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Sibling Revelry

Danièle Thompson Keeps It Together

French director Danièle Thompson arrived in New York with her luggage lost in transit, but the Parisian sisters in her film, La Bûche, have baggage to spare. Louba, the bohemian eldest, can't tell her married lover that she's pregnant; Sonia senses that her consummate bourgeois existence is slipping; Milla, the workaholic youngest, wants to forget the coming Christmas holidays entirely. "I'm an only child," the director says. "But I've always been fascinated by siblings, who are raised by the same people and imbued with the same values, yet turn out entirely unlike each other. Often they're born at different times in the life of a couple and so grow up in very different families."

For the perfect holiday mixture of angst and exaltation, Thompson drew upon memories of her Russian Jewish maternal grandfather. "He was a violinist—he had a 16-member orchestra, and with my grandmother as singer, they played the Russian nightclubs of Paris in the 1930s," she recalls. "I only met him a few times. He'd spent the war in hiding, and came out of that experience probably quite bitter and twisted. But I was fascinated by the photographs of him in silky shirts and fur jackets, and I wanted the film to have the tone of those Russian Yiddish melodies, so happy and frantic and then suddenly so sad."

Thompson has written dozens of screenplays with distinguished directors from Patrice Chéreau (Queen Margot) to Gérard Oudry, her father, who started her off with La Grande Vadrouille (1966), one of the biggest French box office hits ever. But her first turn as a director was fraught with ambivalence. "I wrote the screenplay, thinking maybe I'd direct it," she says. "I finished it on a Friday, and by Monday we were in production. Suddenly, you're like the general of an army. It's so different from sitting at a desk with another writer and talking all day, in a warm room, with a cup of tea, on your own schedule. But I loved working with actors." Christopher Thompson, her son, acts in the film and cowrote the script with her. What's it like to work within the oedipal triangle? "Well, any cowriter you work with closely becomes like family," she explains. "You have to put a lot of your guts and deep feelings on the table. Except that, when the film is over, you're not family with them anymore. But with my father or my son, I am. In fact, when you're with your own family, you have more things to hide."

 
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