The breakout comedy hit of the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival,
THE FRENCH KISSERS premiered in Directors' Fortnight to a raucous
audience and critical ovation. The debut feature of acclaimed graphic
artist Riad Sattouf, it's a rollicking tale of a pair of teens who are far
removed from the cool crowd, as they suffer the endless embarrassments
While wiseass Herve (Vincent Lacoste) and his sidekick Camel (Anthony
Sonigo) are forever fantasising over their female classmates, they're rarely
able to go as far as actually talking to any of them, other than to mumble
a few incoherent insults. But when Herve inexplicably catches the eye of
the sweet but equally hormone-fuelled Aurore (Alice Tremolieres),
he's pushed to choose between his first probable girlfriend,
Remarkably fresh and smart, but most of all flat-out hilarious,
THE FRENCH KISSERS is unabashed in its depictions not only of the
humiliations of youth, but also the trials of parenthood. The young stars
are all terrific in their debuts, adroitly supported by the superb
Leaping beyond its modest origins, the film was the word-of-mouth
phenomenon of the French summer, achieving over one million
admissions in just eight weeks. International cult status is next!
Film Festival Screenings & Awards:
2009 Cannes International Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight)
2009 Louis Delluc Prize for Best First Film – nominee
2009 London Film Festival – Official Selection
"French cinema has a new coming-of-age classic.
One of the ten best films of the year!"
Nick Dent, TIME OUT SYDNEY Read the full review here
"Marvellous! One of the most astutely observed films about
teenagers I've ever seen."
Lynden Barber, LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE
"Hip, rowdy, authentic, keenly observed... presents the highs and lows
of kidulthood with excitement, humour, energy and embarrassment.
This cool, anachronistic euro vision graduates with flying colours!"
Ben McEachen, EMPIRE MAGAZINE
"A fresh, sincere and bitingly funny comedy…
A winning debut… makes for big laughs in any language!"
Justin Show, FILMINK
"Humour that's so wrong, but OH SO RIGHT!"
Jason DiRosso, GQ
"It's about the best fun you can have without taking out your braces"
Jonathan Romney, London Film Festival
"Smart and raunchy… Funny because it rings true, in any language"
Duane Byrge, The Hollywood Reporter Read the full review here
"What ultimately distinguishes The French Kissers from other
contemporary fare is its considerable charm coupled with a lingering
sense of innocence… and therein lies the delight of the film.
The French Kissers will leave you laughing"
Michael Sommers, ParisUpdate.com
THE FRENCH KISSERS
Vincent LACOSTE - Hervé
Anthony SONIGO - Camel
Alice TREMOLIERES - Aurore
Julie SCHEIBLING - Laura
Camille ANDREYS - Meryl
Robin NIZAN-DUVERGER - Benjamin
Baptiste HUET - Loïc
Simon BARBERY - Mohamed
Irwan BORDJI - Anas
Yanis AIT-ALI - Mahmoude
Loreleï CHENET - Mégane
Sihem NAMANI - Sadia
Salomé DURCHON - Nolwenn
Noémie BILLY - Océane
Emma GREGORY - Emma
Thania PEREZ - Jenifer
Lise BORDENAVE - Sabrina
Louis BANKOWSKY - Goulven
Nicolas BOUISSY - Koulmen
Pablo ESKENAZI - Pablo
Victorien ROLLAND - Wulfran
Maya DE RIO CAMPO - Leslie
Florence DOTTEL - Françoise
Noémie LVOVSKY - Hervé's mum
Irène JACOB - Aurore's mum
Christophe VANDEVELDE - Hervé's dad
Yannig SAMOT - Herve's mum's boyfriend
Hassan GUERRAR - Camel's dad
Emmanuelle DEVOS - The principal
Roch Amédet BANZOUZI - The deputy principal
Frédéric NEIDHART - Professeur SVT
Nicolas MAURY - The French teacher
Nicolas WANCZYCKI - The maths teacher
Mirabelle KIRKLAND - The English teacher
Solenn JARNIOU - The sports teacher
Emmanuel MALEPART - The music teacher
Jean-Pierre HAIGNERE - Professeur de Techno
WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF
Valeria GOLINO - Video Actress
Riad SATTOUF - Video Actor
Marjane SATRAPI - Music store clerk
Director Riad SATTOUF
Producer Anne-Dominique TOUSSAINT
Screenwriter Riad SATTOUF and Marc SYRIGAS
Music FLAIRS and Riad SATTOUF
Cinematography Dominique COLIN
Editor Virginie BRUANT
1st Assistant Director Elsa AMIEL
Production coordinator Jean-Jacques ALBERT
Sound Laurent BENAIM
Sound editor Hervé GUYADER
Sound mixer Emmanuel CROSET
Production Designer Marie CHEMINAL
Costumes Mimi LEMPICKA
Casting Stéphane BATUT - Marc MILANI - Gaëlle USANDIVARAS
INTERVIEW WITH RIAD SATTOUF
What is THE FRENCH KISSERS about?
It's the story of Herve and his mates, high school students in Rennes,
Brittany. Outcast, unattractive, a bit dumb, obsessed with girls. It's a film
about the secret world of boys, as I experienced it with my friends. Many
boys have trouble expressing their adolescent crisis, unsettled by the
end of their childhood. Their bodies are changing, not the way they
had pictured it... they feel very inadequate in the world.
Is there a difference between the story and that of your graphic novel
'Back to High School'?
Yes, this is an original script. 'Back to High School' came out of an
experience that I forced upon myself - going back into a classroom
Your trademark is sexual frustration, clumsy youngsters misguided
by their instincts and who get nowhere; the disasters of puberty.
Is it autobiographical?
It's not an autobiography. I was a shy, ordinary teenager. The story of my
life would have been too boring! My mother is nothing like the one in the
film... but the relationships that I had with my mates were similar to the
ones I describe. We had very high-pitched voices, ridiculous names (me
in particular) and frail physiques.
It was unthinkable to smoke joints, to spray-paint in the streets or to
run away; we were petrified of getting caught or going to jail. That natural
anger has to come out, but it was invariably turned inwards. What's
fascinating with adolescence is how wild the urges of life and death are.
I didn't want to make a film about the codes of today's teens, the way
they talk, their arsenal of electronic devices... I wanted to make a film
about the intensity of their emotions.
We wonder precisely when the film takes place. There are no
mobiles, iPods… but it still feels current.
I wanted to find a balance between my experience and that of my actors.
I didn't want to make a realistic film, I wanted something slightly askew,
to "build an environment"... to be honest I find it very boring to listen to
talk about mobiles, computers, text messaging. And not all kids have
access to that technology. My characters are excluded from progress,
in a way! My actors, who were my best advisers, would say:
"These people are complete losers, we'd never talk to guys like that..."
How did you arrange the casting?
It took three months to find Hervé and the other characters. I explained to
Stephane Batut and his team - experts in casting teenagers - what I was
after and they sent me a tape with 500 kids, selected from high schools
And you'd approach them how: "Hi there, young man, you look like a
virgin with lots of pimples, do you want to do a screen test?"
I didn't want models: good looking, wild; the nymph, the gypsy, the rebel,
the jock etc...I wanted ugly ducklings with unusual features, and their
own way of talking, of walking. We gave them small scripts... those who
managed to stay natural, to express feelings without "acting", I kept.
Vincent Lacoste (Herve) was super shy, forlorn, with a baby face hiding
behind a deep husky voice. But he imitated his teacher with finesse.
Anthony Sonigo, who plays Camel, was an obvious choice from the start.
Alice Tremolieres (Aurore), is very different from the role she plays in the
film. She's a bit of a bohemian, shy, a dreamer... who also plays many
instruments. I immediately thought that, at 14, I would have fallen deeply
in love with her!
Being a super-shy ex-maniac, how have you directed these
We rehearsed! It was quite instinctive. During casting, I turned off the
lights and asked the boys to light a match and bring it close to their
partner's faces. I chose Vincent Lacoste to play Herve because behind
his awkward look, he nearly burnt the girl he was with! He was not afraid
of anything. Then I drew out the animal in them; we played monkey.
Like in a sect, we weren't allowed to talk, we were monkeys. They'd
rehearse whole scenes as monkeys. They managed to express very
subtle emotions as monkeys, using their bodies - much better than
with words... it freed them. During the shoot, when they couldn't express
certain emotions, we'd sit aside and play monkey, trying to find a way to
unlock things; we don't think about that often enough!
OK. And for a first film, everything went amazingly well?
Well, yes. Except that three days before the shoot, Vincent Lacoste broke
his knee at a rock concert that he was forbidden to attend, by the
production and his mother! The film nearly didn't go ahead. But I took
him despite the limp - he was too perfect. The limp has even
added something to the character.
Did you have references, films on teenagers that inspired you?
Not really...Of course, I love THE 400 BLOWS, POCKET MONEY... I was
obsessed by the idea of getting the kids to act spontaneously. I cast
Noemie Lvovsky before I saw the film PETITES she directed. It's one of
my favourite films on teenagers because of the intensity, the untamed
and unrestrained qualities it has. I wanted to show how the unattractive
physique of my teens was beautiful. I wanted to be very close to them,
hold the camera so close that you could feel their oily skin, every
imperfection, and smell their BO.
I understand you were voted the "ugliest kid" at school. The haircuts,
braces and pimples, were they your way of taking revenge?
The pimple on Vincent's lip evolves during the shoot from white blob to a
scar...the make-up artist was following it very closely! Camel's hairdo is
the one I was dreaming of harbouring in ninth grade, but my hair was
too curly. It wasn't revenge - I enjoyed myself!
There are some hilarious scenes; the séance and the gym
I had mates in Rennes who dabbled in séances. Somehow, when they
connected with spirits, it was always famous baddies...Napoleon, Hitler,
Jack The Ripper...or Satan, Lucifer. They must have felt so pathetic. And
sport appeals to all. It's a moment of competition where you need to
prove something with your body. You can experience moments of utter
humiliation. I didn't want to fall in the trap of the typical film for teens:
morons, good at sports and who succeed in everything on one side, and
the nice little maniacs on the other... that's why my main character is so
cruel sometimes – that was intentional. He's not perfect. Everyone is just
doing what they can to get by.
Camel likes heavy metal; the deputy is black; on paper you run the
risk of cliché, but the film touches on multiculturalism and integration
without falling in the usual traps. You were born in Paris, have lived
in Libya, Syria... and came to Rennes aged 11. Is this 'your' France?
When I was at school, there was one black kid, and I was the only one
with an Arabic name. It wasn't a private school, that's how it was... for my
film I didn't decide: let's take three blacks, five Arabs and a couple of
Asians... I didn't write the script with that in mind. The deputy is black
as it happens, and Camel's name is Anthony Sonigo and I think he does
a great impersonation of the little Arab who likes heavy metal. What I
find funny is to mix all these references. Herve loves rap, his mother
scolds him for listening to "Arab music", his mate who's Arab, listens
to Metal... I don't care and just wanted to have fun; these questions are
so serious! People often don't give a damn about their origins; it's society
that sets all these labels. Lots of youngsters are dull: not good, not bad,
not violent, not dunces, nothing – they're 'lacklustre'.
Can we talk about socks and masturbation?
Masturbation: I love it. I have no problem discussing it for hours, it's my
favourite subject. For me it's the expression of life's impulses. As for the
sock, everybody knows, it allows to get rid of the sperm without leaving
traces. You put it in the washing and your parents don't see a thing.
Voila: grand household mystery solved!
Anthony and Vincent were very comfortable while shooting these
scenes. 25 people around them? No worries! They'd ask: do we really
put our dick in the sock? And I'd answer: are you nuts? You're 14, it's not
allowed. We'll pretend. And they'd say "bummer, it's my favourite scene!"
The slow kid in class, is he the one for our guilty conscience?
You're talking about Mahmoude... He goes through hell and we don't
know what will become of him; he's trying to survive. There was one like
him in my class...the others were merciless. That guy was a martyr.
His parents refused to put him a different school. Kids would bully him
endlessly in the schoolyard. It was hard to witness.
The film starts with an unforgettable kiss.
I find teenagers kissing incredibly violent; I wanted to start the film with
a bang, something super real to throw the viewer right into it. And it's a
wink to Larry Clark's KIDS.
Were these scenes difficult for your actors?
Not a bit. Pashing is like a hug. They kissed with their mind elsewhere.
At their age, I would have had a heart attack!
You chose the adults after the teens?
I wanted unknown actors. I had a phobia of stars. I wanted the actors to
be mine. I love Noemie Lvovsky in ACTRICES. There's something very
uncanny and sensitive about her. She's an amazing actor who brought to
the part things I would have never thought about. Yannig Samot, Herve's
stepfather, makes me happy, no one has seen him before - he's mine! As
soon as I look at him: he has this virility, but also so naive and relaxed in
his perversity. Fred Neidhardt, the depressed sports teacher, is so
handsome, and can suggest incredible things with small gestures,
But then I thought I might never make another film in my life... so I
set a list of all the actors I loved: Emmanuelle Devos, Irene Jacob and
Valeria Golino - of course – she's my muse! And they all accepted.
So lucky! I love them all - dumb, hey?
And you decided to ask Valeria Golino to do a porno scene
In my producer's office, there was a huge poster of RESPIRO. The very
first film I was allowed to see on my own at the cinema was HOT SHOTS.
Valeria Golino is the prettiest girl in the world, but also an amazing
actress. When she accepted to work with me, I thought to myself that
nothing better could ever happen.
Explaining the scene to Valeria was a bit tricky: "Well, it's a
fake porno film about a mum who screws young teens, and I'll play the
teen". She laughed and said "not rrreally sexouel?" I said,
no... She agreed saying: "Ok, u're so founnny"!
Your comics 'The Secret Life of Teenagers', 'The Book of the Virgin',
'Back to High School' and 'Pascal Brutal' are legendary, but are
totally unrelated to cinema. Why did you want to make a film?
I didn't really want to. I love cinema - I nearly see everything that comes
out - but I was certain that making a film would be something exhausting:
writing a project, finding producers, convincing them (they are so
spineless...), rewriting a script 100 times, deleting what could shock a
Catholic group... but in fact, I didn't have to do any of that.
What do you mean?
Anne-Dominique Toussaint, the producer, contacted me after reading my
cartoon 'Back to High School'. She had a film on teenagers in mind and
asked me if I wanted to write the script. I didn't know her, no friends in
common, but she just happened to like my cartoons. We immediately
connected. She had produced films that I really liked; Respiro,
Emmanuel Carrere's films... It sounds like I'm brown-nosing to say so
now that she has produced my film but I realise it was a unique
experience. She tended to want me to add things instead of deleting.
Then I said that the person who wrote the original script should be the
one to do the casting, choose the technical team, the sets...she agreed
We did it in stages and we could stop at every step. I wrote a
synopsis, then a longer one, it was OK so I kept going. I wrote the first
version of the script. When I got stuck I called Marc Syrigas to the rescue
and we started all over again. He's a friend and a great scriptwriter.
Until we started shooting, I couldn't believe it was actually happening.
What makes you laugh?
Very hard to say. Serious shows on TV, very serious people,
politicians… partner-swappers make me laugh. I laugh about sad things
to make them less sad.
What did you really enjoy during the shoot?
Making my actors cry for real!
(Translation courtesy Diane Nagar.)
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