes to the supermarket and she's happy as Julia Roberts to be able to buy ham and yogurt. For me, it was funny to play with the fact that money makes you happy, but even if it's with yogurt, so that was a funny way for me to say that it's the same story but it's different today, because I think today, you can't really tell that story to people. I don't think it would be that simple today even if it was in Hollywood, I don't think you can really tell the same story after a financial crisis.

CS: How hard is it setting a movie in this world where you have humor and romance, but it's in this very serious setting where she doesn't have a job and is trying to get money to feed her kids, so how hard is it to balance these different elements?
Well, it was the hardest thing to deal with, because to find the right tone, I had to be in between many things. I had to be in between documentary and fiction, I had to be between fantasy and real life, I had to be in between being comical and emotional, so it was complicated to find the right thing, because if it was too politically-oriented and sententious, saying it's awful, this world that creates poverty and unemployment, it's really dull when you talk about that, so I had to find a way to talk about that in an entertaining way. That was the hard part really, to find the right tone, the right style.

CS: I don't want to give away the end of the movie but it gets pretty dark...
Yes, dark, but yet, for me, uplifting, because there's something at the end where you know she lost many things, but she gained something and you don't know exactly what she gained in that story, but she did gain something about dignity or the fact she's not alone at the end, and she succeeded with something, so I really also wanted to be in between two things. So it's not a happy ending but it's not a sad ending for me.

CS: Anyone who has seen as many romantic comedies as I have will automatically assume they'll be together as it goes along and they do get together, but it was almost like you were saying "Well I can't do that because that's what's expected."
It's too unreal. It's not too cliché, it's too unbelievable in a sense, because as I said, it's a movie about reality, about the fact that reality is a good place to be. Because he doesn't live in reality, and you can't really agree with being so out of reality.

CS: I also wanted to ask about the title. Did it take a long time to arrive at that title?
No, I started with the title. I found that idea and I said, "Okay that's the theme of the movie, about sharing a pie." He wants the whole pie, that's what he says at the beginning. "I want the biggest part of the pie," and she wants to share the pie, so it's really two ways of seeing life, that she wants to share more and more. If they can share the pie, she's happier, and he wants the whole pie, so it's really two different temperaments.

CS: You ended up making a sequel to "L'Auberge Espagnole" ("Russian Dolls") so do you feel you might want to know more about these characters or do you feel that where this movie ended is where their story ends. You could always do a "ten years later" type thing...
Right. I said at the end of "L'Auberge Espagnole" that I wouldn't do a sequel and I did, so I shouldn't... but I think in this film, it's the ending I like, so it's really something I tried to put the audience in a situation where they have to think "Well, what do I think about that?" and they have to find their own ending in a sense. I didn't want to conclude for them, so I think it's interesting to create the debates and create a question rather than answer a question.

CS: The movie's been out in France for about a month, so what's the reaction been like? Do people embrace it as a light romantic comedy? Do they get more involved in the political debates?
Well, they like the comical aspect of it. They like the theme because I think that people are very aware of social problems now in France, probably because of the problems with the government. Sarkozy is doing something really bad to the country, so people react a lot to the political aspect. People were really aware of the crisis. Unemployment and social security, all those problems are very acute and people who didn't care about politics are really into politics right now, so I think that people like the movie because it was the right moment to speak about all of that. Also, with what's happening in the Arabic countries, it's strange that the ending looks like what's happening there where there's something that's not democratic and not bearable and people got together to say, "Okay, this is not bearable anymore. We can't stand it anymore." So even if it was about a dictatorship, about tyrants, even if those people were very powerful, you still feel like the people have the power. When you get people together, they can fight something that is stronger than themselves, so for me, the movie says something about that, about the fact that today, finance is very strong. You feel like you can't moralize finance, but at one point, they have to moralize finance, because it can go on forever.

CS: So where do you go from here? Do you go more political with your next movie? Or get further away from reality?
I think this is the most political movie I can make, because I'm not like Michael Moore or people who make movies with a very strong topic like that. I was really revolted with what happened with finance and the people who created the sub-primes, they should be in jail, and people who got Greece to go bankrupt, I think they should be responsible, because it's really not acceptable anymore that this is possible just for the sake of profits. I'm really revolved with that, but I don't think I can make all my movies about things that are revolting like that.

My Piece of the Pie opens in New York City on Friday, December 9.

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