“Life is a long quiet river”, broadcast this evening on TFX, marks the debut on the screen of Benoit Magimel, aged only 13, chosen from among 1600 candidates. Back on the first steps of a star seed.
Great public and critical success of the year 1988, Life is a long quiet river, broadcast tonight on TFX, has established itself as one of the most popular French comedies, with its cult lines. First feature film by Etienne Chatiliez who had hitherto illustrated himself in the production of advertisements, the filmmaker succeeded in betting on a cast of mostly unknown faces. Only Daniel Gélin had already made a name for himself in the cinema, others like Hélène Vincent or André Wilms were more familiar with the boards.
If it was initially a constraint, because not having been able to access famous actors for its distribution, Chatiliez will confide, thereafter, that it was a chance: “When you make a first film, you don’t have the right to stars. You are not known, they do not come. This is ultimately a good thing because you come across excellent actors, with whom you feel more comfortable than with someone who puts you 10-0 upfront.“.
A real revelation of the film, thanks to his “chameleon” role, from the well-combed Maurice Le Quesnoy to the disheveled Momo Currant, Benoit Magimel was only 12 years old when he responded to a casting announcement, which will allow him to get everything first role in the cinema, moreover a main role. His profile was selected from among 1,600 applications. He is not what we call a “child of the ball”, he is the son of a nurse and a bank clerk, and grows up in Paris.
“It’s the beginning, my first contact with this profession“, recalls Benoit Magimel, in an interview with Large screen. “It was a vacation for me. It was both an adult world that listened to me, hotels, expenses, I was given pocket money, all that. It was like a dream. I was shooting during the holidays. I really had fun, it was the pleasure of acting. It was an unforgettable movie for that.”
After this experience, Magimel decides to quit school and devote himself fully to an acting career. “As I left school at 16, I was a little self-conscious. And out of step with the other actors, who had often taken courses, who knew the names of the directors. I landed in an environment of which I did not have the codes“, he confides in a long interview to Telerama, in 2018. “I learned on the job, as an autodidact. I told myself that this job could not be so simple, that we had to acquire a technique. I saw some who worked hard, but to me, I was told not to work. (…) There are no rules in this profession. What works for one does not work for another. You have to find your own method, mine was rather to be a bad student. Don’t even give a damn. This is also what I learned from Chabrol: knowing how to relax, take some distance.”
In 1989, he joined the cast of Papa est parti, also mum of Christine Lipinska, and also played under the direction of Michel Deville or Benoît Jacquot during the 1990s. He also made an appearance in La Haine. Benoit Magimel quickly realizes the importance of not getting locked into one type of role. “I wanted to cover things up. The risk of being locked up, I felt it quite quickly, with my role of thief in Les Voleurs (1996) by André Téchiné. What I had succeeded in doing, I was immediately asked to do again. This is the trap“, he confides in a long interview to Telerama, in 2018. “This is why comic actors dream of acting in dramas and vice versa. From my first film in fact, I tasted the great social gap. The Momo of Life is a Long Quiet River is born among the rich but grows among the poor… As a kid, I felt at ease everywhere. Perhaps this is due to the differences between my parents: my father, a bank employee, was concerned about social success; my mother, nurse, less attached to a materialistic life“.
With 4 million admissions, Life is a Long Quiet River is the 4th most viewed film in France in 1988, behind The Big Blue, The Bear and Who wants the skin by Roger Rabbit ?. He also received 7 César nominations, and won 4 statuettes: best first work, best supporting role (Hélène Vincent), best screenplay, best female hope (Catherine Jacob). Étienne Chatiliez has since alternated between great success (Auntie Danielle, Le Bonheur est dans le pré…) and failures (Confidence reigns, Agathe Cléry…) at the box office.
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