Addicts of gripping spy thriller series The Bureau (Le Bureau des Légendes) will recognise star Sara Giraudeau as scientist Marina Loiseau. Recruited by a shadowy branch of the French secret service to infiltrate an Iranian nuclear facility, she goes by the codename ‘Phenomenon’. And it is a phenomenal performance, as Giraudeau navigates Marina’s increasing reluctance in the face of personal traumas she undergoes in the line of duty.
It’s safe to say her role in Alliance Française French Film Festival comedy The Wedding Speech (Le Discours) presents her with fewer life or death scenarios. However, there is a fantastical scene that imagines her possible demise. The film is directed by Asterix and Obelix in Britain helmer Laurent Tirard, who also adapted the film from the novel by comic book legend Fabrice Caro aka Fabcaro. The premise is straightforward. Recalling Rachel requiring a ‘break’ from Ross in Friends, Giraudeau’s Sonia has had it with her emotionally distant boyfriend Adrien (Benjamin Lavernhe from hit comedy C'est La Vie) and calls a temporary-ish halt to their one-year relationship.
The film, like the novel, is mostly told from the perspective of Adrien. He grapples with whether to text Sonia during an interminably dull family dinner, then panics over her extended silence when he inevitably does. It’s a dilemma many of us will be sorely familiar with. During this limbo, he imagines a possible car crash as a reason for Sonia’s silence, rather than face his bad behaviour. As he spirals, he inadvertently agrees to give a speech at his sister’s wedding, even though he hates public speaking and, to be honest, the public. This sets him on an emotional awakening, with Giraudeau’s Sonia popping up in the margins.
“It’s the first time I had a character who is really secondary, but is central in the story,” she says, speaking from a Parisian hotel via a translator. “And it was difficult for me to say, okay, I hope that I will be a little bit attractive, because we need to understand why the principal character is so in love with her. And I had very little time to show that.”
She rose to the challenge. “I really had to focus on the present moment and on the relationship with Benjamin. It had to work between us. And we really had to believe in this symbiosis that we had.”
Luckily, they got on famously, and that chemistry allows the audience to hope they work it out. Giraudeau’s a big fan of Fabcaro’s work, but chose not to read the novel before filming. “I knew his very specific tone, and it was extremely present in the script. So I really found his special way of expressing himself. So in fact, in the script, there were a lot of details, observations of life and so I chose not to read the book, rather than asking Laurent, ‘why didn’t you add this and that?’”
She loves the nuances that underpin Fabcaro’s writing. “He’s really careful about looking at details precisely and this is why, all of a sudden, Adrien realises that his life is crap, and he wants to change things. People seem to go to sleep in their own lives. In families where things are always the same, you have a constant accumulation of the same types of events. And it’s a sort of depression, a nervous breakdown that you don’t realise. When Sonia leaves him, it’s sort of like an electric shock. And this is going to bring him to think differently.”
There’s an interesting idea, here, in how we are all such slaves to our smartphones, hanging for that phantom ellipsis while we wait on a text message in medias res. Indeed, Olivier Assayas worked The Bureau-level tension from Kristen Stewart in much the same distress in Personal Shopper. The aching wait for a reply connects the dots in Adrien’s emotional omissions. “He’s waiting for Sonia’s text message, but this is just a means to talk about other things. The fact that these people go asleep in their own life, just become absent in a way, and this is due to a lack of creativity. And therefore it gives birth to a desire to change, because he realises the whole ridiculous aspect of his life.”
The Bureau was a career highlight for Giraudeau. I wonder aloud if the same game-changing pivot to prestige TV has taken hold in France, or if cinema is still seen as numéro un? As she points out, this has been the raison d’être of the show’s home, French TV channel Canal+, since the ’80s. “They make very cinematographic series, and [The Bureau director] Eric Rochant is a film director. So this is why Le Bureau des Légendes was very cinematic. Except for the very rapid pace that we had during the shooting, I didn’t feel in any way that we were making a TV film. But it’s true that nowadays there are many TV films and series that have this cinematographic look, and I think it’s very positive.”
The Wedding Speech is screening as part of the 2021 Alliance Française French Film Festival. Find out more here.
You can also binge-watch all five seasons of The Bureau at SBS On Demand here.
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