The different neighborhoods of Paris are put on display in Paris, je t'aime, a collection of 18 five-minute shorts each put together by a different filmmaker. Writer/director Richard LaGravenese's segment, Pigalle, is set in the red light district and features Fanny Ardant and Bob Hoskins as a married couple attempting to put a little verve back into their sex lives.
Signing on to Paris, je t'aime: “I got a call from my agent that they were interested and they sent me a proposal about what the project was,” explained LaGravenese. “[Producer/director/writer]Emmanuel [Benbihy] called me and said, ‘Would you like to do this? These are some of the other people that are doing it.’ I went, ‘Are you kidding? I’m not even in this league of people. It would be an honor for me to be a part of it,’ and also a great challenge and a great opportunity for me to flex my muscles since I’m pretty much known as a screenwriter. I’m just starting to direct more often. It was a great idea to sort of exercise those muscles in something that was a short format. I’d get to be in a foreign country with a foreign crew and jump in without any blinders on.
They gave me Pigalle; they gave me the area. I managed to make my way to that area on a trip with my family. I walked the streets of Pigalle. I didn’t know that this was the area where all the sex clubs were. I was standing on the corner of the avenue, that last moment where Fanny and Bob live, that beautiful cobblestone street and that gated area and all those beautiful townhouses. Renoir lived there. It’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous corner, and then all you do is look across the street and see all the neon of all the sex clubs and the women in the doorways beckoning you in. I went, ‘Wow, this is the dichotomy right here between sex and love…and the defiant and the more romantic.’ So right there there was something I wanted to sort of play with.”
LaGravenese continued, “Then I went to one of these porno places – for research – and a man said to me that I had to pay. In order to pay there were different prices, and so he said to me, ‘Soft or hard?’ (Laughing) And I didn’t know what he meant so I went with my gut feeling and I said, ‘Hard.’ When in doubt… So instead of guiding me to the left to where the video booths were, he guided me to the right and soon I understood what that meant. He guided me to the back and he put me into a room with this sort of ugly brocade chair and velvet walls, and this window and a little anteroom and a door. I started to sweat because I thought, ‘Oh my god, someone’s going to walk in here and it’s going to be a woman with…’ I got very nervous. And she did, with a tooth missing and a little bra.
She wasn’t a young… She’d been a professional for quite some time. I managed in my broken English and her broken French to say, ‘I don’t want anything, but I pay you. I just want to ask you questions if that’s okay.’ She said, ‘Fine,’ so we talked. In the course of the conversation she said that she had been paid to watch a couple make love once. I thought that was interesting, so out of that, and the dichotomy of the two, and having a middle-aged couple in that area, I came up with this story. That’s how it happened.”
On His Shooting Locations: “What happened was I found a bar. The bar is a location, the room with the stripper we built so I could have more angles.”
Shooting a Short vs Shooting a Feature: “It’s fast and it’s immediate gratification. It’s not long and drawn-out. It’s fun just because there’s not as much at risk. It’s more purely a creative exercise than it is a life-defining experience.”
That doesn’t mean it’s less challenging. “It’s challenging creatively. Moviemaking is challenging creatively, but also a lot of other things that you have to deal with that have nothing to do with the creative, that got all swept away. Then you can just have the creative challenges, which is what was so rewarding and such a relief about it.”
Flying Solo: Asked if he had much contact with the other filmmakers, LaGravenese said he had almost none. “Because Alfonso [Cuaron] and I had done Little Princess, he was right behind me so we dinner together on my last night and his first night. But that was about it. I met Sylvain Chomet because he was prepping, but I didn’t meet the other ones. I knew Alexander [Payne] so at Cannes we hung out – him and Gurinder [Chadha]. I know them socially but not during the filming process. ”
Casting Bob Hoskins: “We went after him. He to me is…he’s not only a great actor but there’s something physical about his persona that I find sexy in a more, not in the tall, strong and handsome way. There’s something about Bob Hoskins to me that’s very sensual and I can’t put my finger on it.”