#Iamhere director Eric Lartigau talks Korea, its culture and making new friends
“On the internet, people publicly say ‘I love you’ and like to exaggerate their private lives. In the film Stephan writes the hashtag #Iamhere, but from that moment he really isn’t here. This is a film where people discuss the true meaning of ‘I am here.’”
This is what French director Eric Lartigau of “#Iamhere” — a journey of a French chef named Stephan who spontaneously travels to Korea to meet a woman he meets on the internet — said at the film’s world premiere at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival (BIFF).
In Korea, the director is known for films such as “The Belier Family” (2015) and “The Big Picture” (2013). In “#Iamhere,” Lartigau works with French actor Alain Chabat — known for “The Taste of Others” (2001) and “Rent A Wife” (2007). Seventy percent of the movie, which hit local theaters nationwide on Jan. 14, was filmed in Korea.
The mysterious woman Stephan blindly travels to Seoul to meet, named Soo, is played by actor Bae Doo-na.
As soon as Stephan lands at Incheon International Airport, he loses touch with Soo and ends up roaming around the city in search of her, using hashtags.
The filming took place in the fall of 2018 and the following spring. The director filmed in various parts of Seoul such as Yeouido, western Seoul, while its cherry blossoms were in full bloom, at Jongno Tower, Gwangjang Market and Cheonggyecheon in central Seoul. When asked why he chose Seoul in an email interview conducted with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, before the local premiere of the film, Lartigau answered, “It’s because it’s a country with rich culture and arts.”
Lartigau met Bae 10 years ago through his friend and fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquiere.
“I always liked Bae’s freshness, mysterious face and her various sides,” Lartigau said. “I like it when she soaks into her surroundings, and it’s really rare to come across an actor who can portray a variety of genres like comedy, action and drama.”
After becoming friends with Bae, Lartigau thought he knew Korea and that he would be able to make friends in the country quickly and easily. He soon found out that was not the case.
“I think Koreans are not used to ‘touch,’ which Europeans are familiar with,” he explained. “Before I knew Korea, I met Bae, and I thought Koreans were very open, curious and able to accept [differences], but when I came to Korea it took a while to become friends with them. But I was also stimulated by the aspects that I didn’t know about them.”
One of the aspects that the director was so inspired by was the Korean "sense" — a kind of radar in which people grasp the atmosphere of the room without being told.
“I learned about that difference in our cultures when our writer was pitching the film while we were in the process of writing the script," Lartigau said. “French people are very straightforward. It's really fun when I get to learn about and interact with different cultures from different countries.”
Audiences will be able to see just how deeply Lartigau was influenced by Korean culture, for instance when Stephan visits Jongmyo Shrine, or the royal ancestral shrine, there is an explanation about how the kings’ spirits walk on the paths.
“I was touched when I visited Jongmyo that there is a path for spirits, which is why people should not walk on them and leave them empty,” he said.
In a panel discussion after the BIFF screening, Bae said, "It was a pleasure to have worked with the great actor Alain Chabat, no matter how fleeting it was. It was hard learning French while I was filming for the second season of “Kingdom” — I would practice every night with my dialogue coach through Skype — but it was a good opportunity for me to learn.”
When it comes to future work, Lartigau singled out actor Song Kang-ho as someone he hopes to collaborate with.
“I became immersed in Korean films after I saw ‘Memories of Murder’ at the 2004 Cognac Festival du Film Policier — I’ve liked Song ever since,” he said. “I became curious about the director [Bong Joon-ho] too. I wondered how he could have depicted the way the police detectives were stuck trying to catch the serial killer. I was shocked about how he explained the difficult parts in an easy and simple way.”
Lartigau had the chance to meet Bong at the 2019 Lumiere Film Festival.
“I met Bong like 10 seconds before hitting the stage," he reminisced. “I told him how much I loved his work, and he said ‘thank you’ ever so politely. He was cool.”
Lartigau has also met director Park Chan-wook several times.
“I had few dinners with Park in France,” he said. “I like the way Park sees the world. It’s very unique.”
Two years after filming in Korea, “#Iamhere” hit local theaters in the midst of the coronavirus. When asked about how he was dealing with the pandemic, Lartigau said it was “complicated.”
“France’s situation is very complicated due to the virus,” he said. “It’s like a comedy. France no longer cares about its citizens and we are out of budget as well. It’s very disappointing. [On the other hand] I think Korea handled the virus very well since it first began spreading [last year].
“It’s a virus that is impacting the whole world,” he continued. “Each country has its own values, religion, society — and the governments are enforcing different measures. Unlike us [French], Koreans are more attentive to each other’s stories. I went to Korea to film a great movie, and made so many memories. I hope this film can be a new kind of story for all of [the Korean audience].”
BY NA WON-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]