Roschdy Zem stars in "Point Blank." (Magnolia Pictures )
Though his new thriller, "Point Blank," doesn't open in Los Angeles theaters until Friday, French filmmaker Fred Cavayé says he's already been fielding remake offers from Hollywood studios. For a former fashion photographer who got into feature filmmaking after age 40 and is on only his second feature as a director, that might sound like a stretch, or even wishful thinking. But Cavayé has been here before.
His first film, 2008's "Pour Elle" — about an ordinary man who goes to extraordinary lengths to spring his innocent wife from jail, where she is serving time on a murder charge — was remade last year by Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby," "Crash") as "The Next Three Days" with Russell Crowe. Though "Pour Elle" earned strong reviews, "The Next Three Days" was lambasted by critics and earned only about $21 million at the U.S. box office.
Despite that experience, Cavayé, 45, isn't averse to another remake. Speaking by phone recently from Paris, he said diplomatically that something was simply lost in translation between "Pour Elle" and "The Next Three Days."
"It was very flattering that this was my first film, which I wrote in my little apartment in Paris and two years later the man who is Clint Eastwood's scriptwriter [Haggis] is writing it and Russell Crowe is starring in it," said Cavayé. "I think the success of films is a very fragile thing. Every week you have very good films that come out that don't really have much success at the box office. Then you have middling and not-so-good films that are enormously successful. It all depends on what viewers want to see."
A fan of American films in general and Alfred Hitchcock movies in particular, Cavayé finds it amazing that Hollywood is interested in his films. "Here I have this influence of American films and I make French films that have this strong American influence, which in turn has been sold back to American filmmakers who want to remake a French film. The whole thing comes full circle."
"Point Blank" is a taut, roller-coaster ride clocking in at under 90 minutes about another everyman caught in an extraordinary situation. Samuel, a hospital nurse (Gilles Lellouche), saves the life of a thief (Roschdy Zem). The thief's henchmen kidnap the nurse's pregnant wife (Elena Anaya) to force him to spring their man from the hospital. But nothing goes according to plan as the police are in hot pursuit of Samuel and the thief.
Having an ordinary individual as a protagonist, said Cavayé, elicits the "maximum amount of emotion" from audiences. "It is much easier to feel emotion if you can identity with the characters," he said. "You can put yourself in their position. I want them to feel as much fear as they would if they themselves were that person."
Plus, he says, the writing is easier. "I think if you are dealing with an ordinary man in a film it's easier to write. For example, if you are writing about spies you have to do some research, whereas if I am writing about an ordinary man, I have my own experience to call on."
The breathless chase sequences for the $13-million film were shot on the streets and subways of Paris, a task Cavayé described as extremely difficult. "Our film is relatively low-budget," he said, "so we didn't have a lot of time. We were obliged to work very quickly. When we were shooting in the subway, we only had four hours to work. We worked from 1 to 5 a.m., which is the four-hour period when the Metro was closed.… All of the actors in the scenes lost weight but we did too because we were running after them with the cameras."
Originally, Cavayé had Zem in mind to play Samuel. "But as I continued writing, he was not really the right actor to play the part of the nurse," he said. "Gilles has a quality about him that when you see him, he has a kind of charisma that you want to like him, you want to be his best friend. He creates a lot of empathy on the part of the viewers."
Zem, Cavayé said, also has charisma, which allowed him to "convey a great deal of emotion without virtually any dialogue. He had this sphinx-like quality, which was important for the role."
Cavayé didn't offer up any casting ideas for the American version of "Point Blank," though the thriller may seem to be a good fit for Liam Neeson, who has had surprise box office success as a man thrust into action by violent, life-altering circumstances in 2009's "Taken" and this year's "Unknown."
As for titles, Cavayé admitted that French moviegoers got confused with the title "Pour Elle," which sounded more like a romance than a heart-pounding thriller. He didn't want to make the same mistake this time around. "I really wanted a title that would reflect what the film was about," he said. "So by calling it 'Point Blank' it makes it quite clear."
And his decision to give it the same title as John Boorman's 1967 classic noir of the same title? That, he said, is "also a little way of giving a tribute to Boorman and his film."