Emotional Obsessions

The Lebanon-born filmmaker Danielle Arbid has been living in France since 1987 and making films for over 20 years including 2004’s In The Battlefields. She returns with Simple Passion, an adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novella that stars Laetitia Dosch as a divorced mother-of-one who falls head-over-heels for a married Russian (Sergei Polunin) working at the embassy in Paris.

ASFF: What made you decide to adapt Annie Ernaux’s story Simple Passion?
DA: I found the book to be like a beautiful apartment that I had to furnish. This is how I saw the book. But the book has the reputation as a masterpiece. She is the most important writer in France and nobody would have thought to adapt it. It’s a book that you cannot adapt.

ASFF: What was the reception to the book like? How did people relate to the story?

DA: Annie Ernaux told me that when she wrote the book, when it was published, she was attacked: how could this woman tell this story?  She’s very courageous. This is why I adapted it because of her courage. For me, it was not about a woman. It was somebody who was in love. And she told me that after publishing the story, she received lots of letters of men, telling her, ‘This is my story.’ For me, it’s about falling in love: what kind of images you put on this feeling that is very powerful?

ASFF: What do you think Ernaux says about love in the story?
She says in the book: ‘I was lucky. When I was young, I used to dream about being a writer, being rich or having lots of stuff. But I know that the luck is when you fall in love.’ You have to be lucky to fall in love. Because sex is everywhere now. You can have sex. You can go check your phone and you have sex, but it’s really rare to fall in love.

ASFF: Was this film difficult to cast, given how much nudity and many love scenes the actors were required to perform?
Yes, and no, because I’ve made films and actors and actresses in France know my work. And they know that I embellish, that I love to make them beautiful and desirable. Laetitia Dosch…I liked her because she’s very independent. She’s not afraid of anything. She also writes and Sergei [Polunin] dances. I find them like two punks. The idea of making the sex scenes…they weren’t afraid of this. They were much more afraid of doing the characters well than the sex scenes. They had fun doing the sex scenes, actually!

ASFF: What is next for you?
I have a comedy about men obsessed sexually! There’s no sex in it. They just speak about sex all the time. I would like to do it! For me, I get excited when I change genres. I don’t do the same film. If somebody proposed to me to adapt a love story now, I’d refuse it. I don’t want to make the same film. So I have this comedy, but also a Dog Day Afternoon-style hostage film. They take a minister hostage.

Simple Passion is available on demand from 5 February. For more details click here.

Words: James Mottram