Veber opens doors; sheds light on The Closet

by Michael Goller

A recent visit to promote his new film The Closet (Le Placard) brought French writer/director Francis Veber to the Cities where we were able to discuss the film. Veber also dished out the real deal on screenwriting, directing, Gerard Depardieu and, most importantly, love scenes.

The Closet sets the stage for Pignon, an accountant at a condom factory, whose life is headed nowhere. He is recently separated from his wife, his son wants nothing to do with him and through the grapevine he finds out he is about to lose his job.

His neighbor presents him with an idea to save his job that requires him to come out of a closet he never went into. This doesn’t change a thing about Pignon, it just changes the way people see him. A story about perception, the office rumor mill overflows with ideas about the new Pignon, and suddenly, life isn’t so boring.

As a comedic writer, Veber excels at his craft, making magic out of everyday situations by taking a simple idea such as The Closet‘s take on perception and expands it into a wild comedic ride.

“Its bizarre how an idea comes to you. I think it’s the biggest mystery in creation,” he said. “You specialize your brain to look for situations. When I’m walking in the street, when I’m dreaming and when I eat I’m trying to create a story. It’s like people that make jokes, they wait for you to end your sentence to jump in to make their joke.”

The 63 year-old pointed out the lack of young writers in the field. Because of the difficulty in arousing an idea and not having the lifetime experience to expound on it, screenwriting is dominated by an aged group.

“[Screenwriting] is a question of age. There is a problem of experience. I came to screen write when I was 30 years old. You can start before then, but I think it was a lot easier, because I had a life before,” he said.

“To write the love scene, for instance, is very difficult,” he added. “I started doing that my tenth or fifteenth film. It is really a question of what you have lived before.”

In The Closet there is a love scene that takes place on a table in the middle of a condom factory. The partners ask one another if the other has protection. Veber says that this joke is not meant to deter the difficulty of writing such a scene, but merely to top it off.

“The joke is the icing on the cake. I think what is important is the sincerity of the scene.”

Originally a stage writer for French theatre, Veber has penned about 18 screenplays and directed nine films since his introduction into film. Veber cracked the French film scene when a producer asked him to adapt one of his plays for the screen.

Francis Veber’s success as a screenwriter quickly snowballed him into the world of filmmaking. A few years after his move from playwright to screenwriter, he was offered the chance to direct. The jump from a screenwriter to a writer/director took Veber into a new world, which at first, wasn’t easy for him.

“I was very surprised that they were offering me this job, and I told [the producer] I don’t know how to do it,” Veber reminisced. “I didn’t know how to move my camera. I didn’t know anything. But its like piloting – it’s in the plane that you learn how to fly.”

Veber was given an advisor to help him adjust to the technicalities of his new job. Veber also acknowledged the distinct changes in becoming artistically minded as both an artist and a writer.

“You have images in your mind when you are writing. You arrive on the set and the thing is to try to materialize what you had in your head when you were writing. It’s going from the abstract to the concrete.”

In The Closet, Gerard Depardieu portrays the bully of the film, a man whose toughness soon becomes replaced by his fear of rejection and his inability to cope with it.

“The stretch he does is very tough, what you would call his art, going from this stupid macho coach of the rugby team making bad jokes about gays to this fragile little flower at the end,” Veber said.

In order to fight off any chance of rejection, Depardieu’s character goes through a transformation to include Pignon as part of his life.

“He’s speaking about Pignon as if it was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. He was rejected and he cannot accept that. There is only one actor in the world that is able to do that. Its Depardieu.”

Depardieu’s ability as an actor is of no shock to Veber. The shock came elsewhere.

“The biggest shock was [Depardieu] had a major surgery the day before shooting. He had a quintuple bypass,” says Veber. “I went to see him in the hospital and he said to me, ‘Wait for me.’ And I was really scared and I waited five weeks. He recovered very fast because he is very strong. He came on the set with a brand new heart.”