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Sophie Marceau : Movie : Telling Lies

Title : Telling Lies
Telling Lies
Click image to enlarge
Year : 2001
Role : Author
Director : n/a
Language : English (translated from the French)

The actress who talks to the furniture
Evening Standard (London), May 30, 2001 by ANDREW BILLEN

In The World is Not Enough she was the spy who tried to shag Bond to death, in Braveheart the French princess who melted Wallace's heart. In Anna Karenina Sean Bean tempted her to suicide. In La Fidelite, directed by her real husband, her beauty drove her screen husband to the grave.

Now Sophie Marceau, voted by Frenchmen the woman they most wanted to sleep with, has written a 'semi-autobiographical' novel about the histrionic interior-life of a beautiful young French actress.

In Telling Lies Sophie Marceau is well she's pretentious.

This is not just my verdict. A fortnight ago, The Times in a column called 'Pretentious, Moi?' quoted so extensively from Telling Lies that i had no room for any other pseudery. 'The chaos, the disorder of fatalities, that is the only god of justice, the only father of truth' was a typical sentence to catch the compiler's eye. I'd have included: 'Chance has no previous existence, it's only fulfilled as a result of some fundamental will. It draws on that will before making its appearance', which is either nonsense or the Chaos Theory in brief.

In fact, I have every sympathy for Marceau whom, duly chaperoned, I visit in the bedroom of her hotel in Covent Garden. The week before it attacked her, The Times picked an overextended metaphor of mine for ridicule in the same column. 'Tell me about yours first,' says Marceau, who is wearing a white top, grey trousers and pumps, none of whose designers she can, to her credit, identify for me. Polished so that her face and her hair's highlights share he same burnish, she is he most distractingly sexy woman I have ever interviewed, giving off, at 34, the pheromonal surges of an extremely knowing teenager. As she says when I ask, if men divided between devotees of her and fans of Denise Richards in the Bond film, she hasn't heard of anyone not fancying her.

Perhaps, I suggest, concentrating, we English fear pretension more than the French do. 'Oh, I 'm not English, I cannot talk on behalf of an English person. I 'm French. I can say about French. They are quite emotional, though, and they talk about their emotions. 'Asking questions, articulating feelings, can communicate 'under meanings', she says although her broken English and perfect (French) accent make this an approximate paraphrase.

Her book seems to be about a woman trapped in two decaying relationships, one with her career and the other with her lover. Did writing it resolve some issues for her? 'Words, yes, formulating things, creating something from your heart, it is something very necessary, yes.'

I see. Was the unhappiness in the book autobiographical? 'To be honest I don 't really know because I really didn't care when I was writing about mixing up reality with what was not reality. It is personal, very honest, intimate, I would say, but sometimes the story, the anecdote, can be more or less mine or not mine.'

Obviously I'm not really following this. Like many of her countrymen, she finds the comfort in abstraction that Brits take from concrete detail.

I direct her to her heroine's description of her deflowering: 'Fumbled like a piece of luggage squeezed by surly great hands which dominate your flesh.'

Was her first time as bad as that?

'Oh, I cannot remember. 'It's a horrifically memorable passage. 'But it doesn't mean it says anything about my loss of virginity.'

I hope that 'semi-autobiographical' is a publicity ploy. If Telling Lies is telling the truth then I'm looking into the feline-eyes of a basket case . My favourite passage, I say, is when the furniture starts talking to the narrator and tells her to pull herself together.

Has furniture ever spoken to her in real life? 'Oh, probably.' So we might later tonight catch her storming around the room? 'Talking to the sofa?

Yes. But it will not talk to me!'

This is a definition of sanity, I realise: the devout man talks to God; the mad man hears God reply.

She is cannier than she seems and is certainly aware of he perils of pretentiousness. One of the least likeable characters in the book is an 'oily, vain and stupid' film director with 'a mouth full of words' with whom her heroine has dinner: 'The last look he gave me was the worst bit of all.

A mayonnaise of pretension and oily simplicity. 'She confirms that she has had many such dinners with directors of this ilk.

Since her first film, a 1980 brat packer called La Boum (The Party), when she was just 13, Marceau has made some 30 movies and, during that time, has never feared saying what she thinks of her directors. On D'Artagnan's Daughter, released in 1994, for instance, she told original director, 85-year-old Riccardo Freda, that he should 'resign and take up residence in an old people's home' after finding him taking a nap during one of her scenes, a snooze that apparently cost him his job. 'It's a long story,' she says when I ask if she really got him sacked. 'Sometimes after you make things change, they get worse and so you feel, 'Oh, God, I should have shut my mouth.' She means Freda was replaced by Bertrand Tavernier, who decided that instead of making a movie about D'Artagnan's swashbuckling fille (her) to make version of Musketeer's Last of the Summer Wine starring some very old character actors. 'He is a bizarre man,' says Sophie.

Marceau has played straying wives, prostitutes, buccaneers and party girls. What they tend to have in common is that at some point they remove their underwear. She has said she was tired of being'squeezed into ugly, dirty, second-rate roles that simply aim to serve the fantasies of some guy', but today she seems sanguine about it and more puzzled about why it was so essential that her character Elektra King did not show her nipples in bed scenes in The World is Not Enough. 'You have a lot of nudities in all your newspapers.'

What, I ask, about Beyond The Clouds, which was made by the ailing Michelangelo Antonioni in 1995 with a little help from Wim Wenders?

Which of those directors decided that she should strip for her sex scenes with John Malkovich? 'That was probably Antonioni, because he loves that.'

I'm sure she made an old man very happy. 'He is very old. He's like eighty-something. He's in a wheelchair.

He doesn't speak. He had a stroke 10 years ago which paralysed half of his mind and half of his body, but, you know, I was moved. I was moved because I loved his movies before and also I got very interesting experience from that shooting. It was 15 days. It was very short and I don't like the movie, to be honest I don't like what I do in the movie but I liked having the chance to share with him a film.'

Perhaps she would have had a nearer fully clothed career if there were more women directors? 'But maybe it is not a job for woman. I don't know. I really think we have different capabilities. 'She doesn't consider herself a feminist because she does not have any 'systematic, dogmatic' way of thinking.

So she won't be seeing the Vagina Monologues while in London. 'I was asked to do that, but I said no, actually.'

Why? 'Well, are you interested in that vagina stuff? I 'm not.' (Mind you, she has a Wilhelm Reich text on her table, which suggests she is interested in that orgasm stuff.) The stuff I am really interested in is her relationship with her boyfriend she calls him her husband - Polish director Andrzej Zulawski, with whom she has made five films. They met at Cannes when she was 17 and known only for the two highly successful but trivial Boum movies. He was 42, an auteur specialising in psychosexual drama. He quickly cast her in L'Amour Braque, a version of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, in which she played a teenage prostitute, and persuaded her to do her first nude scene.

'I'll tell you a secret, 'she says. 'It is something actresses need to go through and I think they look forward to being naked in a movie. I don't know why, but it is something you need to exhaust from yourself.'

Her parents, truck driver and shop ssistant who brought her up in a modest flat in a Paris suburb and divorced when she was nine, were, one imagines, horrified, and she says they still do not get on with Zulawski: 'But it doesn't matter. 'Five years ago they had a son, but she admits she is as amazed as anyone that they are still together after 17 years. They fight 'like scorpions in a nest' and he is notoriously critical of her work, not least of Telling Lies, which he encouraged her to write and then reviewed unfavourably in print.

There seems to have been something of the Pygmalion in Zulawski's relationship with this beautiful, undereducated teenager. Having created her as serious actress, however (and recommended to her the books so liberally quoted in her own: Paul Valry, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Virginia Woolf), he has looked on uneasily at his creation. It was widely reported, for instance, that they broke up when she took the Bond role.

'That was crap. Exactly the opposite and I am telling you the truth,' she says. He apparently thought it an excellent career choice. 'But when he sees love story with me and James Bond, he doesn't like it. It 's uncomfortable for him. Which I understand. But that is normal.

That's good. Otherwise it would be very bizarre.'

Maybe that is why he was critical of the novel: too intimate? 'Yes, maybe, that part I understand.'

He is a jealous man? 'Yes!' Yet he directs her in films in which she makes love to other men. 'You must ask him about it.' Where is he? 'In the bathroom,' she says playfully.

Last year Zulawski plunged fresh depths of masochism by directing her in three-hour stinker called La Fidélité, in which Marceau flirts with a younger man while her infatuated older husband stands back helpless. How, in real life, I ask, does she cope with the fidelity issue? 'Very well, thank you,' she says. Touché.

Telling Lies proves that stream of consciousness can be a desperately shallow rill, but while Marceau is no latter-day Virginia Woolf or Dorothy Richardson (and I'd like to have seen them do sex scenes with Pierce Brosnan), her writing is not without its felicities. I liked her calling her sofa bed a 'mechanical skeleton', her description of a curled telephone cord as a pasta spiral and the waspishness of her portrayal of her oleaginous director: 'Even from distance, there was something perverse about his shoes.'

Yet if she is no metaphysician, she is a natural comic. Her incautious verdicts on her fellow professionals certainly make me giggle. John Malkovich, she says, spent his time on Beyond The Clouds painting Easter eggs: 'He was very mysterious to me but it is a game, too. He's an actor and I know actors by heart.'

Robert De Niro? Yes, she did say once he was 'a funny little man'. Bruce Willis? 'He would never turn my head, it is true, but he is great actor.'

Equally refreshingly, for the author of a book about lying, she is honest enough to admit when she has fouled up. Presenting the Palme d'Or at Cannes two years ago, she meandered through an interminable speech ranging through topics from sick children and warfare to the superficiality of film.

Eventually, the evening's host, Kristin Scott Thomas, had to tell her to stop.

'She did her job and I didn't do my job. She was right and I was wrong.

I felt very bad about it. It was like black hole for me. I didn't understand where I was.'

The drink, I suppose? 'Oh no, I heard I was drugged or I was drunk. I don't drink and I don't drug myself. I was perfectly clearheaded but I was hungry and I had just arrived from a very different world outside Cannes.'

What happened afterwards? 'I went back to my hotel and I heard people from the street outside saying, 'You're right, Sophie. Very good.' Actually, I say, that was the furniture speaking. I'm rewarded by her laughter which, as you can imagine, is an agreeable sound to male ears.

As to the real Sophie Marceau, it is, as she might say, bizarre, but 100 pages and 90 minutes on, I still haven't a clue.

Lies (Phoenix, 6 . 99) .

Copyright 2001 Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.