French filmmaker Pierre Pinaud sees his new film, The Rose Maker, as a celebration of something beautiful. But it is also about what underpins the task of creating an ideal, sought-after flower. “The social dimension,” he says, “that’s quite important.”
Researching the business of growing and creating roses, he says, he was struck by its competitive imperative, and the assumptions behind it. “To create a rose that can win competitions, you need to pick and choose very carefully.” Every detail comes into play: “the fragrance, the petals, the colour, the resilience to pests. And you need to select the best mothers and fathers to create the best possible rose.
“I felt there was a parallel here with the world we live in, a world that’s characterised by competitiveness, by the need to perform at all times, the fact that in order to succeed in life, you need to attend the best schools, come from the best families and so forth.”
Pinaud’s central character, Eve Vernet, played by Catherine Frot, has spent her whole life occupied with rose-growing. She inherited the small business and her sense of vocation from her father. But times are tough and Roses Vernet is in crisis. Meanwhile, the nearby Lamarzelle business dominates rose-growing contests, consumes its competitors, monopolises the best breeding roses and goes from strength to strength financially.
The Lamarzelle juggernaut is also a family concern: Constantin Lamarzelle (Vincent Dedienne) has inherited the company from his father, but it’s the numbers game that interests him, not the roses. He recognises the value of Eve’s expertise, nevertheless, and is keen to acquire it. He dangles a job offer in front of her.
Rather than surrender to Lamarzelle, she is almost ready to shut up shop, until her devoted assistant, Vera (Olivia Cote), comes up with a short-term fix; they can afford to employ three workers from a job-training program. So Samir (Fatsah Bouyahmed), Nadege (Marie Petiot) and Fred (played by rapper Melan Omerta), arrive at Roses Vernet, untrained and uncertain about what’s expected of them.
Eve is brusque and dismissive at first, but something about their presence seems to loosen her thinking. She decides that Fred’s past life – the one he’s meant to be putting behind him – might be useful to her in a scheme she’s concocting, and The Rose Maker briefly becomes a caper movie.
It is also a film about the nature of family. Eve is bound up in what she imagines her late father would think, 15 years after his death; Fred, who has been cut loose by his parents, can’t understand why they refuse to see him. Their developing relationship is at the heart of the film, for Pinaud. “It exists outside any biological ties, yet they have so much to give to one another, so much support, so much to share. That is the beauty of human relationships – you can find your own family.”
Eve sees something in Fred that he never saw in himself. “Her gaze allows Fred to grow, gives him new opportunities in life,” Pinaud says. He acknowledges Ken Loach’s 2012 comedy-drama The Angels’ Share as an influence on his thinking about young people and opportunity, apprenticeship and exclusion.
At the beginning, he says, Eve is an unsympathetic character. “She’s not someone you’d want to relate to, she’s unfriendly, close-minded, xenophobic.” But she also discovers a capacity for change.
For Frot, this is what she found intriguing about Eve. There are aspects of her life she needs to hold on to, but she also has to change by letting go. “She has to get away from her own certainties, to get out of the rut she’s in and open herself up to the world.” Most of all, she needs to respond to three people she once might have dismissed out of hand, and to recognise the reciprocity of their relationship. “She has to open herself up to them. She’ll bring them things, but they’ll bring things to her.”
And, “in the psychological journey … there’s comedy too, because there are some stark human contrasts.”
The Rose Maker was shot in part at La Maison Dorieux, a small family business in a rose-growing district. Frot worked with the proprietor to get a grounding in the work, and to learn how to carry out simple tasks convincingly.
“She taught me some basics, but for me the most important thing is the illusion, that’s my job,” Frot says. “I learned the gestures, the movements that allowed me to be believable; the rest is make-believe.”
Some of the creation of a character comes from a degree of identification, but she sees very little of herself in Eve. “I never know exactly what I’m going to pick and choose from myself. Obviously I make use of my own resilience, my own sense of resistance, but at the same time, she’s such a forceful character, and I don’t think I’m like that.”
There’s work in being an actor, but there’s also play. “I indulge in fantasies, I enjoy myself.
“Sometimes I feel as if I’m in the circus, juggling, keeping balls in the air, and they add a ball, and then another, and another. That’s what I do.”
The Rose Maker is in cinemas now.
See Catherine Frot in 'Haute Cuisine' at SBS on Demand