One of the best offerings at this year's Alliance Français French Film Festival underway nationally is Nicole Garcia's sumptuous romantic drama Going Away.
It starts in a pretty mellow place and slowly reveals its secret pleasures as the story plays out. Pierre Rochefort (the son of Garcia and legendary French actor Jean Rochefort) plays Baptiste, a substitute teacher with a mysterious past who agrees to look after Mathias, one of his young pupils, when the boy's divorced father has to go away for the weekend.
The boy's mother Sandra (Louise Bourgoin), works in a beach-side bar in a resort town and, when Baptiste takes Mathias to see her, it sets off a series of events in which Baptiste confronts his troubled familial past and falls in love.
I had the chance to speak to Garcia, Rochefort and Bourgoin in Paris about the film and began by asking actress-turned-writer/director Garcia if she had always planned to cast her son in the lead role in the film.
"No, not at all. But when I was in the middle of the writing I thought to myself, 'What actor can play this part better than him?' Because I knew a melancholy image of him but, at the same time, a sort of strength in him. He's just begininng his acting career. He did music before and some theatre. It was a sort of bet for me. But it was very easy for me to shoot with him, because on set it was not Pierre, it was Baptiste."
"I didn't get the part through a traditional casting, of course," Rochefort told me. "It was tough for me to decide to take the role because I didn't want to work with a family member, I just wanted to do my own projects.
"But, in the end, Baptiste seduced me as a character. I really fell in love with this sad young man who's very much troubled and has gone through a lot so I ended up giving myself to him, heart and soul."
Baptiste and Sandra are at the heart of the film so did Bourgoin feel at a disadvantage because her co-star was the director's son?
"No, not at all. First of all, Pierre never calls Nicole 'Mother', always 'Nicole'. It was very much a professional, job-oriented context. I got the impression that we were all under the same roof, all being the members of the same family. Especially for the sex scene."
Rochefort and Bourgoin make for a superlatively attractive pair, smouldering up the screen in the way only sexy French actors can. How did they go about achieving their mellow chemistry?
"We met quite a few times before the shoot," Rochefort told me. "But we were very careful in terms of being shy around each other. "The characters demanded us to discover each other little by little, and therefore it was important to preseve the freshness and the shyness that the story and the characters demanded."
See frenchfilmfestival.co.nz for Going Away screening details.