Director Guillaume Canet is best known as the French dude in Danny Boyle’s The Beach, but in his native France, he’s about as big as it gets. Little White Lies, his latest film, is an ensemble drama starring Marion Cotillard and what appears to be his genuine friendship group.
The opening shot of Little White Lies sees Ludo, a good-looking French Romeo, throwing his weight around a dingy club. He snogs every girl who gives him a second look before abruptly leaving for the dawn outside. Climbing aboard his motorbike, he calmly rides the deserted streets of Paris, skipping red lights as he goes. But he skips one red too many. As the camera drifts ominously away, we see Ludo hit by a speeding truck and tossed across the road like a rag doll. It’s the most compelling and significant scene in the film.
Ludo has a close-knit group of hedonistic mates and his injuries leave them with a difficult question; should they continue with their pre-arranged, month-long holiday on the south coast? They decide, rather more quickly than you might hope, to head to the beach, leaving a mangled and mute Ludo to recover alone. And that, largely, is that. The group flirt, cavort, hang out and exist on a diet of wine and oysters. Suffice to say, it’s a little bit French. These are adults who see no cause in being adults and we are invited to consider, but not linger, on how and why these good-looking people can afford to be so carefree – mid-30s but still boys and girls, consumed in hidden sexual agendas as if puberty never ended. Ludo, alone and crooked in Bordeaux, casts a flickering shadow.
Guillaume Canet is an observational and talented enough director to make the black comedy work, the drama touch and the emotion pull. Once married to Diane Kruger, Canet’s first child with Marion Cotillard is due out in May. It’s a hard life. Here, he tells i-D Online what it’s like to live such a lifestyle, how personal Little White Lies is to him, and what it’s like to direct the mother of his child…
In Little White Lies the first scene defines the rest of the movie. Was that something you started out with when writing the script? Yes, from the the beginning I wanted it to be that way. Then at a certain point, in the middle of the script, I asked myself whether it was the right moment or if it should appear later. I decided to leave it like this. I was keen to have it shot this way because it had a smoothness and it was representing how I perceive the life, how it is for me. Like you live your life without ever asking any questions, y’know, it just moves slowly like this, and then one day something hits you. I wanted the shot to feel like that, to have that shock.
You’ve talked about how personal the film is. Is it just personal or is it autobiographical? It’s personal in the sense that I put a lot of myself into the characters or I put a lot of my friends into the characters, also some of these scenes are scenes that I have lived. I realised, those little lies that you don’t want to recognise in yourself or in someone else, and you don’t want to hurt the others so you don’t tell the truth, or you don’t tell the truth to yourself because you don’t want to hurt yourself, so you just put the dust under the carpet.
How did you find directing such a large group of people? I loved it, even though it was very complicated to direct eight people at the same time, especially because they are friends and they know me very well. Sometimes you have to remind them that you are shooting a film. It was quite difficult sometimes, but I loved it even though it was complicated. Sometimes you would say something to one and by the time you talked to the eighth one the first one has already forgotten what you had said. So sometimes it was tough.
It looked like you had a good time… They had a good time, trust me. I had the bad role of being a director – the strict guy. I was so involved in the subject that there were some scenes when I could’ve relaxed and have fun, but I couldn’t really. I was too focused on the film and I really didn’t want to mess it up. I wish I could’ve spent more time with them having fun!
How formed was the script and how much did you try to get your actors to improvise? The dialogue in the film was exactly the dialogue on the script. I was really obsessive about that. I wanted them to respect the script, even though I would let them improvise in some scenes, because the script let them see where the scene would go.
How was it trying to direct Marion? I think that was more difficult for her. I had to be harder on her than with the others because I didn’t want the others to think there was favour with her on set. I think of her, having me every night talking about my film and not taking a break, it must have been very difficult.
Little White Lies is released today.