Interview with Joseph Joffo
Author of "A Bag of Marbles"
HOW DID THE ADAPTATION COME TO LIGHT?
I first had a wonderful meeting with the producer, Jean-Charles Lévy, which allowed me to meet Nicholas Duval from Quad. Right away, he was taken away by the project. After the adaptation by Jacques Doillon forty years ago, I really wanted someone to tell my story honestly. Christian Duguay shared images of great authenticity and I knew that my readers could relate to it emotionally and honestly.
DID YOU MEET CHRISTIAN DUGUAY EARLY ON? HOW DID THIS MEETING GO?
This meeting was such a pleasure! He first showed me his film JAPPELOUP which I really loved. Then, I saw his film about Hitler. No one really randomly makes a movie like that. He really seemed like a man who cared and was involved in the history of it all, and I wasn’t wrong.
WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE CANADAIAN OUTSIDER TAKE ON THE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN THROUGHOUT THE FILM?
He’s the third eye! We all have a different vision of what happened during the war. Christian was excellent because he found the right balance: he doesn’t overdo it and he know how to stay objective on everything while still bringing the author and directors point of view.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE FATHER FIGURE CREATED BY CHRISTIAN DUGUAY?
When the kids reunite with their father, he slaps Jo, which startles him. My dad lived through the pogroms; he was a tough guy that lived in the pre-war Montmartre area, kind of similar to Brooklyn during the 1930s- the Brooklyn we see in Once Upon A Time in America. Let me tell you, it really adds character…
DID YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE ON SET?
Yes, mostly for the reconstitution of the set design, like the hair salon in Nice. By the way, it was so realistic that a woman actually walked into the salon (it was actually an old restaurant), and yelled “Finally! A normal hair salon!” We laughed about it for days.
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE ACTORS?
At first, I had some doubts about Patrick Bruel, but he’s a huge actor and he portrayed my father in an extraordinary way. Elsa Zylberstein was amazing and Christian Clavier embodies Dr. Rosen’s character so well, it almost made me forget about his part in “Jacquouille la Fripouille.”
AND THE KIDS?
They presented exceptional conviction and determination. In the middle of winter, before the storms in Nice, they would walk in the rain without a problem. I spent a lot of time talking to them. They wanted to know if everything in the book was real. I told them that the book was actually a lot nicer than the actual truth because I wanted the book to show that the kids had a chance to get out. We have to leave a little hope for our readers, show them that with a lot of courage we can survive anything.
HOW DID CHRISTIAN DIRECT THE KIDS?
Christian loves his job and his greatest talent is his way of listening to people. He managed to direct them without making it feel like he was giving orders. Suddenly they anticipated his desires and were involved in the film.
WHAT DID YOU FEEL THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW THE FILM?
The first time I saw it, it was still in the editing stages. However, I got chills from feeling all these emotions and I cried. To me, Christian Duguay created the greatest film in his lifetime.
DO YOU THINK HE’S CREATING A MESSAGE FOR TODAY’S PUBLIC?
Today, the life I lived still strongly and heavily resonates with people today. Because of terrorism, children everywhere are forced to escape, too. Like us 50 years ago, they’re found on the side of the roads, totally alone and left to fend for themselves. I hope the film inspires all of us to question the destiny of these poor kids and their destroyed families and fight for them.