Behind the scenes of French comedies (3/11) – This summer, BFMTV reveals the secrets of extraordinary French comedy films, cults or unusual. Today, Foon.
Came out in general indifference the same day as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Foon (2005) is one of the best kept secrets of French comedy. This hilarious parody of teen movies entirely played in Franglais, which is among the favorite films of Francis Ford Coppola and Marion Cotillard, is the only film starred, written and directed by Les Quiches.
Little known to the general public, this comedy troupe made up of Alexandre Brik, Morgan Perez, Vanessa Pivain, Benoît Pétré, Aurélie Saada, Deborah Saïag, Mika Tard and Isabelle Vitari shares with Les Nuls and Les Robins des Bois a love for offbeat comedy and absurd. “We chose this name because we were quiches! It was to show that we did not take ourselves seriously”, says Isabelle Vitari, seen since in Our dear neighbors.
Difficult to summarize as it is abundant, the plot of Foon takes place in a high school in the western suburbs of Philadelfoon, where a rule was instituted “a long time ago” by headmistress Miss Smokingkills: power belongs to the rebellious students, the Foons, while the rest, the Pas Foons, suffer their wrath. One day, power changes hands…
A concentration of gags, outrageous puns and visual inventions, Foon leaves no one indifferent, warns Benoît Pétré, who has become a director of clips for popular artists (Shame of Bigflo and Oli, The same from Gims and Vianney, Reflect de Wejdene): “Foon, either you go completely delirious, or it’s total aversion.” “We were 25 years old. We weren’t afraid of anything,” notes Aurélie Saada, now a former half of the Brigitte group. “We were going headlong. I think now we wouldn’t do that.”
The successors to the Splendid and Monty Python?
Foon is the adaptation of Grease Side Story, short film parody of Quiches awarded at the Jemmapes festival in Paris. Upon discovering it, producer Louis Becker (An Indian in the city), president of the festival jury, was seduced by their audacity. He sees in them the successors of Splendid and Monty Python. “I found them really new and modern in their flippant way of doing things. I was driven by the urge to mess around.” He contacted them immediately and offered to produce their first film: “We thought we were going to have the money to make a real short film and he offered us to write a feature film!”, remembers Aurélie Saada . “We were in shock!” The shock is such that the troupe takes a month to call the producer back.
The subject of the film naturally imposes itself: “We said to ourselves that the craziest thing and which resembled us the most, was certainly to develop this short film Grease Side Story. It was totally absurd, with colorful characters. It was all that we liked,” adds Vanessa Pivain. Louis Becker offers them carte blanche. Déborah Saïag salutes his courage: “He was completely crazy to believe in us in this way. He’s a pirate!” Louis Becker was not the only one to have spotted the potential of the troupe at the time. On the set, associate producer Virginie de Clausade contacted Harvey Weinstein – whom she “knew very well” , specifies Louis Becker – to propose to him “to put money in Foon“: “Fortunately, he refused.”
References impossible to spot
The writing at eight takes place in an atmosphere of madness, where everyone bounces off the fantasy of the others. “We made our imagination run wild, trying to put as many references as possible that marked our childhood: grease, Scream, Carriethe films of John Waters…”, explains Mika Tard Nothing but the word “Foon” is a millefeuille of references: contraction of the words fun and cool, it is also a nod to the Japanese sect Moon – doubled of a saucy pun.
“We thought people were going to understand the references and were going to laugh, but in fact they didn’t understand anything. Some are impossible to spot!” laughs Benoît Pétré. “There is one of which we are very proud, on Bibifoc, a cartoon from our childhood about a baby seal living on the ice floe,” says Isabelle Vitari. “In the toilets, the Foons are trying to get Maria drunk and there are lots of beeps because there are lots of swear words. We put lots of beeps and at the end, they say ‘fuuuck’ and it’s the credits of Bibifoc! Me, it still makes me laugh. It was worth it for that alone!”
Elephant (2003), a shock film by Gus Van Sant about the Columbine school shooting in the United States in 1999, and Battle Royale (2002), Kinji Fukasaku’s satire on rebellious high school students forced by the Japanese government to kill each other, also nourish Foon. After a parodic start, the film switches to a more nightmarish story, which ends with the death of all the characters. “Beyond the parody, we wanted to talk about the idea of the war of all against all. There is a real political dimension, even if we did it in a playful way”, adds Déborah Saïag. “We really designed Foon according to our lives, what we saw in schools, in groups, when there were conflicts”, explains Mika Tard.
“I will shit it and get it back tomorrow”
The idea of making a film in Franglais came naturally. “We thought it was something that had never been done – and for good reason”, laughs Benoît Pétré. The idea is in any case brilliant: the replies mixing English sentences and French idioms sound like dialogues of the Smurfs and give pearls like “I will shit it and recover it tomorrow” or “Go in front of it we take care of it”.
The idea of a film in English, with incoherent subtitles, was not retained for production reasons: “It takes 51% of French to hope to have funding from the CNC”, explains Louis Becker, who supports the idea of Franglais in memory of a tasty anecdote about Georges Descrières. The famous cathodic interpreter of Arsène Lupin had one day launched to an air hostess: “I am Georges Descrières of the Comédie-Française and I’ve never been treated in this way.”
“Boring to write”, Franglais “is done a lot by ear”, specifies Morgan Pérez: “You have to find the right balance between French and English.” “It had to sound good. We tried several turns and we chose the one that sounded best”, adds Isabelle Vitari. “It was also important that we understand the lines well even if we don’t speak English”, adds Vanessa Pivain. For Mika Tard and Déborah Saïag, Franglais was also a commentary on the Americanization of cinema: “We really wanted to say that we were completely influenced in France by American cinema.”
“We chose to kill everyone”
With a budget of barely 600,000 euros, it’s not easy to reconstruct California in France. The Quiches unearth a military hospital in Cherbourg transformed into a film school, the EICAR. The place, with its alley of palm trees, has a false air of Beverly Hills. The Quiches are helped by the students of the school, called upon to reinforce the technical team and to make the extras.
“We all learned our trade on this shoot”, greets Benoît Pétré. “Everyone was very dedicated. The team was in osmosis with our delirium. We had a kind of group emulation.” “The scenario had thrilled everyone, even the technical team. They agreed to work at half price”, adds Déborah Saïag. A few friendly stars (Ludivine Saignier, Thierry Lhermitte, Michel Fau) also make an appearance. Just like Denis Ménochet, seen since in Inglourious Basterds and Up to the hiltwho is also in charge of the making-of of Foon.
Filming was not easy for the budding filmmakers, who, to Louis Becker’s chagrin, showed signs of fatigue as the end approached: “They couldn’t make the end. At one point, I I got fed up, I wanted to finish and they made an ending that wasn’t completely mastered. Everyone dies, but it’s badly staged, not anticipated! It’s a shame, because it discredits everything what was fresh and funny in the film.” “We had read screenwriter’s manuals,” replies Benoît Pétré. “They said that it was important not to kill all the protagonists at the end. But we had this problem: we had no end. So we chose to kill everyone.”
The editing also requires a lot of work, the humor of the Quiches not being within everyone’s reach: “The first editors did not understand the film”, says Benoît Pétré. “They had added a kind of sound effect: as soon as we made a valve there was a horn.” “It was such a special humor that we had to take it back in hand,” adds Isabelle Vitari. “We had a very specific idea. If you weren’t one of the eight, you couldn’t understand.” When Louis Becker discovers Foonhe launches: “at the entrance, you will have to give a firecracker with the ticket to enter the universe!”
Critics of “nameless violence”
He should have put his plan into action. Released a week later royal palace by Valérie Lemercier and on the same day as Harry Potter, Foon only attracts 50,000 curious people. “We were aware that it was not going to please everyone, but at this point…”, slips Isabelle Vitari. According to her, they pay for their lack of notoriety: “People did not know our universe. They did not know that they were going to see such an absurd film. They did not have the keys to our humor.” The following days are difficult to live, remembers Morgan Pérez: “For a time, we were even told that we should not wear Foon on our CV!”
The distributor, Pyramides, accustomed to auteur cinema, had tried to make a move and position Foon like a small blockbuster, with more than 150 copies. “It was a mistake. It was too important,” said Mika Tard. “It would have been better to release it more independently, to leave the film in its place,” adds Morgan Pérez. The press shows itself without pity, of a “nameless violence” almost astonishing considering the modesty of the project, he adds: “We can reproach the film for a somewhat rough bill, but the people who criticized the film completely screwed up on our intentions.”
The failure of Foon strikes a blow to the morale of the Quiches. With the approach of the exit, the lightness of the troupe had already flown away in the face of marketing considerations. “We took things a little too seriously. We had never argued, and there we were starting to no longer agree”, regrets Aurélie Saada. They wrote several screenplays, including a horror movie parody titled The cottage, about the revenge of a blind woman, which all end up in a drawer. The Quiches are prolific, but “too dilettante”, believes Louis Becker: “They had a subject and then the next day another. I financed two scenarios.”
They then collaborated briefly with Thomas Langmann. Without success. The troupe disintegrates and now devotes itself to solo projects. Some went on to direct, like Benoît Pétré, others to song, like Aurélie Saada, or to writing, like Mika Tard and Déborah Saïag, who recently embarked on a career as authors with the novel Your hand over my mouth.
The Quiches remain very proud of Foon and continue to see each other. They dream of shooting together again: “We want to find this energy again. We will get there one day!” The public could be there. For ten years, Foon still has a small notoriety: “We are beginning to recognize us in the street and in Aurélie’s concerts, there was always someone with a Cindy Pam sign!” An idea has been floated: the return of the characters from Foonbut this time in the form of zombies…