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L'illustré   (N° 37) 39th year
Lausanne, September 10, p 69-70


amateur actor,
in the role of the novelist Simenon

A documentary on
the most fertile of modern writers

by Renée Senn

original French

Echandens— Spotlights on the facade of the chateau in which Georges Simenon lives, and where they're shooting some footage for what won't be a biography, but rather a "newsflash" on the life and working methods of the fertile novelist. One of his characters – the President, personified by Michel Simon – and some pre-war news sequences, will serve as context for this documentary by a Frenchman, Lausannois by adoption: the film-maker Hauduroy.

To describe Georges Simenon, the camera of the documentarist Jean-François Hauduroy has become migratory. The action of the film is located successively today at Echandens, close to Lausanne, in Paris, Milan, Cointrin, Ouchy, Normandy. Actual scenes include the place du Dôme and the Galeries de Milan, the banks of the Seine, the library of an old Norman house and Simenon's home, the charming chateau at Echandens, where he lives with his wife and three younger children, aged nine, six, and three months. To this point, the crew has come up against only one setback: There will be no shot of the author on the cliffs of Etretat... Simenon is subject to vertigo.

The title of the movie has not yet been decided. They're considering "Simenon, the Novel Tree," a good definition of the man and his stupendous fertility, since he "bears" novels the way an apple tree bears fruit. In about thirty years he has written 166 novels, not counting all those he signed with one of his 17 pseudonyms (Christian Brull, Georges Sim, Jean de Perry, Gom Gut...), so various that somewhat unscrupulous publishers put works signed with an unknown name today on sale with, on the band, the teaser, "An old Simenon?"

Hauduroy's film won't be a biography, but rather a 'newsflash' on the life of a novelist whose brain is a crucible of ideas, of recollections, of characters seen, noticed and retained; prisoners in an exceptional memory. Simenon finds himself periodically forced to write a novel, no doubt when the pressure becomes too great in his head, when his memory is full, when his crucible of ideas overflows.

Hauduroy, author of the script, intends to explain how Simenon writes a book. The chosen work already exists: "The President". Simenon situated the action in Normandy and in Paris. When he wanted to name his politician hero – a fusion of memories, impressions, and inventions – he followed his normal way: looking through the telephone book. But this time the process failed, and he couldn't find a name for his character. For this reason he never mentions one in the work, using just his title, "the president."

On screen Simenon will co-star with this character born of his pen. The author and the president appear alternately. It is for Jean-François Hauduroy, who does his first production (after having been, from "Edward and Caroline" to "Arsène Lupin", the assistant to Jacques Becker), doubly lucky. Because next to Simenon, docile as movie stars are only rarely, ready for all retakes and always gracious, Hauduroy will direct, in the president's role, the greatest actor of our time, Michel Simon. Archived newsreels, in rapid sequence, will evoke what could be the president's political past. There will be no musical score for this movie on Simenon, but an accompaniment of sound effects by Philippe Arthuis, Rossellini's musical collaborator for "India 58".

To shoot the facade of Echandens, one of J.-P. Martin's two "skywalkers" has been freighted by M. Albert Mermoud and the organizers of the "Guild of the Book", co-producers of the film with "Son et Lumière" (the French enterprise whose creation and name precede the nocturnal spectacles). His "skywalker" is a very manageable contraption of which the doubly articulated arm permits all possible camera displacements in space; spanning about 45 feet. Pierre Goupil (veteran chief cameraman, famous since "The Story of a Goldfish" won grand prize at Cannes 1959) spent hours between earth and sky, in the cockpit of the "skywalker", under the eyes of Echandens villagers who calculated humorously the advantages of this device for picking cherries.

A Frenchman raised in Lausanne since the age of twelve, graduate of the Ecole Nouvelle de Chailly, Jean-François Hauduroy, 30, denies his adherence to the new wave. "Too late," says the towering (well over six feet) Hauduroy with a smile, "Thirty is too old for the new wave."

Renée SENN

G. Simenon, amateur actor, in the role of the novelist Simenon. Seated at his worktable, Georges Simenon listens to the instructions of director J.-Fr. Hauduroy, while Pierre Goupil, chief cameraman (right), having made all his adjustments, awaits the signal to "Roll 'em".

Simenon composes the characters and places of his novels with meticulous care. He draws the plan of the house of his "President," defines mentally – and in his notes – the character of his hero. Then, he will write his book, at the rate of a chapter per day.

Jean, 9, and Marie-Georges, 6, receive a visit from their father, Georges Simenon, in the nursery. The script of the Hauduroy movie projects a brief scene in which Simenon's children (the youngest is hardly 3 months), and Mme Simenon, the novelist's active secretary, appear.

translation by Stephen Trussel

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