The British author Henry James opens his novel, A portrait of a lady with an interesting remark. ‘Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,’ he says. When one could enjoy the scones, strawberries, sandwiches and cake in the company of a literati, this delightful enjoyment enhances. This is especially true, when the only delicacy he could delight in was his creation, since he was so unjustly denied of his desired piece of cake.
French novelist and screenwriter, David Foenkinos joined the crowd at the 1864, Galle Face Hotel on July 13 to discuss his work Memories, The Delicacy and Charlotte. The Delicacy won 10 awards and sold over a million copies. In 2010, he co-directed the film the Delicacy along with his brother Stéphane Foenkinos which was the adaptation of his novel. The Film was nominated twice to the 2012 César Ceremony for the Best Adaptation and for the Best First Film. In 2014, he co-adapted his novel Memories. The film, directed by Jean-Paul Rouve, sold over a million tickets in France. “I am not from an artistic family. I really started to read first when I was 16, during the many months in the hospital after falling sick. I started reading and writing, and it became more and more important to me as time passed,” he says.
His book Memories is about an old woman who is put in an outhouse and decides to escape despite everybody on guard. “The story is about making decisions about your own life. Throughout the book there is a mix of difficult situations and fantasy. They all try to find the grandmother, but she is hiding in her best memory,” he shares.
Despite the movies he had made, he considers himself a writer of fiction. “I am almost 100 per cent a writer,” he says. He loves creating fiction and Memories is really personal to him. “It’s about the memories in life,” he says. He started to write it at a critical point in his life when his mother was really old, and she was in a special house for elders. It was difficult to talk with her. “It was terrible, that is how I started writing the book but it’s not about me,” he says.
The director of the movie, Jean-Paul Rouve, is a very famous French actor. “He is a very funny actor. When we were writing the screenplay, it was very exciting and there was a lot of humour involved.” The first part of the screenplay was written by David himself. When David proposed the movie to Jean-Paul Rouve he loved both the book and the screenplay. Then they started writing the rest of it together.
The story of Charlotte is set in Nazy Germany and revolves around a young artist from a Jewish artistic family. It is the real story of German painter, Charlotte Salomon. She had a tragic life and was gassed by the Nazi when she was 26 years old, with her unborn child. “I was pretty obsessed by her work, her life and who she was. I was full of admiration for her, for me, it was sad that she was forgotten. I researched a lot on her, I managed to find witnesses from the past,” shares David.
He studied about her for 10 years. “I wanted readers to never forget her and the book was beyond all my hopes as it became the bestselling book in France in 2014. Now many European nations, including Germany holds exhibitions and tours dedicated to her. Reviving her memory is the most important thing I have done in my artistic life,” he opined.
Charlotte didn’t feel like a Jew in the beginning. She used to celebrate Christmas in hotels. Year after year, life became difficult for her. “Maybe that’s why she became such an expressive artist, why she started to write and to create. It is amazing to see how full of intensity, life and humour her work is,” David says.
The writing style of the book is significant due to the author expressing his views within the narration of the story. “The role of books is to create images in your mind. Even in the 19th Century before the age of movies, novelists such as Flaubert created picture in the minds of the readers. It’s the first book where I wrote my feelings. It is Charlotte’s story, but it’s also about my relationship with her,” he confides.
Delicacy is the tragic story of Natalie after her husband dies. Then she meets and falls in love with a goofy guy. “For me a when a book is being adapted into a movie, it doesn’t have to be the exact same. I created lot of new scenes for this movie,” he says. “The book sold so much because most of the readers are women and women long to meet a guy who understands them,” he opines.
When a novel is being adapted, what one expresses with words in writing has to be expressed with scenes and the objects in the picture. “One thing I like about making movies is the fact that you have to be on constant lookout for new ideas. When my books are translated some make very good translations and others very bad translations. In a way I don’t care. Same goes when it come to my movies, even if the adaptation is not very good, what’s important to me is the book,” he concluded.
Pic by Sassanda Liyanarachchi