And The Winner Is... Philippe Ramos' "Fou D'amour"

in 39th Montreal World Film Festival

by Andrea Crozzoli

Late fifties of the last century. Uruffe, a small village in the Lorraine region, nestled in a green valley full of lush trees. Amidst this little paradise on earth, in a diabolical contrast, there stands a guillotine. A freshly severed head tells us its story. The story is that of Guy Desnoyers, a priest who has love affairs with several parishioners, one of whom becomes pregnant, and since he  loathes to lose his privileges, he kills her. When discovered, he ends up with his severed head placed in a basket.

French director Philippe Ramos drew from a true story to create his great film Fou d’amour (2015, France) about a priest “madly in love”, an unrepentant womanizer who with equal lightness exploits every possibility, offered him by his position as a parish priest. Ramos tells the story as a dramedy, staring as a comedy but – after Régine Fays, a blind girl (whose fictional blindness is purely symbolic in the film) gets pregnant and is killed by the pastor, who sinks ever so deeply in crime and debauchery – the film turns into a tragedy. Ramos had already made a short film about a priest, suffering from satyriasis, his Ici-bas (1996, France), whose suffocating and anguished atmosphere was however in stark contrast to the sun-lit, sometimes humorously sarcastic tone of Fou d’amour before it descends into tragedy.

If the voice-over of the dead writer, narrating the story of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard while floating face down in the pool had scandalized its contemporaries, Ramos ups the antes here with a voice-over narration, generated by the priest’s severed head after its fall into the guillotine basket. This macabre irony reminds of a classical Greek theater, where the tragic and the comic mask blend into each other. The director however does not want to generate discussions about death penalty or the sexuality of celibate priests, which might affect the viewers’ direct interaction with the characters and their environment. He considers himself a portraitist, not a socially-conscious filmmaker, and has found a perfect understanding and cooperation in his actor Melvil Poupaud, whose character is full of unabashed sexual vitality, yet far from being vulgar, which is a fine line to thread. His priest, young, handsome, charming and dynamic, is loved by his parishioners, participates in all kinds of communal activities, even forms a small football team for the kids.

Poupaurd wanted the sound recording of the narrator’s voice-over to be done “in situ,” directly on the set in order to capture the right emotion. The rest of his small crew, consisting of Dominique Blanc, Jacques Bonnaffé, Jean-François Stévenin and Diane Rouxel are also very good in animating this film of opposites: eroticism and mysticism, drama and comedy, life and death. The film is shot in Ain, in the Rhône-Alpes region, that is, mostly in Champagne-en-Valromey and Belmont-Luthézieu.

The encyclopedic director Philippe Ramos – who is also a painter, editor, cameraman, set designer, and draws his own story-boards – got the main prize, Grand Prix des Amériques, at the Festival du Film des Mondes. As a gesture of gratitude, he sent from Paris a five minute long collection of images, which he put together in just a few hours. An original and poetic form of saying thanks, full of poetry and modesty. Bravò!

Edited by Christina Stojanova