Grégory Montel and Anaïs Demoustier are the headliners of “Chère Léa”, a new feature film by Jérôme Bonnell (“Le Temps de l’Aventure”, “A trois on y va”). A singular romance whose narration takes on a rare and delicate turn.
The story: After a drunken night, Jonas decides on a whim to visit his ex-girlfriend, Léa, with whom he is still in love. Despite their still passionate relationship, Léa rejects him. Distraught, Jonas goes to the cafe opposite to write him a long letter, shaking up his working day, and arousing the curiosity of the cafe owner. The day has only just begun …
AlloCiné: Chère Léa is a love story, but told in a way like rarely in the cinema, through this letter and a certain temporality …
Anaïs Demoustier, actress (Léa): Yes, film time is a time that we rarely see in the cinema. It is indeed not the rupture, not the beginning of the story… I would say that it is perhaps the time for the resonance of a story. That is, when it is not yet really finished. Or that it is finished, but there is still so much left in itself that history is still existing in our lives.
We feel that this is the story of a passion. A story that must have been complicated and that it upset the protagonists, Grégory Montel and me. I have a small role in the film. No one sees me much, but I knew that these were scenes where there were a lot of issues because of this story that had to be brought into existence without being so informed.
Grégory Montel, actor (Jonas): Yes, it’s a reminiscence, a remnant of something that we will have to manage, digest.
Jérôme Bonnell, screenwriter and director: When I started to imagine this story, I asked myself this question: what to do with this era of showing everything and seeing everything? What to do with this frantic consumption of images and information?
It seemed to me that the place of the filmmaker was more and more difficult to characterize. Trying to find a kind of source gesture, by telling myself: what is cinema? It is a framework where we take as much care in what we show as what we hide.
Passionate love fascinates me. I find it extremely difficult to film. There are beautiful examples in cinema, but quite rare in a very successful way, and when it is successful, it is unforgettable.
I told myself that it would be interesting to tell the off-screen of this passion, and that the off-screen tells it all the more. It is the story of a man who sits for a short time in a cafe, who writes a love letter to a woman he wishes to recover and who lives in the building opposite.
What he thinks is going to take him 15 or 20 minutes is going to take him the whole day, and that day is going to resonate with his entire life. A sort of underground balance sheet. This cafe, which will become the main setting of the film, will resonate deeply with what he experiences.
When we are in a state of loving suffering, or just suffering, or looking around, everything reminds us of what we feel. Coffee is wonderful for that. I love to watch what’s going on. I even stung entire dialogues upon hearing conversations!
So the film is all that at the same time. It is a big ambition for me to try to tell very big things through things which seem very small. To assume this thing there, with an apparent lightness. It’s something that touches me a lot.
As Jérôme Bonnell explains, Chère Léa is very interested in the notion of off-screen …
Anaïs Demoustier: The film leaves a lot of room for the viewer. Grégory Montel, throughout the film, writes a letter to his ex. In fact, we never have access to this letter. I saw the movie twice and each time I told myself what it was writing, and it was different things. The viewer can project whatever he wants into this letter! Project things from your own life too. It makes you want to write letters. It’s nice !
There are also secondary characters for whom we can imagine a lot of things in their life. These are characters who go, who come in this unique setting.
Grégory Montel: The off-screen is important because it supports the story. Everything that happens next has resonance for the story. It is both an inspiration for his letter, and at the same time, for the viewer, they are also elements of understanding, and it is perhaps an extension of what is going on in Jonah’s head. Where is it?
Anaïs Demoustier: What I also adore is that it is the story of this man, this day, where we see springing all his life, he is obsessed with this letter, by this woman, by this love story. But in fact, there is his job, his child, his ex-wife… And in life, we are always like that crossed, caught up with things that constitute us.
I find that beautiful because this film is really a portrait of this man, and a portrait of the man who embodies him. When a film is so focused on an actor, at one point, it’s his music, it’s him. Grégory brought a lot of things.
Grégory Montel: Each actor comes with his individuality, his singularity systematically… It’s a bit of the obvious. What was interesting was the discovery of another artistic world, of another way of making cinema. I got into it with a lot of pleasure because I discovered the watchmaker Jérôme Bonnell. And for me, an actor in constant learning, it was very pleasant to continue to learn.
Anaïs Demoustier: Delicacy and modesty, that’s exactly what best sums up Jérôme Bonnell’s cinema for me. His way of looking at people, life, the actors. Obviously when you make a film about a love story it’s always great when you are watched by someone who has this finesse. He is someone who speaks very well of love and who creates very beautiful female characters. Even here with a small role, it’s rich, it’s fair, it’s never caricature.
What do you think the film says about masculinity?
Jérôme Bonnell: I, who hid myself a lot behind female characters, find it a great opportunity to roll up your sleeves for good and tell a man directly. And God knows I’m not chasing the self-portrait.
I really want to have a really great feeling of fiction. I know that the unconscious is cunning and how much we tell ourselves in spite of ourselves, even through female characters. It’s like a little mask to really give yourself a great feeling of fiction.
I wanted to tell about the fragility of the masculine. I also wanted to relate this thing which is really not glorious, which is the unbearable indecision of men. I find that it is too little treated in the cinema, at least as it exists. This kind of male fear. This kind of relief that fear takes on when it is masculine.
It’s the story of a man who really did everything too late. To leave his wife, to come back to his mistress, to settle his work matters, in this shrinking time which is this day. It is a kind of mise en abyme which tells of a time in his life. He’s in his forties, and all the questions and fears he’s going through right now. I hope it’s all in the movie, that all of these echoes are in the movie.
Grégory Montel took hold of that with a kind of energy. He directly resolved the issue of the self-portrait, we are so different from each other and he took me elsewhere. Grégory’s energy has contributed a lot to bringing comedy. He had a way of seizing the role where he put me in a spectator position. It’s great when the film becomes an exploration and the result is not what you expected. I love that !
Interview at the 2021 Angoulême Francophone Film Festival