Meredith Brody: The film is based on the novel The Idol by Serge Joncour. How closely did you follow the novel?
Xavier Giannoli: In 2005, I read a short summary of the novel in the newspaper: a man becomes famous overnight without knowing why. I immediately thought of a Kafkaesque tale like Metamorphosis in which a man wakes up one morning transformed into an insect. Nobody, not his family or society, realizes the distress of his situation. The feeling of not being able to act on one’s fate seems to be not only a timeless human truth but also a burning issue with the economic and moral crises that are ravaging our society. I only kept this simple idea from the novel. I invented all the rest, all the characters, all the scenes, and especially the central idea: My character doesn’t want to be famous; that doesn’t interest him at all. He finds it vulgar and above all absurd. But the more he says, “I don’t want to be famous. I want to return to my life as an ordinary citizen,” the more they respond, “That’s why we love you.” He is therefore caught in a dynamic a little like a Hitchcock movie, pursued by a situation that transcends him, wishing to save his skin and above all his dignity. This is what I feel in today’s world: how to keep our dignity in a society that’s hysterically obsessed with idolatry and sacrifice? My work as a screenwriter and a director is to move beyond the simple anecdote, to open my movie to its time and the human beings who are trying to find their place in it.
Brody: How has the world of celebrity changed since you began considering the story?
Giannoli: Since the release of the novel in 2004, with Facebook, Twitter and the newest mutants of reality TV, I feel that celebrity has exploded in a grease fire. My character refuses this chaos and obscenity. He’s a simple man, a face in the crowd who believes in other human values such as merit, modesty and patience. He would stay out of a system that leaves him no choice, which is something like a new dictatorship. The dictatorship of stupidity, obscenity, impatience, television ratings and immorality. He receives attention as a man who fights for freedom.
Brody: You’ve worked with Cécile De France before.
Giannoli: Cecile is an actress and a friend. She has an extraordinary brilliance and a rare sense of humor. She’s an instinctive actress who can give life to all emotions without easy complacency. She plays a young producer who in meeting Kad Merad’s character realizes that she has become complicit with a system gone crazy.
Brody: And Kad Merad is extraordinary.
Giannoli: Kad is an enormous star, one of the three most bankable actors in France. He even acted in the greatest success in the history of our cinema (Welcome to the Sticks, 2008). We have been friends for 20 years, and we made our first short films together. I saw him become immensely famous, and therefore I found it funny to ask him to play a man who suffers from such fame, a little like a star who doesn’t want you to forget that he’s an actor, first and foremost. He’s a man of humanity and disconcerting honesty. He’s for me the personification of the face in the crowd. I know that this film is important for him, and when you see him onscreen, I think you feel his commitment and his sincerity.
Meredith Brody writes about film festivals for IndieWire.
France, 2012, 112m
Director/writer: Xavier Giannoli
Starring: Kad Merad, Cécile de France