The French film Director, Florent-Emilio Siri, began his movie making career with the 1998 social film “Une Minute de Silence” (“One Minute of Silence”), which had good underground success. He continued in 2002 with the action film “Nid de Guêpes” (“The Nest”), before directing two critically acclaimed and highly successful “Splinter Cell” games – “Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow” and ”Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory”.
The actor / producer Bruce Willis asked Siri to direct his big-budget 2005 action thriller ”Hostage”, which gained Siri considerable critical praise for his slick directorial style, and for creating “an art house version of the Die Hard films.”
He subsequently released the film ”L’Ennemi Entime” (”Intimate Enemies”) in 2007, a drama following a French platoon during Algeria’s war of independence, focusing on the personal views and psychological effects on individuals involved, and was the first movie depicting the use of napalm by the French Army during the 1954-1962 conflict.
Florent-Emilio Siri’s latest film is “Cloclo” (“My Way”), an exhilarating biopic about the legendary French singer, songwriter and dancer Claude François, nicknamed Cloclo, whose musical popularity particularly in France continues to thrive nearly 35 years after his untimely death. His most well known song, “Comme d’Habitude”, was adapted in English as “My Way”, and sung most famously by Frank Sinatra. Jérémie Renier (“The Kid With The Bike” and “In Bruges”) plays Claude Francois, and the film received its North American Premiere at the Opening Night of the COL:COA Film Festival 2012 in Los Angeles.
Rachel O’Meara: What first attracted you to making a biopic about Claude Francois?
Florent-Emilio Siri: Well, he made his first real impact on me I was just a kid of ten. I remember him singing “Le Mal-Aimé” (“Daydreamer”), and I was in love with this little girl, and it was a really sad song. I remember singing this song in my head and crying because I was so in love with her! When you are so young and pure, a song made the way that Claude Francois would make it, could touch you so strongly. So when the Producer talked about a biopic, my very first thought was that powerful memory he created within me.
Then I discovered I had a real affinity with him, when I found out he was half Italian and half French, born in Egypt, where he lived until he was 17, before coming to France and Monaco. He always said he felt without any roots, not really from any one country, but from a mix of all those countries. For me, I grew up near the French border with Germany, many people spoke German, my father is Italian and was a coalminer, my mother was French and worked as a maid, and I grew up in a community with people from Pamplona, North Africa ….. so I always felt I wasn’t truly French, you know? I understand roots are very important, and when you have lots of different roots, a great mix, maybe your mind is more open to other things, other cultures, other music ….. Also, I recognized that because I lost my mother when I was 20, and he lost his father when he was 20, when you lose a parent before you feel accomplished, you have something missing and perhaps you build yourself in a different way, have a different sensitivity.
RO: So you think perhaps he was more vulnerable than he might otherwise have been?
FES: Vulnerable. Exactly. I’m not anywhere near as extreme as he was, but I can begin to understand and relate to his traumas. First, you dream of being an artist, then you live it, and when you succeed … I mean …. I don’t like the word succeed, because you’ve never finally succeeded, but when you get somewhere, realize your passion, your dream, it creates other difficulties! It’s always a lot of work, a lot of energy, and suddenly it’s finished. And you are empty. He was really scared about feeling that.
RO: Although Claude Francois died in 1978, he’s continues to be iconic in France across the generations – I’m told that no evening at a French night club would be complete without at least one of his records being played! So how was it that a film hadn’t been made before?
FES: Yes, I said that after I watched the documentary the producers gave me. I thought it was a fantastic story, that he had this amazing destiny, a man with such complexity and contradictions. But his two sons have the Rights to the songs, and they hadn’t been ready for such a film. But now they are in their 40’s, older that Claude Francois was when he died, and they are fathers themselves. So they just felt it was the right time to share this story.
RO: So how did you begin creating the film?
FES: Well, I said to the Producers, okay, I’ll make this movie with three conditions. First of all, I want Jérémie Renier to play the lead; if Jérémie says no, I won’t take the job. Secondly, I want to work with Julien Rappeneau, because as well as being a brilliant script writer, I like him. And finally, there are aspects and moments of Claude Francois’ life that I felt would have to be there in the movie, even if they were very sensitive, because it would be important to build the story of Claude Francois in both an intimate and truthful way.
RO: Had you worked with Jérémie before?
FES: No, I hadn’t, but France is a comparatively small place, and we tend to know our actors more. I love his work and I think he’s a fantastic, great actor. Claude Francois is very tough role to play because in real life, he was very cliché; he was in fact overly dramatic in his life, very over the top. So we needed to have a great actor who could believably play someone who was a living caricature, and not just impersonate a caricature. And also to play the man from his twenties to close to his forties. Jérémie was thirty, he was the perfect age, and he has some of the physicality of Claude Francois. One of the most difficult things in telling the story is to relate to Claude Francois, because this guy can be terrible at times, terrible, yet the audience has to relate to the character, has to like him, has to love him. You can hate him and you can love him in turn. Jérémie had to have that sensitivity and life experiences. What I want to say is an actor cannot lie. He has to be sincere, to know it before he can play it. The audience senses that, when it’s coming from inside. And Jérémie brought all of that. It wasn’t just that the make-up was perfect, or that the re-creations were perfect.
RO: And how many people who knew Claude Francois did you interview for your research to write your script?
FES: A lot. But, you know, in a way it was always the same story. They always said, sometimes he was very hard, sometimes he was a piece of shit, often they’d cry a little and say, I liked the guy but then he did this or that to me, then day after he was so gentle and kind! It was the same story with everybody.
RO: So why do you think his music has continued to be so popular?
FES: I think because his music is all about rhythm – starting from the Middle East, and then he brought the rhythm from soul music, black music, to the French song. He was the first singer to perform with dancers, when he created The Clodettes. And plus, his music had this ability to move you!
RO: So I realised from the film that Claude Francois was not just a singer, he was also an amazing drummer and a dancer. How much preparation for the role did Jérémie have?
FES: He was basically working for six months with four trainers. In the morning, he would work on the abs for two hours with 3000 reps. Then it was dancing for two hours with two trainers, because he had to do, for example, the splits, where he springs back up – very difficult to do. During filming, he needed to do as many as 20 takes for a dance, so we could do all the angles and everything. There was all the choreography to learn, and during the afternoon, he was working on his voice to open it and to speak a little nasally, and to blend his voice in to the singing. Then working with another trainer, looking at videos to see how he moves his body, the way he talked with his hands, you know. And then, he’d learn the drums and tombas! The schedule changed during the months, but there was much to do, for everyone involved in preparing for the films …. The storyboarding, working with the designers and everybody to re-create this world in the 60’s and 70’s.
RO: Congratulations on the terrific box success in France – I heard there was one million box office admissions in the first week alone! I wonder what your favorite part of the movie is?
FES: Thank you! Yes, one of my favourite scenes is where Claude Francois plays Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” for the first time, a version of his own song “Comme D’Habitude”. I’d often had the idea to go within, to be within, the mind of an artist within a movie itself. I remember listening to the Sinatra song, such a beautiful song, and I imagined how Claude Francois must have been thinking about his father, what it would have been like finally to have his approval, to have a perfect world with his family. It’s strange, because I worked on the movie for two years, and have seen it so many times, but that scene always moves me, I relate to it.