Jan Kounen Talks About Comedy ‘My Cousin,’ Starring Vincent Lindon and Francois Damiens

Martin Dale

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Jan Kounen’s comedy “My Cousin,” starring Vincent Lindon and François Damiens, will be one of the biggest French releases of the year. The film screens Friday at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris. In an exclusive interview with Variety, he talks about his key motivations for the project.

“My Cousin” is about two cousins (Lindon and Damiens) with wildly incompatible personalities and different ways of life, set in a luxurious Bordeaux vineyard. It marks a major new departure for Kounen, and is his first feature film for 11 years, after his 2009 Cannes closing film, “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.”

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Kounen has a cult following from previous pics such as “Dobermann” (1997), and spiritual Western “Blueberry” (2004), and is well known for his interest in shamanism, including his 2004 documentary “Other Worlds.” This interest has fed into his recent VR projects – “Ayahuasca” (Kosmik Journey), “7 Lives” and “-22.7°C.”

“My Cousin” is produced by Richard Grandpierre’s Eskwad, in coproduction with Pathé Films, and TF1 Films Production. Grandpierre has produced high-profile genre-themed French films including “Brotherhood of the Wolf” (2001), “Irreversible” (2002) and Christophe Gans’ “Beauty of the Beast” (2014). He is now preparing the Netflix original film “Bigbug” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Pathé will release “My Cousin” in France on April 29 on more than 500 screens, and is handling international sales. The film screens at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous at 9 a.m. on Friday in the UGC Georges V, theater 9.

What attracted you to this project?
I’ve been working with Richard on a fantasy film inspired by one of Charles Perrault’s “Mother Goose Tales,” and he showed me the script for “My Cousin,” and told me that Vincent and François were on board and asked me whether I would like to direct. My own projects tend to be a bit strange for theatrical audiences in France. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to do a more classic comedy, while bringing my own personal style to the film. The project reminded me of the great comedies I loved as a teenager. I wanted to pay homage to masterpieces such as Philippe de Broca’s 1973 film, “Le Magnifique,” and other comedies from the 1970s and 1980s by directors such as Yves Robert and Edouard Molinaro.

Do you think there is an audience interest in France for classic comedies?
I really do. I think we are in the middle of a change. I love making edgy movies for theaters, but the truth is that people often don’t go to see them. It’s very difficult to see my own films and those by my friends perform badly at the box office. With the rise of the streaming platforms, many young people are interested in edgy projects but want to see them on other devices. I think there is room for classic feelgood comedies that can bring audiences to theaters. This has been a fascinating experience for me and I’m really happy with the film.

How have you explored the vineyard setting of the film?
A vineyard is a big open natural space. This project deals with how in our lives we can lose touch with the simplicity and the innocence of childhood. I wanted to communicate what I felt when I was a young man. My aim has been to make a feelgood movie, in which we feel emotions, follow adventures and accompany crazy characters. I’d never thought of directing a film like this, but it has an amazing cast and I loved the story – it’s an eternal story about two people who can’t stand each other.

What elements from your previous directing experience have you brought to this project?
I love visual filmmaking and creative use of visual effects, but in this case the heart of the film is the actors’ performances. This was a real opportunity to work with different nuances of character and narrative. I also wanted to explore certain fantasy elements, such as a small number of dream sequences, and also an action scene that required a lot of visual effects, but always as a means of revealing insights into the characters.

Given your interest in shamanism and using film to create visual and spiritual journeys, is this reflected in this project?
The story isn’t a mystical journey but does have a spiritual side – the reunion of something that has been separated. It’s definitely an initiatory journey for Vincent Lindon’s character, but in a very French way, rather than Amazonian. In terms of my visual approach, I think that every film creates a modified state of consciousness, and has something of a dream-like quality. As soon as you manipulate composition or sound, or you play with time through editing or slow motion, you are altering our normal consciousness. I love to play with the cinematic language. For my VR films I didn’t have to tell a story, the main aim is to generate a sensorial experience. In cinema you are telling a story and sharing the life of characters. Ultimately, we’re using the same gears, but on another level.