Robert Pattinson is one of the most popular and recognizable faces in the world today. With his ravishing looks and charming personality, the English actor has charmed and enraptured millions of moviegoers across the globe. Now, the actor is back with a brand-new project, and this time around he’s playing a very different kind of role. Inspired by the historical friendship between the artists Alexandre Decoudoir and Georges Helvetius, Pattinson brings his unique charm and boyish good humor to the character of Émile Bel Ami in âBel Amiâ. In a rare and revealing interview, Pattinson discusses the new movie and what it means to play a real-life friendship in cinema. Plus, find out what other projects he has coming up next!
Why Are You Playing Émile Bel Ami In ‘Bel Ami’?
As previously mentioned, âBel Amiâ is inspired by the friendship between the French writer Alexandre Decoudoir and the famous Swiss physician Georges Helvetius. Although the movie is set in 1899, the historical events that it is based on actually took place in the 1830s. (In the film, Decoudoir is played by Christopher Lambert and Helvetius is portrayed by John Malkovich.) In the real-life friendship, Decoudoir and Helvetius were polar opposites – the former was an avowed socialist and the latter was a staunch republican. (They reportedly detested each other so much that they refused to shake hands after their meeting.)
It was the publication of Decoudoir’s âBel Amiâ that first attracted the notice of the French film industry. (The book became an instant classic and was made into a play by Émile de la Peyrotellerie that premiered in Paris in 1839.) One of the most famous works of fiction by Decoudoir, âBel Amiâ tells the story of a brilliant yet dissolute literary critic named Émile Bel Ami who befriends a naive and beautiful young woman named Léa Halma. The book is filled with biting social commentary, clever banter, and satiric wit, which makes it an interesting and entertaining read for contemporary audiences. (âBel Amiâ was made into a film in 1936, and the famous friendship between the two men was recreated on the big screen.)
Since its premiere, âBel Amiâ has been adapted for screen on numerous occasions. Most notably, it was the 1929 version that starred John Gilbert, Marjorie Merriweather (Shelley Winters), and E.E. Convery that remains the best-known. (It was also the first movie to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.)
What Is The Film Adaptation Of ‘Bel Ami’ Like?
Although the characters and situations in âBel Amiâ may be difficult for some viewers to relate to, the experience of making the film is said to be quite the opposite. Indeed, it’s been reported that some of the most fun Pattinson had while filming was during the intimate scenes with Lambert and Malkovich, as they were both talented actors who gave an interesting and believable performance as the famous Frenchmen.
The French production company SODA (Society of Motion Picture Analysts), which adapted and released “Bel Ami” in theaters, was determined to do justice to the original story and provide a faithful translation from page to screen. (The DVD version of the film even features an “explicit content warningâ at the beginning of the credits because of the “mature content” in some of the scenes.)
A representative from SODA told Variety that “Bel Ami” is “more realistic, more intimate, and more interesting than most films of its kind.” The company also noted that the movie “presents various social issues that were a cause for concern in the early 1900s.”
In adapting “Bel Ami,” SODA also sought to stay true to the original story while still appealing to modern audiences. The studio noted that many scenes were cut from the book to make it more watchable, and part of the allure of this particular story is that it’s a pretty lengthy read. (No wonder it was made into a play in the first place!) However, the company acknowledged that some of the material had to be sacrificed in order to keep the film accessible to multiple viewers. (The play is around three hours long, and most films are closer to two hours long.)
How Is The Film Compared To The Book?
While the characters and situations in “Bel Ami” are indeed quite different than those in the book, the story is pretty much the same. (It’s set in the same universe as the book, but in a different decade.) As previously mentioned, the main character is named Émile in the book – but he’s renamed Émile Bel Ami for the cinema. (He also receives a more elaborate surname, which is pronounced “Bell-A-Mei,” in the movie.)
In the book, Émile Bel Ami is a literary critic who befriends a beautiful and naive young woman named Léa Hald; in the movie, Émile is a famous and brilliant French critic who befriends a young woman named Léa. (While Léa is a beautiful and talented musician who also happens to be a friend of Émile’s, the character is unnamed in the movie.)
Similarly, the character of Léa Hald in the book acts as a “modern Eve,” tempting and enticing men with her beauty and charm. In the movie, Léa is the temptress and Eve is her devoted and understanding husband. (Lambert plays the role of Hald in the movie, and Malkovich portrays Eve.)
There is one major difference between the book and the movie, though. In the book, Émile Bel Ami is a friend of the working class and allies himself with the oppressed masses. (Though he does enjoy the company of the wealthy, he often finds himself at odds with the capitalist establishment.) In the movie, Émile is friends with the upper class and allies himself with the elite. (He consistently clashes with the working class population and is portrayed as a bit of a snob.)
Is The Film An Answer To The Book?
As previously mentioned, “Bel Ami” is set in a different century, but it is also a continuation of the story told in the book. So, in a way, the film is an answer to the book. (Some authors and bloggers have even dubbed it a “book adaptation for the screen.”) However, as previously mentioned, Émile Bel Ami is a completely different character from the one in the book. Hence, while the films answers some questions, it also raises more queries.
The main character in the book is named Émile Bel Ami because in the early 1800s, he was a friend of Alexandre Decoudoir. (Though Decoudoir and Émile remained friends, they apparently grew distant after the publication of âBel Ami.â) In the early 1900s, the same character becomes Émile’s most outspoken critic, denouncing the “moral turpitude” of the rich and powerful. (He is particularly critical of Émile’s friend the Baron Philippe de Rothschild, accusing him of being a “hypocrite” and a “pawn of the ruling class.”)