Some places just lend themselves to being film sets. Picturesque, atmospheric, even scary, they have a certain je ne sais quoi that other locations seem to lack. Or that the camera can enhance beyond their everyday familiarity. Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val beneath the brooding gorges of the River Aveyron is such a place. In summer its winding streets are refreshingly cool and quaint; in winter it can be a bit misty and murky down by the river.
The town is no stranger to the silver screen. In 2001, it was chosen as the setting for part of the film Charlotte Gray, based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks and starring Cate Blanchett. For a few weeks, the film company took over. It changed all the modern shopfronts to their 1940s equivalents – and then changed them all back afterwards. And it recruited extras from the local population. I have to admit, I have never seen that film and I understand it was not an immediate success at the box office. As a result, the film company remodelled and shortened it.
This time, a film company – DreamWorks – is commandeering the town for several weeks in September. The unlikely-sounding pairing of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey (plus Juliet Blake) are jointly producing The Hundred-Foot Journey, based on a novel by Richard C. Morais. The star is our own Helen Mirren of The Queen fame. Swede Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) will direct the film.
The story concerns two rival restaurants in a French town, one a Michelin-starred establishment, the other an Indian restaurant run by émigrés from Southall. This sounds equally unlikely, but then anything goes in fiction.
The choice of Saint-Antonin, though, seems a little perverse. I believe the novel itself is set in an Alpine location. Saint-Antonin is certainly not Alpine. I wondered if they were planning to convert the local residences into mountain chalets and import tons of carbon dioxide snow. But perhaps they’ll take the easier route and alter the storyline to fit the location, one of Hollywood’s specialities.
Here’s the rub. I missed the extras’ casting session (they wanted 800), thus dashing my chances of making my big break on celluloid. I heard a rather nice story about the session but I have no idea if it’s true. Hopefuls had to present themselves bearing ‘une ou deux photos récentes en pied ou portrait’, i.e. full-length or mug shot. One person misread this and turned up with several photographs of their feet.
The town will effectively be closed for several weeks during the filming. Of course, it’s good news for local hotels, B&Bs and restaurants. The subsequent publicity will also be beneficial for the town. But I wonder what the locals will make of the disruption. Interestingly, Saint-Antonin’s official website is silent on the subject, unless I have simply missed it.
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