How do you slide from directing an acclaimed, popular movie which earns a best actress Oscar for its star to making a Hollywood film that's judged to be so bad it goes straight to DVD?
Just ask Olivier Dahan, the French filmmaker who experienced the highs and lows of the business with La Vie en Rose followed by the turkey My Own Love Song.
He's not the first European writer-director who stumbled with his first English-language effort and he won't be the last, and it's not surprising that his next project will be filmed on home soil and in his native language.
In mid-April he starts shooting Les Seigneurs (The Lords), a comedy about a one-time soccer star (José Garcia) who enlists the help of his former teammates to transform a struggling team of fishermen in Brittany into winners. His dual motivation: to enable the locals to save their jobs, and to reconnect with his daughter. The cast also includes stand-up comic Gad Elmaleh (who will be seen in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris), Ramzy Bedia, Franck Dubosc, Omar Sy, Joey Starr and Jean-Pierre Marielle.
The 43-year-old director will be hoping to bury memories of My Own Love Song, which starred Renee Zellweger as a wheelchair-bound Southern singer and Forrest Whitaker as her schizophrenic best friend who believes he can see angels and dead people. This odd couple heads to Louisiana to see a famous author who believes in ghosts and to attend her estranged son's birthday party.
The Hollywood Reporter slammed it as a “sappy, weakly plotted road movie with a wildly self-conscious style probably meant to disguise its cliches” and an “episodic stretch of mawkishly written confrontations and heart-to-hearts.”
Indie Wire's Eric Kohn snorted, “It's no easy task to figure out at what point My Own Love Song transitions from a string of basic mediocrities to hilariously awful contrivances. My own theory is that this happens somewhere between the incoherent split-screen car chase and the animated birds.”
It bombed in France in 2010, went straight to video in the US and couldn't secure a release in many markets. “When I wrote the movie two years ago, I started out wanting to talk about physical handicaps, but during the writing process, I thought to also speak about psychological handicap, emotional handicap—all kinds, really. I wanted to make a movie that was a bit naïve about disability, but also a little optimistic at the same time,” the director said when the film played at New York's Tribeca Film Festival.
Its failure must have been a bitter pill after La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf biopic which made an international star of Marion Cotillard and was rewarded with Oscars for her and for best make-up.
A graduate from the Marseille Art School, Dahan made music videos and short films before he landed his first feature, Déjà Mort, in 1998. His credits also include 2003's Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse.
In that Tribeca interview, he offered this advice to aspiring filmmakers, “It's a difficult process, but the first thing is to write. Even if I don't like writing, the point is not to start with thinking of it as a picture. Start with the content—not even the story—and once you find out what you want to say, then you start to think about the picture and the visual aspects of it. I am pretty visual, but it can be a danger to think visually first. Think about the content, and then you will find the form.”
Let's hope he heeds his own words with Les Seigneurs.