Paul Risker chats with Sophie Lellouche, writer-director of Paris-Manhattan…
The film chosen to open this year’s 16th UK Jewish Film Festival was the romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan, the directorial feature debut of young French writer-director Sophie Lellouche. It is an eventful first attempt at a feature film, the screenplay written over a long seven year stretch, at the end of which it afforded her the opportunity to direct her idol, Woody Allen, in a cameo role. “It was roughly six years ago.” She corrects me. “For the first four years, I started and stopped. I lost producers, found new producers. When you don’t know anyone in the industry it is a very long and difficult process. Once Woody Allen had read the script and he said yes, that is the moment I felt that I could make movies. I felt like I had the seal of approval.”
Inevitably there was the time before she received what she called the “seal of approval” from the great American auteur, resolving the difficulty of finding a producer for her first feature with only her sole 1999 short film to her name. For any filmmaker, there is often that inspirational moment that aligns their destiny with filmmaking. Sophie told me, “There were two things that led me to filmmaking. Woody Allen was one of the reasons. When I was 15 years old, each time I watched a Woody Allen film, I was so over-whelmed by his talent.” Her enthusiasm for Allen’s cinema is at the heart of Paris-Manhattan. Whereas Allen’s worldview can be interpreted as cynical, Lellouche explained that for her, “There was so much positivity as well as negativity.” In a moment of honesty she remarked, “ I didn’t think I had enough talent be become a director, but movies are about being yourself even if you are not as good as you imagine. It is about growing, learning, becoming an adult.”
Through the film’s title, Lellouche connects her Parisian protagonist with her idol, whilst the deliberate choice of words reminds of Allen’s recent Midnight in Paris, as well as classic 1979 film Manhattan. “She is from Paris, Woody Allen is from Manhattan, it is the idea of a trip by the mind. I love Paris as much as Woody Allen loves Manhattan.”
It is one thing to write and a direct a film inspired by the cinema of Woody Allen, but the opportunity to direct him was, “Magic! It was like a dream come true. “ The dream becoming reality connects Lellouche to Jean-Luc Godard, the enfant terrible of the French New Wave, who directed Allen in King Lear (1987). “ He was only on set for one hour, but I felt every second of the day, every moment was intense. It was something special.” She confessed, “I didn’t direct him. He knew what to do and it was just perfect.”
The challenge for all young storytellers is to express their own creative voice, and in light of this consideration, Lellouche bravely steps into the shadow of a great American auteur. Placing Woody Allen at the heart of her protagonist’s character, as well as the film’s more general affectionate nods to cinema inevitably makes this a more hazardous challenge. Cinematic tributes are fraught with an inherent awkwardness if the director permits the creative influence to intrude on their own auteurial voice. The challenge of a young filmmaker I would assume is to use these inevitable creative influences as a means to strengthen her own creative presence. “Interesting, because I know today that Paris-Manhattan can only be a first movie. This is a moment where you get inspiration from all directors and then find your own identity. The second time it will be different, you know what you like, what you don’t, what you can work with. First movies are very different, they are dreams, what you expect cinema to be. I do not want to make another romantic comedy but maybe just a comedy. There is truce in comedy. I want to make movies like champagne; light, elegant and jumping.”
As I enquired about her future projects, she explained, “It is too early to talk about a second movie”, adding that she, “Still writing and working very hard on it.”
Thanks to Sophie Lellouche for taking the time for this interview.
Paul Risker is a freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth, Scream The Horror Magazine and The London Film Review.