Saturday, January 15, 2011 -- Interview with BUS PALLADIUM's Christopher Thompson

After TrustMovies viewed a screener of French-American film director Christopher Thompson's BUS PALLADIUM (his review of the film is here), he was more than happy to get the chance to interview the director. So last Thursday evening, shortly before Thompson (shown at left and throughout, below) was due to introduce the film and give a Q&A following its showing at FIAF, we sat down together for a 20-minute chat in the cafe below his hotel. Much of what we talked about follows, with TrustMovies in boldface, and Thomson in standard type.

This I the first film that you have ever directed. And you didn’t begin with a short film first, right?

That’s right.

Since you’ve been in or near the film business for quite awhile, why did it take so long?

I have been close to people who have been doing this all my life (Editor’s note: Thompson’s mother is writer/director Danièle Thompson and his grandfather was writer/director/actor Gérard Oury) and I have been participating myself in every apsect -- from writing to acting to editing --which I think, in particular, is a very important part of the experience. And because I am so close to the people with whom I have been collaborating and writing – my mother and my very close friend Thierry Klifa -- writing with these close people, and also because I had the experience as an actor, being on the set a lot, I just thought it was time for me to do this.

Well, it is a very accomplished debut, I think.

Thank you.

And even more so, considering that this is a subject we’ve seen already quite a few times – coming of age in a rock group sort of thing.

Yes, it is almost a genre. This is subject matter where you have to work with, not against, the clichés and the archetypes. It’s a coming of age movie, a musical, and more. For me, the references were as much toward I Vitelloni as to American Grafitti.

Wow. Neither of those films came to my mind as I was watching. I actually thought of the French film Chacun sa nuit or maybe Tom HanksThat Thing You Do.

You know, I never saw that Jean-Marc Barr film.

You never saw it?! Your film was particularly interesting to me because Arthur Dupont plays a young and talented rock singer in both films, yet is quite different in both. He’s is so good!

Yes, he is a wonderful actor. As is the other young man, the Canadian actor Marc-André Grondin.

He’s Canadian?

Yes. He was the star of the film C.R.A.Z.Y.  Did you see that?

Really? I loved that film, and yet I did not recognize him from it when I saw your film.

Yeah, yeah – he is a wonderful and very low-key actor, and a very fine actor, too.

He sure is. All your cast is. Géraldine Pailhas – whom I have never before seen as a blond!

No, it’s Her first time.

I am used to seeing you acting in – and having co-written -- your mom’s film, but this is a much more youthful subject, I think

I think this is probably a one-time thing. You know, I think while I was writing it, shooting it, promoting it, I never insisted that it was autobiographical. But I still did what first-time filmmakers often do, dealing with adolescents and post-adolescents coming of age. The character of Lucas, he is very pivotal: a boy who is very close to his childhood buddies, who comes back to try to give them another shot. But from the beginning he knows he has already gone on to something else.

And the other boy Manu – he is just the opposite.

Yes -- the ying and the yang. They are opposites. I believe that in life, we often cling on to our opposite. We have so much in common and yet we cannot be the way our “other” is. So we make up for what we lack in this way.

Thompson, surrounded by his co-stars in Change of Plans.

It is also interesting how class differences come into play. They don’t make a huge difference, but they are there.

It is not a question of income, but of class and of choice.

Of opportunity?

Yes, opportunity. Lucas is an architect student so he has that choice in life.

He also has a certain amount of parental pushing.

Yes – it is a question of family structure. But Manu is raised by a single mother and perhaps the two are too close. And Lucas has his mother, who…

There is so much going on your film, it’s packed and rich. But it is not all spelled out. You have so much going on, sort of on the fly, as it were --

I like to have this kind of interview! Yes, I think there is a lot going on in the film, but this is not always noticed by people. The mothers are very important characters in the film, the grandmother, too. She is so important. She never asks any questions. She comes from way back. She is Yiddish for all of them.

She is clearly very important, not just to her immediate family, but to all the boys. It is Lucas who finds her right? I thought you handled that scene very well. We don’t even get a full frontal face of her. Just a brief expression from him. But we know…. And Dominique Reymond, as Lucas’ mom: What a fine actor she it. People should know about her.

She is really a wonderful person and a great actress. The other mother is wonderful too.: Karole Rocher.

You film has opened in France already. Did it do well?

It did well critically, but just OK at the boxoffice.

Was it considered mainstream, or not mainstream in France? Actually, I don’t even know what the word mainstream means in France….

Interesting question. It is not considered a mainstream film in France. But it was released as though it was one. I think this was a mistake. It is a delicate film, and so it did not quite have the shoulders to work as mainstream. No big stars, yet it was released into a big-star market. I think it will be a long running film, however, one that people will rediscover. Actually, I just got an email today that it had won the Henri Langlois prize in Paris!

The man who ran the famous cinemateque? Wow!

Yes, things are happening. It may become a kind of a long sleeper. Anyway, I am very proud of it. I don’t have any bad feelings about this film at all. I am not at all ambivalent.

I don’t think you should be. There’s so much to be proud of here.

Yes, working with all those fine young fine actors.

Like Elisa Sednaoui. That girl is really gorgeous. And she seems to be a good actress, too.

She is very talented and a very hard-working young woman.

Is she French-Algerian?

No she is actually French-Eqyptian.

What are you doing film-wise these days?

Now I will go to work on my next one. You know, I think we have met before, right?

I don’t know – unless it was very briefly at one of the FSLC’s Redenzvous series here, maybe the year of Avenue Montaigne. I remember I asked a question about how you and you mom refused to make a difference between high art and low art. For me that was an important part of that movie.

We didn’t do that like a manifesto. But it was intentional. I believe the differences between high/exclusive art and just plain art are fabricated by…


Yes, because there is a need to probably separate things. Because there is a need for, well, the avant garde and for more popular art.

With cile de France in Avenue Montaigne

There’s a scene in that movie with the wondeful actress, Dani, who plays the usher, where she is listening to Gilbert Bécaud, and she walks into the concert hall, where the orchestra is playing, and for a moment the two sounds – the note Gilbert is hitting and the one the orchestra is playing -- are the same – they mix so beautifully.

That was very hard to mix, actually!

But that moment was so beautiful. That’s why some of us go to movies – for a moment like that.

You know—we all do. We movie lovers. But then, you know, we all like to make connections, to analyze, more or less. We have to be very careful not to over-analyze things, but just to enjoy them. I know, because I do this all the time myself.

Sometimes I think I don’t anayze things enough.

I just said that because this is something I did when I was writing – thinking about films that treat the passage of coming-of-age – and films about groups. Running of Empty is a coming-of-age film -- but not a group film.

Did you see the Tom Hanks film, That Thing You Do?

I saw it a long time ago, but not recently.

I don‘t know why I thought about it in connection with yours: Maybe that it’s a coming-of-age, a group film and a music film!

You know why: Because it is also a film about coming out – having to leave the group that you are in. Coming out of your cocoon. You have to do this, to have your own individuality, to come out. The reason I speak of American Graffiti is that it is all about that night when the next day one of them is leaving for college.

Yes, and this is sort of like a death in a way.

It is it is like killing a part of yourself.

You have both a symbolic death and a real death in your film.

Yes: I worried about that a lot. Particularly having that scene at the beginning.

But we don’t know who it is who has died at the beginning…

Well. You know he is not there.

Yes, but we don’t know anything about the character then, so nothing hits us that hard at that point in the film. At the end, though, we really know -- and care!

Funny, because I was asked that question many times, and I even asked it of myself: Is it a good ideas to show this, to announce this at the beginning? It was very important for me to do this. And I am still not quite clear on why.

In any case, it works, what you have done.

Maybe because we wanted a very strong statement of nostalgia, right from the beginning….

You have such a long history of being in film and around film. Did you know your grandfather at all?

Oh, yes, I actually shot and co-directed a film about him. The title of it was It’s Polite to Be Happy. Which means it is polite to be gay -- in the older meaning of that word. It was a phrase that he liked. This was ten years ago that I made that.

He was still alive then?

Yes, he only died maybe 4-1/2 years ago. He only had a hard time toward the end.

Were you raised here in the USA? You have no accent at all. Do you have an accent when you speak French?

No. None whatsoever. I was raised here in the states until I was 8 years old, and then I went to France, but I came back here to go to college.

Where did you go to school?


Ah…  Can we talk about your mom’s films, too? I have always loved her movies.

Oh, thank you. I say that because we all of us work together.

If she directed them, I tend to think of them as hers, even though you may have written them, too.

And you’re right to. They are her films. This is a director’s industry.

But I have a feeling for writers. I think they get short shrift.

They do. But there is something very honorable about writing. It’s about putting all of yourself into something and then giving it to someone who is going to take is and basically to twist it into their own thing. It is like you are fueling someone else’s car.

That’s why writing and directing your own film, you are at least only twisting -- and fueling --yourself, finally.

But you know what? I have worked with my mom and with Thierry. And I love working with these people. I have even asked my mom to work with me again, writing on my next film. Because she is a great writer.

(We’re suddnely told that Christopher must really leave for his introduction and for Bus Palladium at FIAF, so we say goodbye.)

I’ll really look forward to your next film. Enjoy tonight -- and I hope you get some decent question at the Q&A!

(He laughs) You’re right to wish me that!

Just no stupid quesituons.

Oh, there will be some. But we’ll deal with them! (He waves good-bye and exits the café.)

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