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2008 Festival Feature Films (March 28-30)

Jean de La Fontaine, le défi

French director Daniel Vigne presents the North American premiere of Jean de La Fontaine, le défi

director Daniel Vigne screenplay Jacques Forgeas producers Fabienne Servan-Schreiber, Jean-Pierre Fayer starring Lorant Deutsch, Philippe Torreton, Sara Forestier, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Julien Courbey, Jean-Pierre Malo, Jocelyn Quivrin running time 1 h 40 min although not rated, parental guidance suggested


On Sept. 5, 1661, Paris awakens to news that the superintendent of finance, Fouquet, has been arrested by order of Colbert, Louis XIV’s powerful adviser. The young king is becoming an absolute ruler. While other artists betray their original patrons and rush to pay court to the almighty monarch, only the poet Jean de La Fontaine remains faithful to the fallen superintendent. Colbert vows to crush the rebel, the only artist in the kingdom to place his art above the king. But in spite of his poverty, La Fontaine remains true to his convictions and, though penniless, continues his resistance. His acute and spirited observations inspire his Fables, satirical tracts against the despotic regime.

Daniel Vigne

1994 L’Attente (in 3000 scénarios contre un virus)
1990 Jeanne, la putain du roi (scriptwriter)
1989 Comédie d’été
1985 Une femme ou deux
1982 Le Retour de Martin Guerre
1977 Le Sept à la butte (short film)
1973 Les Hommes

Lorant Deutsch

2007 Big City by Djamel Bensalah
  Toni by Alix de Maistre
  Le Plaisir de chanter by Ilan Duran Cohen
2005 Ze film by Guy Jacques (VCU French Film Festival 14)
  Le Temps des portes-plumes by Daniel Duval
2004 L’Américain by Patrick Timsit
  Pour le plaisir by Dominique Deruddère
2003 Ripoux 3 by Claude Zidi
  Nos amis les flics by Bob Swaim
2002 Bienvenue chez les Rozes by Francis Palluau
Sens dessus dessous by Vincent Buffé
A louer by James L. Frachon
Les Amateurs by Martin Valente (VCU French Film Festival 12)
Le Coût de la vie by Philippe Le Guay
2001 Le Raid by Djamel Bensalah
Ta sœur by Martin Valente
3 Zéros by Fabien Onteniente
Ces jours heureux by Olivier Nakache
2000 Un aller simple by Laurent Heynemann
L’Envol by Steve Suissa
Jet Set by Fabien Onteniente
HS by Jean-Paul Lilienfeld
Scenarios sur la drogue: Exta-ordinaire by Manuel Boursinhac
1999 Peut-être by Cédric Klapisch
1998 Le Ciel, les oiseaux et… ta mère! by Djamel Bensalah
1997 Y a du foutage dans l’air by Djamel Bensalah

Philippe Torreton

2006 Ulzhan by Volker Schlöndorff
2005 Le Grand Meaulnes by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe
  Adam et Eve by Michel Deutsch
2004 Les Chevaliers du ciel by Gérard Pirès
  Monsieur N. by Antoine de Caunes
  Dear Hunter by Franck Saint-Cast
  L’Equipier by Philippe Lioret
2002 Corps à corps by François Hanss, Arthur-Emmanuel Pierre
2001 Vertiges de l’amour by Laurent Chouchan
2000 Félix et Lola by Patrice Leconte
1999 Ca commence aujourd’hui by Bertrand Tavernier
Tôt ou tard by Anne-Marie Etienne
1996 Capitaine Conan by Bertrand Tavernier
Le Bel Eté, 1914 by Christian de Chalonge
  La Servante aimante by Jean Douchet
1995 L’Appât by Bertrand Tavernier
1994 L’Ange noir by Jean-Claude Brisseau
  Oublie-moi by Noémie Lvovsky
1993 Une nouvelle vie by Olivier Assayas
  L. 627 by Bertrand Tavernier
1991 La Neige et le feu by Claude Pinoteau
Dernier regard by Philippe Coroyer

Comments by Daniel Vigne (director)

When I was a child, I thought La Fontaine was at best amusing and at worst boring. As I grew up, I learned to access this author’s hidden meanings and I discovered a man in permanent conflict with the established political power, which I quite like about him. Jean de La Fontaine, le défiToday, La Fontaine is everywhere without our really noticing it. Comics seized upon his animals and politicians his maxims. He’s quoted on the television news. What he said about the court and the king in his most openly political fables, such as The Animals Sick of the Plague” and The Lion’s Court,” is more topical than ever. He decried flatterers and empty propaganda, compared the court to a mass grave and pointed out the danger in letting a country be governed by one man.

Interview with Philippe Torreton (actor)

What was your reaction upon reading the script?
I discovered that La Fontaine was quite a free thinker at a time when it was complicated to be so. I had a misconception of him. Like many people, I was distracted with the moral aspect of his work and underestimated him, because obviously I haven’t read everything he wrote — the Fables or the rest. But I then took a closer look and now see that the “morals” of his stories are rather ambiguous. Jean de La Fontaine, le défiTake The Grasshopper and the Ant.” What does he want to say there? Is he denouncing the selfishness of the ant or the carelessness of the grasshopper? Coming from an artist, it would be a bit surprising to begrudge the grasshopper, wouldn’t it? In the final analysis, his morals are more open-ended — he shows us a mirror and we draw our own conclusions. There is a good deal of malice in these fables and at the time, even though Aesop and others had led the way, he was clever enough and had the courage to make them fashionable again for his day. I can imagine the talk in the salons: “Oh, well, I’m reading about a tortoise and a hare and don’t yet know who shall win!?!” For me, La Fontaine was a man who had the courage of his artistic ambitions — he was undoubtedly unaware that he would be so successful, but while everyone was telling him to give up, he carried on. Something in him was unable to do anything else and I find that quality to be beautiful when you see the lives of such talents as Racine or Lulli who gave in more than he did.

Jean de La Fontaine is faced by Colbert, his opposite in a way.
Colbert was an unremittingly hard worker, an intelligent man who had a rather high idea of himself, who was in any case aware of what he could contribute to France. I don’t think he had any realization at the end of his life of all his accomplishments. In some letters from the time when he was still in the service of Mazarin, he complains that he doesn’t have enough work to do. If he didn’t have five or six important matters on the go, he felt like he was wasting his time.




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