“I remember feeling frustrated and wanting to do something radical,” says Carmen Chaplin as she sits in the dressing room created on the top floor of L’Hôtel in Paris. There are black wigs hanging on the foam heads behind her, one newly cropped to be worn by Chaplin’s sister, Dolores (“Dolly”), in her role as M. in L’amour de Cinq a Sept. Chaplin not only wrote the short film, she’s now directing it here in the hotel where Oscar Wilde spent his last days. This is the third night of shooting from 10 p.m to 5 a.m. (“It’s like being in a casino,” Chaplin says of the windowless space with its leopard carpeted spiral staircase.) It’s 2 a.m., her boyfriend, filmmaker Ash Bhalla, hands her a tea. Someone yells “Room Service,” parodying a line in the film. Everyone laughs. Bhalla’s helping supervise Chaplin’s script for her first turn as a director. She’s already an established actress, well known for her work in France.
Tea in hand, Chaplin continues, “I had this boyfriend I thought was into my appearance, so I decided to shave my head.” The character M. has a similar hysteria as she waits for her married lover to arrive only to receive the inevitable call that he’s detained with his wife. Devastated, the beautiful M. breaks down. She’s saved by two intimate encounters, one with a beast-like bellboy and the other, an aged rock star turned fairy godmother played by Bambou Gainsbourg. It’s part Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete (the multi talented Frenchman’s letters and work hang in the salon downstairs) with perhaps a little of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere in the plot and setting. L’hotel is the backdrop to the story of M.’s misguided protagonist. Like Coppola, Chaplin has cinema in her blood. Her grandfather was Charlie Chaplin. The short will debut at Cannes where they are also planning a tribute to Charlie.
Come back tomorrow for Part II of this piece.