One of the more interesting restaurants I've enjoyed over the years was
located in Paris though the one I am thinking of was not any of those
that 'auditioned' their specialties to my partner and me when we were
preparing The French Chef
, as delectable as they were. In my
Skype sessions, I tell actors that audiences remember what they didn't
expect to see. This serves as a reminder that a performance should avoid
predictability and present something new and nuanced that becomes
memorable rather than banal. This also applies to restaurants.
When I was shooting Point of Departure
I filmed in some of my favorite cities--Paris, Cannes, Milan, Venice
and (though it is not a city, but feels like one) Monaco. The film was
shot 'guerilla-style' filming where ever I saw interesting locations and
using the celebrated French Système D
to get things that
ordinarily weren't on offer or easily acquired. My dinner conversations
with Jean Collomb and reading William Friedkin's The Friedkin Connection
informs me that Claude Lelouch and William Friedkin use the same method
in spite of the fact of having larger budgets. If there is a cinematic
syntax in what a filmmaker puts on the screen, perhaps there is also a
cinematic language in the way he or she shoots the footage.
In any case, I found myself shooting a variety of locations around Paris revisiting Montmartre where I made The French Chef
and my earlier film Montmartre
I shot footage in the Cimetière Montmartre where the graves of Edgar
Degas, Jacques Offenbach, Heinrich Heine, Hector Berlioz, Nijinsky,
Stendhal, Francois Truffaut and Emile Zola can be found wherein my
leading lady visits the grave site of someone dear to her--this as the
taxi driver is waiting to take us to the airport (!!).
was the hotel Georges V where I shot scenes in the suite and made daily
trips to various parts of Paris at various times of the day or night to
get interesting backdrops for the action. I remember sitting late at
night in the middle of the Champs-Élysées with cars passing on either
side of me as I filmed the leading lady crossing the grand avenue with
the lighted Arc de Triomphe behind her
. On another
occasion, I took two actors on the spur of the moment and booked us onto
the high-speed train from Paris to Montpellier where I shot scenes with
them in the first class compartment on the train and later in the
station at Montpellier working these locations into the story of a woman
on a quest to find her missing husband.
Trains and train
stations figured largely in the story of our heroine's search. I shot in
the magnificent cathedral that is the Stazione Centrale di Milano
originally built in 1864, remembering as I was filming our scenes a bit
of real-life drama that my father and I had witnessed there at four in
the morning decades earlier. It was at a train station in Paris that I
experienced the unexpected, however.
The Gare de Lyon was built for the World Exposition of 1900 and its architecture has not been modernized featuring a clock tower reminiscent of the famous London tower that houses Big Ben
. It was there that, after shooting the scenes of my actors in, on and around the trains, I discovered something extraordinary. Le
Train Bleu restaurant.
Imagine a plush and ornate restaurant from the
Belle Epoque looking as though it belonged in a world class hotel or
chateau rather than a train station. It brought forth images from Agatha
Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.
Not only did I
want to shoot in this amazing restaurant, I wanted to dine there as
well. So, we did. One of the actors received a phone call beckoning him
to some emergency that required his attention, so I had the leading lady
order a most sumptuous dessert as only the French can make and filmed
her as she ate it slowly, in the hope that her husband would join her.
In the story, they had already missed their first connection and this, I
decided, would be the fall-back rendezvous. As she slowly ate this
incredible pastry and sipped her tea served in what looked like fine
bone china, the hope of his coming to meet her begins to fade and,
without a word spoken, she has descended into the despair of knowing
that she is likely never to see him again.
Though unforeseen and
unplanned, the scene in Le Train Bleu was pivotal to the film, as it was
the heroine's rejection of the emotion that came over her as she sat
alone at her table that drove her actions for the rest of the picture.
Not only did I get a good scene for my movie, I had an excellent meal in
the bargain--this thanks to my saying to my actors, "Wait here while I
see what's upstairs."
I wasn't expecting to see such a lavish establishment in a train station which made it all the more memorable.
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