Director Régis Roinsard on Populaire

Fresh from his triumphant opening Gala, we spoke to Populaire director Régis Roinsard about the making of the film

Feature by Nathanael Smith | 17 Feb 2013

French director Régis Roinsard is as bright and charming as Populaire, his debut feature, which opened this year's Glasgow Film Festival. When we meet in a plush city centre hotel the day after he presented the film to two sold-out audiences, he's keen to talk about his influences (Wilder, Godard and Tarantino among them), his filmmaking process and the real life competitive typing tournaments from which he drew inspiration. His responses to my questions are measured and thoughtful, and give the overwhelming impression of a humble man who is delighted with what he has achieved. “I’m proud," he says, simply, when I ask if his first film turned out as he had hoped, "and it’s very close to my original vision.”

He has every right to be pleased with Populaire: its peppy vibrance has won over both audiences and hardened critics alike. Its success, however, was not without challenges – “For a feature it’s a marathon, whereas when you do a music video it’s more like a 100m sprint” – but he sees film’s narrative of liberation echoed in his own personal journey. “For Louis and for Rose [the sweet couple around which Populaire is centred] it’s very important to be free," he tells me. "In my life it’s exactly the same; to do a movie is very important. Right now with Populaire, it’s freeing because it’s my own script. I chose everything for this movie: actors, costumes, crew.”

The more we talk, the more it becomes clear how personal the film is and how much of his vision appears on the screen. “I wrote the script and I directed the movie, and they are kind of the same thing," he explains. "Because during the mise-en-scène, it’s writing; during the editing, it’s writing.” The man's vision manifested itself in a distinct style of bright colours and sharp outfits that feels something like Mad Men meets Amelie. Eye-popping art design is one of Populaire's chief pleasures and Roinsard had this aesthetic in mind from the very early stages of pre-production. “When I finished the script, I made sure to put in a lot of references about the colours and image,” thus letting any hesitant producers know exactly what kind of film to anticipate.

The result is a vibrant view of the 1950s that may be candy-coloured but certainly doesn't candy-coat the more unpleasant aspects of the decade such as its institutionalised gender discrimination. “During the shooting and preparation of the movie, I worked very closely with the set decorator and the costumer and the director of photography to have the best vision of the 50s. Not the 50s generally, but my vision of the 50s.” It’s here that he begins to get carried away naming films he loves; he talks of Douglas Sirk, and of Populaire's striking hotel scene aspiring to be a cross between Vertigo and Une Femme est une Femme. Roinsard is quick to note, however, that his film is no exercise in homage: “I have a lot of references, but I try not to put them in the movie...”

Having said that, this is clearly the work of an unashamed cinéphile – Populaire's look acts as a nifty tribute to the films from the period in which it is set. When I suggest that there is an element of nostalgia in the film, however, he disagrees strongly. “I’m absolutely not nostalgic,” he says when I ask him about his choice to set his first film half a century ago, “I love the cinema from the 50s and 60s, but I also love a lot of movies from the 80s and right now.”

So why revel in the period elements? “I find it interesting to find truth in kind of ‘fake’ stuff. I think through the filter of the costume, of the set decor and the historical stuff, I am trying to find my own truth."

Populaire opened Glasgow Film Festival 2013 and is released in the UK 31 May by Entertainment One and Momentum pictures