Little White Lies: Director's Statement & Interviews
from Press Kit
Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies) is my third feature as a director and the most personal of the three. For this reason, I insisted on writing it alone and the process was uniquely intense. I say that it’s a personal film because the subject matter is particularly close to me. It’s close to people of my generation while resonating with younger and older people.
Deceiving yourself comes very easy. It allows you to convince yourself you’re right, to bury or shelve issues that are too painful to confront. It’s when we develop the annoying, self-defeating habit of telling “little white lies”.
This film talks about people who have accepted their life, job or sexuality without ever wondering if it’s really what they want from life or if they really are happy in their relationship.
Through cowardice, force of habit or fear of the unknown, we often go through life without tackling these issues, without listening to our instincts or convictions and, above all, without listening to what our heart tells us.
The importance of learning to listen is what I wanted to show through the characters in the film. They all have a weakness, a lie they’ve buried and don’t want to own up to.
An awful incident, like the one they are confronted with, forces them to face up to their lies.
I wanted to set this story in an atmosphere of comedy and friendship. But comedy underpinned with seriousness, and so with important nuances in the tone of the film as we switch from almost slapstick scenes to others that are, I hope, very touching.
I grew up with movies like Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, John Cassavetes’ Husbands and Yves Robert’s Nous irons tous au paradis. They continue to be a source of inspiration, not just in their humor, but also in the sincerity their characters exude.
That’s why, in this movie, I wanted to be as credible as possible in the portrait of friendships, for that credibility to fill every scene.
Casting the movie, I chose people I like and admire, who share one vital qualification for being in the film—they all know each other.
I insist on the fact that it’s a personal film because it’s so close to me. Either I see myself in the characters or I’ve met people just like them.
An Interview with Guillaume Canet
You seem in a state of heightened emotion…
Yes, it’s very strange. I’ve never felt like this before about a movie I directed. I’ve made two shorts and three features, including Little White Lies, which isn’t a lot but enough to be able to say that from the beginning this movie has been very special for me.
Apparently, after Tell No One, you had quite a turbulent time personally. Is that what led you to write Little White Lies?
Turbulent, maybe not, but I experienced what you could call a crucial period in my life, for sure. After Tell No One, I went through several different stages, due to my age partly. At 35, you don’t look at things the same way as when you’re 20, you’ve already taken a few knocks. I decided to enter a process of analysis—a fairly time-consuming process that was more productive than I could ever have imagined because it resulted in me writing this script in under five months. That’s what makes the movie so special for me. I cannot make a more personal movie than Little White Lies.
What triggered this process of analysis?
Realizing how much I’d deceived myself over the years about what I really wanted, and how much energy I’d devoted to my work to avoid having to think about things. It was convenient to close my eyes to bothersome personal issues I didn’t want to acknowledge. The tipping-point came when I was finishing Tell No One. I got sick. Shooting and editing the movie had taken so much out of me that I picked up the first virus going. It developed into septicemia and I spent a month in the hospital. When I got out, I went straight into a good old depression. I eventually realized that my whole existence couldn’t begin and end with my work and that I was allowed to take the time to enjoy life.
The film shows the damage feelings of guilt can cause…
I have a relationship with guilt that most likely comes from my childhood—the major and minor dramas that occur at that age. When I realized that, I had to drive it all out and that made me feel so much better. I can’t admit to making such a personal movie without admitting publicly that I went through that stage.
What were the initial benefits?
I realized a bunch of things that allowed me to focus on what I really wanted. I realized which friends really counted for me. I straightened out my life.
And the idea for Little White Lies began to take shape?
Summer 2008, I began to play around with the idea while I was working on another screenplay totally unconnected to my inner turmoil of that time. I was sharing a house with a friend for a few days and I started throwing out stuff that was buzzing around my head, especially the fact that I’d always wanted to make a “friends movie.” The more I talked, and the more she listened, I realized that in fact a film was being born. I asked my friend to be my midwife for the next five days. She listened, asked questions, reacted, and I’d take notes. I owe her so much because right away I had the structure of the movie. I scribbled scenes down in my trailer on the set of Farewell as soon as I had some time between takes. Writing had never come so easy to me.
Is it fair to say there’s a little of you in each character?
Yes, a little bit in each. A lot of what’s said in the movie comes from my life. Afterwards, of course, it’s reworked and fictionalized to become part of a story. Even so, writing the script of Little White Lies got quite painful because it dug so deep into personal experiences and made me relive so many emotions.
The film has the audience constantly torn between crying and laughing.
Yes, we walk a very fine line. Everybody’s been in tragic situations where laughter suddenly breaks out. That’s what I wanted to capture. The situation the characters find themselves in forces them through a whole range of emotions and feelings. I wanted to show how a vacation is often the chance to let off steam, and so provokes all kinds of reactions, some comic, some dramatic.
When did you sense that everything had clicked together?
Probably after the first table-read when François Cluzet said to me, pretty emotionally, You know, there’s a bunch of scenes where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I knew then I was on the right track.
The film’s central theme is lies…
More specifically, the lies people tell themselves and, collaterally, each other—everything we don’t want to see in ourselves, that we try to gloss over.
At the beginning, the characters spend a lot of time dodging their real issues.
Yes, like a lot of people at various points in their lives. Is this truly my dream job? Do I truly love the person I live with? Is my sexuality what I truly wanted? I don’t use the word “truly” by chance. It’s the key word. And those questions are relevant at any age.
And the characters are so universal, it’s easy to identify alternately with one then the other.
That’s what I was aiming for. I wanted to make a cross-generational movie. Even the children’s characters are based on what I felt when I was 5-10 years old, surrounded by grown-ups. There’s a lot of me in all of these characters. I approached writing them with a lot of honesty and sincerity, which I think is why people seem to relate to them easily. You always have to put something of yourself into a story. What’s true and real for you, can be true and real for somebody else. At the very least, it’s authentic because it’s personal.
What was the movie like to shoot?
It was a very intense feeling but complicated because I wanted the actors to feel what I had felt when I was writing. I was pretty obsessive, asking them to say the lines exactly as I had imagined and written them. I’ve never thrown myself into a movie with such passion
You put a heap of passion into Tell No One…
Tell No One is a movie I love, but I think Little White Lies is a more personal and accomplished movie that, without sounding pretentious, gives me a particular sense of pride. I find the characters particularly touching. They inspire that passion in me.
It’s also a film about friendship…
I freely admit to drawing inspiration from great movies about groups of friends like The Big Chill (1984), which is probably the reference for me. There’s also Jean-Marie Poiré’s Mes meilleurs copains (1988) and Yves Robert’s Un elephant ça trompe énormément (1976). Cassavetes’ Husbands… And a stack of movies by Claude Sautet.
Making a movie about a group of friends must be easier when you’re working with real-life friends.
Sure. Gilles (Lellouche), Marion (Cotillard) and the crew that’s worked with me since my very first short films, we go back a long way now. Then there’s François (Cluzet) and Benoît (Magimel)… Same goes for Jean Dujardin—we realized we’d been to kindergarten and primary school together when both our families lived in Les Yvelines, outside Paris. I’d completely forgotten that. He reminded me at the premiere of Mon idole (2002). Do you remember Mrs. Pichon? And Mrs. Copeck? No kidding I remembered them. We couldn’t get over it!
So it’s a film about a bunch of friends made with a bunch of friends, on whom you nonetheless made certain demands.
When I offered them each a part, there were two conditions. Prior to shooting in August, I asked them to keep open five days in May to immerse ourselves in Cap Ferret. That way, I got to take everybody to the house where we’d be shooting. I wanted them to live there, to open cupboards and know where the coffee was, the knives and forks, and so on. I wanted it to be ingrained, so that the boat trips would look natural, so that the beach restaurant would be familiar to them. When we went back to Cap Ferret in August, they already felt like they’d been there on vacation.
You also wanted them to get to know each other…
Exactly. So that the on-screen couples would take shape and they’d get to know the kids playing their children. The second condition was that I asked for everybody to be present throughout the shoot. I wanted them to stay there, to be part of the group 24/7, and to be available for improvised shots if the need arose. I didn’t want the story to be acted out, I wanted them to live it.
You used two cameras on set the whole time. Why?
So that the actors would be as free as possible. So that, in group scenes, they could get up from the table to get a glass from the kitchen if they wanted without worrying about entering or leaving the frame. Then, in editing, I put the film together out of a vast amount of footage. To a certain extent, that’s how I managed to make such a vibrant film with such rhythm. It was amazing how everybody got into the spirit of it and that’s why this movie really touches me every time I see it. All the emotion I felt when I was writing the script comes flooding back.
It also talks about missed opportunities…
We all miss out on so much for the same reasons—you let your work and lifestyle get on top of you, you neglect your family, friends and relationships, while giving people the impression you’re there. You know it’s time to stop and think, to redefine your priorities and decide what you really want, but you don’t necessarily take the time to do it, and when you finally get round to it, it may be too late.
In the movie, some characters aren’t able to talk about things and others talk too much because silence scares them…
You’re always scared you’ll wreck the atmosphere by raising certain issues that may be a bit sensitive, so you don’t say anything. But you wreck the atmosphere anyway! You let it slide because you think things will work themselves out. The “little white lies” are the rug you sweep all the crappy stuff under, until eventually it begins to show. When it all comes out, it can be gruesome, as it is for some of the characters in the movie when they finally have to face the truth.
The oyster-farmer plays a crucial role as the catalyst…
Jean-Louis is the group’s conscience, the guy who’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s a man of integrity who lives a simple life. He’s been observing them carefully, he likes them all and he has a big heart, but he won’t give them an easy ride. He brings them face-to-face with their contradictions and their cowardice.
He’s played by Joël Dupuch, who is…
A real-life oyster-farmer from Cap Ferret. And a friend. He’s outstanding, pitch-perfect, a complete revelation!
Gilles Lellouche plays the second-rate actor constantly making his life sound bigger and better than it is.
He has to charm and seduce. He can’t bear to show his flaws, feelings or pain, so he shows off. It’s the easy way out.
Is this your most polished movie?
Technically and in terms of directing actors, I’d say so, yes. But all along, I kept realizing how much I still had to learn!
An Interview with Gilles Lellouche
Little White Lies is my fifth movie with Guillaume. We met at Alain Attal’s company Les Productions du Trésor. It was late at night. I was writing Narco and he was working on the script of Mon Idole. It was just after Vidocq was released and he was pretty down. It was soon after The Beach with Leo DiCaprio, too, so there was always a horde of people hovering around him. We talked most of the evening, openly and honestly, and I was struck by how insightful he was.
His development as a director has been spectacular. In Mon idole, you can pick out his influences (Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese…). In Tell No One, it’s already much less obvious. Formal issues are less important to him than the story. Directing isn’t Guillaume being a pretentious actor, it’s a real necessity for him. He injects life into his art. When I met him, he carried around a notebook and jotted down anything that could be a good idea for a movie or a scene even, that he had yet to write, of course.
A timeless, universal tale
Cap Ferret has been our base camp for the last ten years. All the characters draw to a greater or lesser extent on episodes that happened there or people we met there. But the strength of Guillaume’s movie is that he has transcended the raw material. Nothing is anecdotal. It’s not a movie about our vacation with comic book plotting. It’s a timeless, universal tale.
I play a second-rate actor, a superficial poser and womanizer. He’s a good friend, with the good grace not to burden the others with his problems. Eric is the dynamo of the group.
In Little White Lies, Guillaume isn’t far from what Claude Sautet used to do. He’s always liked movies with groups of friends. He asked us all to watch The Big Chill again, and John Cassavetes’ Husbands. Making a movie with eight characters, of roughly equal importance, is a real challenge and, when you see the result, he has succeeded brilliantly.
An Interview with Hugo Sélignac
Guillaume had such a specific vision of what he wanted that the read-throughs of the script with the cast probably took most of these well-established stars back to the days when they were starting out. Guillaume wanted the tone to be precisely as he described it, or it changed the meaning of the lines. And sometimes, when Guillaume asked them to appear in the background of certain shots, they may have felt like they’d been hired as extras. Obviously, that wasn’t so and, on screen, the result speaks for itself. There is so much emotion in the scenes where the friends’ interactions emerge over several shots, in the glances and expressions that Guillaume captures magnificently, not just in the dialogue. In the end, everybody agreed on this—we haven’t made a film, but the film. Guillaume gets the very best out of people on set. I realized that I went into this business to work with artists like him. Unlike some directors, he applies the concept that everybody is important on a shoot. In Guillaume’s eyes, every single person working alongside him has a specific role to play, from the intern to François Cluzet.
The remarkable thing about Little White Lies is the universal nature of the issues the characters are wrestling with. They are valid at age 15, 35 or 65 across all of society. The sexual frustration of Pascale Arbillot’s character, for example; or Benoît Magimel’s character’s epiphany about his true nature; Gilles Lellouche’s character’s chronic inability to commit; or wondering if somebody is really “the one”, or if you’re doing the right job, or if you can truly count on your friends, etc.
People say that Little White Lies is an ensemble movie, but I prefer to describe it as the story of a group of 8 friends, each of whom is the hero of his or her own story.
On the shoot, my job consisted of taking the weight off Guillaume’s shoulders, encouraging him to delegate as much as possible so that he could focus on the job at hand, and taking charge of fundamental logistical and technical issues, and subsidiary matters to which he would devote a half-hour of his time, like what cheese the canteen should serve for lunch, because he was genuinely concerned about the whole crew’s welfare.
It was very wise of Guillaume to dismiss, early on, the idea of acting in the movie as well as directing. It would have been very tricky to do both and almost impossible to offer such precise direction to the rest of the cast.
It was a delight working on Little White Lies. It’s a movie with heart. You come out wanting to tell people you love them.
An Interview with Alain Attal
Making a movie with Guillaume is a pleasure every time. He’s a very loyal man, for whom a working environment based on trust is particularly important. Little White Lies is his take on his generation and, more widely, on contemporary society. It’s a movie about the damage you cause (or suffer) by constantly putting off until later the really important issues.
The artistic and commercial success of Tell No One gave Guillaume the time to write the screenplay he dreamed of. And I made sure I could give him the time he needed on set and in the editing suite. The rough cut was four hours long! He insisted on putting everything he’d shot into it. I wasn’t allowed to see it because he preferred to bring it down to a more customary length on his own.
It’s the first time since we started working together that Guillaume has attained such a level of expertise and authority. He was the captain of the ship, driven by tremendous energy. During the shoot, I noticed how astonishingly determined he was. Guillaume had never been so in control of his previous movies, in every sense—from the script (the first one he wrote alone, without Philippe Lefebvre) to the locations that he chose personally, like every single song on the soundtrack.
A subtle blend of genres
I decide to ask Hugo (Sélignac) to line produce. After years working together, he’s got where he deserves to be. I met him when he was an intern on Selon Charlie by Nicole Garcia. He’s come a long way. He learns fast and manages budgets with an innate talent. As a result, I didn’t have to be on set in Cap Ferret every day. One return trip per week was enough. I received the dailies and discussed them on the phone with Guillaume.
The lessons learned on Tell No One allowed him to aim once more for a subtle blend of genres. Whether he’s making a thriller or a comedy, like this movie, nothing discourages him from infusing the story with emotion. He has a unique intuition, a sixth sense for what will work best in a movie. Little White Lies is the finest example of that.