French Romance ‘Un Plus Une’ Fights for Awards Attention, Enchants Quentin Tarantino
When you make a gentle, understated love story set halfway around the world, you don’t expect to find a huge fan in the man responsible for the brutal likes of “Pulp Fiction,” “Django Unchained” and “Inglourious Basterds.”
But that’s exactly what happened with “Un Plus Une,” a gloriously subtle romance from French director Claude Lelouch (“A Man and a Woman”). After the film screened in April at the COLCOA Film Festival in Los Angeles, star Elsa Zylberstein told TheWrap, it picked up a huge fan in Quentin Tarantino.
“He just fell in love with it, and I was so thrilled that someone like him, who is so passionate about cinema, adored our film,” Zylberstein said this week. “He kept sending me such amazing emails saying he was laughing and crying and telling me how much he loves it. That is very precious to me.”
TheWrap also became a fan of “Un Plus Une,” which stars Zylberstein and “The Artist” star Jean Dujardin, at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2015.
“It’s funny, light on its feet and never maudlin,” we wrote at the time, “but it also packs a powerful emotional punch as the two lead characters — a successful film composer with a steady girlfriend, and the wife of a French diplomat — try to flirt their way around an obvious attraction as they travel together to a spiritual healer of sorts in India …
“Dujardin’s rakish charm is perfect, while the lesser-known Zylberstein is his equal in every regard, a smart woman who knows she should avoid this guy but isn’t interested in denying the attraction between them. “Un Plus Une” might be a small movie, but it is an exquisite one, a gem that deserves a full life beyond the festival circuit.”
Lelouch and Zylberstein came to Los Angeles this week to meet with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is considering “Un Plus Une” in its foreign-film category at the Golden Globes, and to support an Oscar-qualifying run.
The drawback, for those who want to see what Tarantino and many others have responded to, is that the Oscar run is a one-week stint at an Edwards multiplex in West Covina, far off the beaten track of local arthouse cinema.
But a longer release in a nearer theater remains a possibility — which would be fitting, because Zylberstein said the project got its start on a plane to Los Angeles in 2013. Dujardin was coming from Paris to present an award at the Oscars the year after he won Best Actor for “The Artist,” while Zylberstein, who has been in dozens of French films over the last three decades, winning a Cesar for “I’ve Loved You So Long,” was flying in to meet with her American agent.
“I was sitting 10 rows behind him,” Zylberstein recalled. “We knew each other, of course, but not very well. But he said, ‘Come Elsa, have a seat!’ We spoke for five hours, we had dinner, we drank, we dreamt about films, and suddenly we said, ‘What about doing a film together?’”
Immediately, she said, they thought of Lelouch, whose romance “A Man and a Woman” won the Palme d’Or and the foreign-language Oscar in 1966. As soon as the director’s name came up, she said, Dujardin pulled out his iPhone and began playing the music to Lelouch’s 1969 film “Un Homme qui me plait” (released in the U.S. as “Love Is a Funny Thing”), which features Jean-Paul Belmondo as a film composer and Annie Girardot as an actress who become lovers while on a trip in the United States.
“We said, ‘We should do a film with him, but it has to be a love film,’” she said. “‘Why don’t we call him when we land?’ ‘Yeah!’
“So when we landed in LA, I called him and said, ‘It’s Elsa and Jean from L.A. We want to do a film together with you.’ We end up in his office three weeks after, and he had the beginning of the story.”
She laughed. “It was almost like the beginning of a Claude Lelouch film.”
Dujardin and Zylberstein had given Lelouch a rough outline of what they wanted to do: Two characters, both involved in other relationships, who fall in love far from home. “As Claude likes to say, there’s never protection against love,” she said.
In “Un Plus Une,” the chemistry between Dujardin and Zylberstein is effortless (“we were made to play together,” she said), and the film makes full use of the vibrant if chaotic Indian locations.
“This director is a master,” said Zylberstein, who has since done another film, an ensemble piece, with Lelouch. “You might have the script and do the scene, but then suddenly he doesn’t cut. He says, ‘Go again, say that line as well, tell her this … ‘
“He can interfere when you play, and I love that. I don’t like when things are too comfortable, too settled. I like to create things every moment, to be true to find the depths inside, to be alive. It’s not work — it’s like life.”
Zylberstein knows the little romance is an awards long shot, but she’s so proud of it that she’s holding out hope that it can get the attention it deserves. And the vibrant actress, whose English is excellent and spirited (unlike her more tentative co-star Dujardin), is also dying to attract the notice of American directors — and not just the one who’s already a huge fan of her film.
“I would love to do films in the United States and work with directors I admire,” she said. “Tarantino – oh my God, of course I would love to work with Quentin. He has the irony, the craziness, the depths. All his female characters are great, they’re mysterious, they’re full of life.
“Sometimes you know you’re an actress for a couple of directors specifically. And I know I’m an actress for him.”
And is she an actress for any other American directors?