After Mr & Mrs Adelman and The good timesNicolas Bedos returns with a new sentimental fresco that mocks the high society of the south of France, while revealing a part of his own life. masquerade, presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2022, tells the story of a young gigolo (Pierre Niney) who falls in love with a con artist (Marine Vacth). Desperate to have a dream life, they will set up a cruel plan that could destroy the lives of a former movie star (Isabelle Adjani) and a real estate agent (François Cluzet). During our interview with Nicolas Bedos, we were able to learn more about this most complex dramatic comedy.
Hello Nicholas Bedos. To start, tell us about the title, Masquerade.
Nicholas Bedos:Masquerade, it is a title that imposed itself by its dual definition which is that of the masquerade ball on the one hand, which I found quite fair compared to all this gallery of characters that I wanted to show, and the slightly festive side of the Côte d’Azur. On the other hand, it is also a word used to talk about a pure and simple scam. The lie, the betrayal, the falsity of things and the rather absurd side in the end, because all this is a rich man’s problem. Wouldn’t the love in this film be a masquerade?
My films only interest me if they have an element of experience, of truth. Otherwise, I have the impression that I am lying to the spectators.
Masquerade was supposed to be a book… It became a film. Moreover, you said: “without coquetry: I am a failed novelist”. How is it “easier” to make a film out of it if both are based on writing?
Nicholas Bedos: I have many novelist friends. Most find it very difficult to write a screenplay. Me, I tend to drown in the freedom that the novel gives me, while they have more trouble expressing themselves within the confines of the screenwriting genre and within the constraints. In the end, each becomes jealous and finds the other’s work more difficult. It must be said that it is all the same the third time I have lost myself in a book, while as soon as I express myself in order, as soon as I think of the spectators in a temporality that is that of the two hours that through ‘ a movie theater has been granted to us, I suddenly cling to a kind of science that I am beginning to master over time, which I have not managed to tame in prose. What loses me in the novel is the style. I’m very quick to go into a comment that crushes the characters a bit. In the cinema I cannot comment on them. We only make a film in the narrative genre, which is mine, through situations and words.
Masquerade / Credit: Les Films du kiosk
It’s a part of your life being staged, how does fiction meet reality?
Nicholas Bedos: For some stories told in the film: totally! But the big difference is that I didn’t prostitute myself. I have, despite myself, maintained relationships with certain older women. Martha’s character [Isabelle Adjani] really existed, that of Laura Morante [qui incarne Jeanne] is also a true story (it’s someone I knew very well). The character of Margot was inspired by an evening I spent when I was a bar pianist with an accompanist who came from Czechoslovakia and who absolutely fascinated me with her extremely definitive talk about how men are disgusted with love. I take real elements and invent a story around them. I have already done it in The good times and in Mr & Mrs Adelman. My films only interest me if they have an element of experience, of truth. Otherwise, I have the impression that I am lying to the spectators.
So the character played by Pierre Niney was inspired by your own personality?
Nicholas Bedos: It was inspired by a personality that was mine when I was much younger, when I was twenty years younger and totally clueless. At one point in my life I dragged my idleness and self-deprecation into nice southern homes.
My job is to try to give charm to things that are a little shameful, including my story.
Did Pierre Niney ask your advice to play this character that was inspired by you?
Nicholas Bedos: Yes yes! That was what was very interesting. Rock [Niney] approached the role with tremendous modesty and vulnerability. He had a tendency to say, and he always does to me, that it was one of the most fragile and disturbing characters he had to play. We talked a lot about alcohol, insomnia, fatigue… I wanted him to be both very attractive and at the same time bear the signs of a bad life. We spent many nights talking, thinking and getting drunk.
How does it feel to reveal a (former) part of your life to the world? To be exposed by an actor?
Nicholas Bedos: It gives the feeling that the suffering was not in vain since we made a film of it. It’s a way of winking at yourself. I like to tell myself that I have not lived in vain and that even the worst episodes of my life become a series that might interest people. In fact, my job is to try to give charm to things that are a little shameful, including my story or the story of those close to me. I like to tell people that even if you go through bad times, it doesn’t stop the intensity, the feelings. Someone who is depressed, cranky, alcoholic, liar or neurotic can make a great movie character. So you can get some form of satisfaction yourself.
Is this the message you were trying to convey to the audience?
Nicholas Bedos: No, what I am trying to convey to viewers is that life is complex and even the sometimes evil characters are not completely evil. I try to show that life has talent and that it is enough to look at things in a certain way, or to show the characters at such a different moment of their life, so that we see that it is not the one who we didn’t even think. In life you meet someone who is very unpleasant at the table, an incredibly vain woman, and then you realize that there is a very big sadness or that there is a personal history behind it.
Masquerade / Credit: Les Films du kiosk
I wanted to convey physical desire, a desire to dance, to make love.
The plot and the characters are complex… How did you manage to place each of the pieces of the puzzle, to fit everything together?
Nicholas Bedos: I never know if I succeeded. Every time it is a miracle or a failure. Generally, when I pitch it to my producers and go into financing and directing, it’s because I’m more or less satisfied with the work I’ve done. How many times have I written scenarios that I ended up abandoning after forty pages because I realized that things didn’t fit together. It is like a painting with colors that are too bright, we do not understand what it is drawing. Here it is different because [Mascarade] is a film noir. I had to go to the end. I had to feel that I had said everything I had to say, that I had made the perfume, with many smells. When I write the last word, I’m just content enough to say to myself, come on, I’m going to spend two years there, but there’s a whole part of me that still doubts! I always wonder if it is believable. It will take a lifetime to be truly satisfied with an ambitious film.
What did this film and its production bring to you personally?
Nicholas Bedos: One of the reasons why I made this film is that I wanted to convey physical desire, a desire to dance, to make love. Because my first cinephile emotions were those of a young man facing great actresses, somewhat cruel and dangerous femme fatales. I kind of fell in love with women through film when I was fifteen. Which I set up with Marine Vacth [qui incarne Margot] made me feel like I was watching someone else’s movie, in the positive sense of the word. Sometimes I was completely in love with the tasks, with his character. This desire I felt before Hell of Chabrol or The Lady of Shanghai of Welles, I wanted to get it.
This is the first time I have faced this very dangerous exercise of filming and conveying a kind of desire that is both visual and sentimental. I wish all men were like Cluzet and Niney for two hours. This film gave me that, this sense of suddenness [grande inspiration] that created not only a good story, moving, endearing or funny scenes, but pure and simple desire. I wanted to write this region, write this woman, in these images and settings. Sometimes the desire to make a film is inexplicable. There are painters who are attracted by the color of a flower and cannot say more about it…
Masquerade, by Nicolas Bedos. In theaters November 1, 2022.