Alain Resnais on Private Fears in Public Places

One of the most acclaimed film adaptations of Alan Ayckbourn’s work is Private Fears in Public Places, which premiered on 2 September 2007.

It was directed by the French film auteur, Alain Resnais, who was an avowed fan of Alan Ayckbourn and adapted three of his plays into films.

To tie in with the anniversary of the premiere, this is an interview with Alain Resnais by FranÇois Thomas min which the director talks about adapting Private Fears in Public Places.

Alain Resnais on Private Fears In Public Places

I’ve been a fan of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays since 1972. I like his plot constructions, manipulation of time and conception of directing which gives the imagination pride of place.

What struck me first when I read Private Fears in Public Places was the characters’ constant determination to shake off their solitude, with all the obstacles that implies. The sense of solitude is irreversible. There’s no cure for the desire not to be alone. It’s the eternal quest for happiness. It’s easy to believe it’s within your grasp and hard to accept that it is a figment of your imagination.

French film poster for Private Fears in Public Places

With Private Fears in Public Places [released as Coeurs in France], I realised that I could take an opposite track compared to Smoking and No Smoking. In both those films, which were a declaration of my love of England, I pushed attention to detail to fanatical extremes, by ensuring that all the props and costumes were as English as possible, and by recording, for example, the church bells and seagulls in the small Yorkshire town which provided the backdrop. This time, we were dealing with a typically London play, which offered the possibility of transposing it to Paris. It occurred to me that the equivalent of the new London setting was the rapidly expanding district around Bercy, the Avenue de France and the new National Library with its very singular light. Also, it’s a neighbourhood that fits in well with a modern-day story about real estate brokers and their clients.

I asked Jean-Michel Ribes to write the French dialogue. It seemed to me that he was close to Ayckbourn, that he could understand how his brain worked. Like Ayckbourn, not only has he written a large number of plays, but he is also a phenomenally dynamic director and artistic director of a theatre. In Musee haut, musee bas, to take just one example, there is a kind of drift into madness that one also finds in Ayckbourn. And I like his Alphonse Allais side. Unlike Smoking and No Smoking, where we had to squeeze eight plays into two films, we couldn’t cut anything out this time. The writing is very sparing. As soon as you lose one line, you sense it’s missing. The screenplay is very faithful to the play but it is as French as Ayckbourn is English, especially in all the nuances of everyday spoken language. We had to find a delicate balance: keeping the characters’ feelings without replicating the English mindset or imitating the rhythm of spoken English.

The great challenge when you have around fifty scenes, some of which are very short, is to get across the perpetual interactions between the seven characters, even though some of them never meet. The relationships between the characters remind me of a spider’s web draped between two gorse bushes and covered in dew by the night. Thierry, Charlotte, Gaelle, Dan, Nicole, Lionel and Arthur are like insects struggling to break free of a trap. Each time one of them moves, it impacts on another part of the web and on another character, therefore, who may have no links whatsoever to the first.

You can find out more about the film of Private Fears in Public Places including the playwright’s own thoughts on the film and Alain Resnais at Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website by clicking here.

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