Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Mr Cess Du est Monsieur Foxy
Mr Cess Du est Monsieur Foxy
C’est va? Noblesse noblige. Comment allez vous? Bon soir. Bon jour. Je m’appelle Cess Poole. Je t’aime. Qui, qui, madame. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Comme ce comme ca. Je ne sais quoi. Je suis un enfant terrible.
The last stock phrase I would live to regret.
“Qui”, I thought with a few pigeon phrases in the foreign tongue of French at my disposal, I felt very confident when I was offered a small cameo role in a movie called “Crime de Monsieur Stil, Le”. I was sorely in need of confidence, as I would have to perform the whole role speaking French.
By the end of my four week shoot I had a new understanding and appreciation of the stock French phrase, Honni soit qui mal y pense -Evil be to him who evil thinks.
The movie script was freely adapted from the novel “Crime in the Gabon” by Georges Simenon, the creator of the famous detective of the fifties and sixties, Maigret.
Gabon was a French West African colony till independence came in August of 1960. An enterprising and delightful young lady our director, Ms. Claire Devers had set her heart on making the definitive French film on the political chaos that occurred during the mass exodus of the French colonial masters in the years just before Mr. Leon M’ba assumed the presidential office in 1961. The movie was of the political crime thriller genre and the basic story line was full of promise.
The Gabon was in a stable, if somewhat autocratic state at the time. Africa’s longest serving president, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba was in power and was running a smooth dictatorial African ship. But as a civil war was raging next door in the Congo, the location chosen for this made-for-TV-epic was the Northern Cape of South Africa. Our base camp and lodgings were in the small town of Keimoes and all our set locations were within a two hundred-kilometre radius of the town.
This whole region of Orange River basin and the surrounding area is renowned for the growing of grapes, critus fruits, the delicious yellow clingstone peach and the production of many fine wines.
Some farmers even brewed their own marvelous illicit concoction known to the locals as Mampoer. This is the South African version of Moonshine or Irish Potcheen. The latter two being excellent tasty beverages, I was very eager to taste the local rendition.
Fire-water-extraordinaire is the best description I can give this potent medicinal drink. The medicine is made from the skins and off-cuts of the yellow clingstone peach and was of exceptional quality. So “Toddie” and I were in second heaven.
Forty-one kilometres to the west of Keimoes lies another small town called Kakamas, and to the East another one-horse town by the name of Pofadder. The name Kakamas is shrouded in mystery, with the most likely explanation of the derivation is that it comes from the Koranna Khoe words for "poor grazing".
And that the area certainly is.
The town of Pofadder was named after Klaas Pofadder, a bushman or Koi-Koi Captain of the area. Pofadder again is surrounded by “poor grazing” and is the centre of the local sheep trade, and is well known to geologists and mineralogists because of the many interesting geological deposits found there.
“Kak” or “Kuk” as it is pronounced in Afrikaans means shit. And “Pofadder” or “Puffadder” as I - a rooinek would pronounce it, is one of the deadliest snakes in Africa. I supply all this information so that you will note, to put it mildly, we were barracked in the back of beyond!
Mademoiselle Dever was a fiery lady and the producer from France; George Campana seemed to be on the ball. However as always in our industry, money is always the bottom line. The only reason the movie was being shot in South Africa was not the coup in the Congo, it was because the local English speaking actors, who had been cast in all the supporting roles, would cost less than flying in genuine French thespians.
This as you can imagine, caused problems, strangely enough not on the monetary issues but on the creative issues. Not one us of could string a single sentence together in French!
We all had a smattering of French. We had either studied it at school as one of our foreign languages or had taken it at University. Dialogue coaching from a young French lady was the order of the day. We practiced and practiced but never seemed to improve. We were told that we had to speak in French so as to help the French actors in Paris who would dub, and post-sync, their voices.
Brilliant! I thought.
They are never going to use our voices. All they are interested in is that our lips make the right movements. So I quickly made my character a man of many gesticulations. When he was pensive, he would talk with his hand half covering his mouth. When he wild and angry he would move his hands so erratically that they would cross his face every two seconds. And when I was totally at a loss for words and up-shit-arse-creek without the proverbial paddle I would spin around turning my back to the camera.
My character developed in leaps and bounds. After a few days Ms. Devers had me sussed. “Ah, ah Monsieur Foxy is on the set, bon jour.” was her morning greeting to me.
She had observed my interest in keeping most of my face out of shot during the previous night’s shoot. Scene soixtante neuf ( 69, no pun intended) was four pages long. That’s about three minutes of screen time. All the non-French speaking actors were in it. Some of us had fifteen lines, some only six or seven, I was in seventh heaven, I only had one and it was only six words long.
It was set in the country club bar, a small area of twenty square metres. Ms. Devers wanted to get the whole scene in one traveling hand-held-shot. This would require the greatest skill from all the actors and the camera crew. Shooting the scene in ten takes would have been excellent if we had been speaking in English.
At 4.45 am. the following morning, ten hours after we’d started, we wrapped the scene. It had taken us forty-one takes! This was a record for all of us working on the scene. The French expletive, “Merde!!!!” was ringing in our ears as we crawled off to bed.
As Ms. Devers greeted me at twelve noon the following day, I was full of the, joie de vivre, the joys of life.
I had a day off. “Bon jour, ma pleasure mademoiselle”, I replied handing her “Toddie” so she could have a sip. She knocked back a hefty gulp and went into an immediate seizure, gasping and coughing.
“What is this?” she asked in between bouts of panting convulsions.
“She is the evil Mampoer mademoiselle, the medicine of the fox, the creme de la creme, a gift from enfant terrible.” I replied.
“Honni soit qui mal y pense - Evil be to him who evil thinks Monsieur Foxy”, she answered as she walked away laughing in the African sun.