Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. What led you first to comic strips then to cartoon films?
A. When I was small, I loved comic books like Tintin and Pif
Gadget. I started to draw very young. My parents say I asked for
a pencil at the age of two, so I could draw our TV set that had
an ornament of Juanita Banana, from the Henri Salvador hit, sitting
on top of it.
Then, whenever anyone said, what would you like to do later?,
I always replied, draw comics.
After graduating from high school, I was trained as a stylist
at the school of applied arts. I soon realised Id taken
a wrong turn. Luckily for me, Pichard, the man who drew Paulette,
was there. He recommended I apply to join the school at Angouleme,
which had just been started.
I sketched out a strip and this got me into the school. I stayed
there for three years and met both Hubert Chevillard and Nicholas
de Crecy. I wrote a script called The Bridge in Mud for Hubert
(published by Glenat), who is a great draughtsman. He has gone
into animation as well now.
I remember a gorilla he animated, which was really impressive.
His kindness and friendship led me to Didier Brunner, the producer
of Belleville Rendez-vous. I also wrote scripts for Nicolas de
Nicolas did the backgrounds for The Old Lady and the Pigeons.
When I graduated from Angouleme, I needed to find a way to earn
my living. At the time, I felt that animation was somehow too
technical for me. I decided to go to England to become an illustrator.
I arrived knowing no one and was advised to show my drawings to
people who worked in animation studios.
People were much nicer to me than they had been in France. I was
told not to worry, no one becomes an animator overnight, animation
is learnt in stages.
I passed a test and was set to work. I found myself working with
some great people. I went to festivals and discovered fantastic
films. One day, at the Annecy Festival, I saw Nick Parks
short, Creature Comforts, which has plasticine animals explaining
what life is like in a zoo.
The voices are in point of fact real voices of people talking
about their homes. The film is a masterpiece. It made me want
to make one of my own. I met Didier Brunner, of Les Amateurs,
who wanted to produce quality animation. I pitched The Old Lady
and the Pigeons to him. From the day I gave him the synopsis to
the day the film was finished, ten years went by.
Q. Ten years!
A. It was a long and complicated business. At first, no French
TV station would back us. We raised some money from the French
National Film Centre, but not enough to finish the whole film.
We decided to start anyway.
I went to work with one assistant and with Nicholas de Crecy designing
the backgrounds. We shot the first part at Folimage Studios in
Valence, animating scene by scene in chronological order till
we had a four-minute sequence. We showed these opening scenes
all over the place, but no one would give us money.
After a while, I left for Canada, totally disheartened, determined
to make a new start. I worked on commercials until Didier Brunner
managed to get Colin Rose, of the BBC, interested. Thanks to Colin,
we were able to raise funding from other TV stations and so got
a Franco-Canadian co-production going.
Q. The Old Lady and the Pigeon was a huge success and won
many prizes. How did you raise funding for a feature?
A. Belleville Rendez-vous was five years in development, which
is an improvement on The Old Lady
It was finished in half
the time, though its three times longer. At first, Didier
Brunner, who had just had a hit with Kirikou and the Witch, suggested
I make a feature in three parts, using the Old Lady as main character.
I wasnt so sure, because by the end of the movie, shes
crazy as hell and I also didnt like the idea of recycling
a character. I thought about using triplet sisters. The first
would be the Old Lady with the Pigeons, the second would live
in the suburbs of Paris and love cycling, the third would run
a roadside motel in the St Lawrence wilderness of Quebec.
The second part was called The Old Lady and the Bicycles and the
third Old Lady and the Ouaouarons which is Quebec dialogue for
frog. When I started to develop the second section, I realised
I had enough material to make a whole picture.
Didier accepted this, but it meant raising more money, to make
up for the missing third, as the Old Lady and the Pigeons was
no longer part of the project. So I went ahead and developed my
story, using the frog idea from what had been going to be the
I kept the French title, Les Triplettes de Belleville, that later
became Belleville Rendez-vous for the English version. Then, it
turned out I had to change the design of Cmapions grandmother
from the original Old Lady when the Canadian co-producer
of my short asked for an astronomical amount of money in exchange
for letting us re-use the character.
And so Madame Souza was born, a Portuguese lady with a club-foot.
She brought us a great deal more than the original Old Lady would
have done. We kept the title when the three music-hall singers
appeared in our tale.
Q. How would you describe your style?
A. Its based on mine and character-acting. Im
more influenced by live camerawork than by animation. By Jacques
Tati, of course, but also by all those silent movie stars, Charlie
Chaplin, Buster Keaton
Timing is crucial too. Thats
why I love Louis de Funes, and all those British comedies like
Absolutely Fabulous or Black Adder with Rowan Atkinson.
I also like Richard Williams animation and Tex Avery. In
comic strips, Goossens is a master of timing.
Q. In The Old Lady and the Pigeon and in Belleville Rendez-vous,
the interiors are humble but welcoming, they are reminiscent of
France in the 1950s and 1960s. The exteriors are evocative of
Paris. Why are you attached to this atmosphere and the characters
that go with it?
A. Because I come from a humble background, not a smart one.
I remember going to see an old lady who lived next door to one
of my aunts and finding her small flat that smelled of polish
where every object, however insignificant, was shown at its best.
I could never direct a story set in a world of rich people. My
inspiration comes from my own experience.
Q. What is so fascinating about railway landscapes, about
bridges and the Tour de France?
A. Im more interested in the people one sees during
the Tour de France than in the race itself. I remember watching
in fascination as guys would throw pens and caps by the handful
all along the way. And, as I grew up in the suburbs, trains were
a part of my life. Suburban trains are a constant reminder that
tomorrow you are going to have to get up and go to work. When
I was a student, Id look at old photographs, and try to
picture the scenes behind them. I remember a picture of a bridge
with an engine driving along above a small town below.