Sunday, December 26, 2010


In Paris, I once went, with two girlfriends, to a lecture by wonderful French director, Claude Chabrol.  It was a meaty, exuberant, sensual talk about all the little extra observations that go into making a film, enriching the screenplay, the mise en scene, the cinematography. 
    At the time, I was working as an assistant film director and my two friends both wanted to be actors. Surprising how many actor friends one has when one is an assistant director, n’est-ce pas?  Bubbles (not her real name) had studied mime and thought she might become a mime or maybe an actress, she wasn’t sure.  Supported by her rich family, she was a bit of a lost soul and didn’t have the drive or need to pursue her nebulous dreams. Her parents, both doctors, were tough, manipulative people, more interested in themselves than their daughter’s struggles. Some years later, I had occasion to save her life, after which, she never spoke to me again. 
     The other friend, Candy (also not her real name), was a teacher in Paris, had also studied mime and definitely wanted to be an actress. She struggled mightily because she had a pronounced American accent in French, so the roles she could play were limited. I subsequently introduced her to a director who gave her a part playing an American in a French TV show. But that was the only work she got. In despair, she returned to New York to be comforted by her family, study acting and marry the son of a mediocre TV actor. Now too grand for us, she never spoke to me again. She never did become an actress.
     But, back to the lecture in Paris. As we strolled out of the hall after Chabrol’s talk, a young French man rushed up to us. He asked me if I’d come with him because Chabrol wanted me to be in his next film. My jaw dropped. My friends’ jaws clenched. This was the sort of thing that only happened in movies or fairy tales. It was also very unfair. My friends wanted to be actresses, not me. I was embarrassed and told the assistant to pick one of my friends as I wasn’t interested in acting. Irritably, he replied that Chabrol didn’t want them, he wanted me and I didn’t have to know how to act. A revealing statement.
     This was very awkward. I felt it would be disloyal to my friends if I dumped them to go and talk to a famous director. Besides, what would be the point of going to Monsieur Chabrol just to tell him I didn’t want to be in his film? And anyway it didn't sound like an acting job to me. Part of me also resented being summoned like a peon. Okay, he was a famous director, but that didn’t entitle him to drag in anyone from the street whenever he felt like it. So I told the assistant no, I wouldn't go with him, thank you anyway. 
     Looking back, this was a monumentally stupid thing for me to have done, missing such an opportunity to talk to a talented director I admired. Neither of my friends would have hesitated for a second to dump me and rush off to meet him.
    I would have loved to meet Claude Chabrol, but, at the time, I was too intimidated, rebellious and ignorant to have been able to make the most of it.  But, unlike my friends, M. Chabrol has always continued to speak to me through his films.


Helen Smith said...

Heh - that's a good story.

Blu said...

An enjoyable read. It is the kind of dumb thing I might have done!

Nora Lumiere said...

Helen and Blue,
Isn't it odd how we like to read about authors making fools of themselves? :-)
Thanks for your complimentary comments.

Nora Lumiere said...

From @KateMayfield on Twitter:
This had me clinching my teeth - my own regrets.