Films that use a woman's struggle with impending motherhood as material for comedy aren't exactly appreciated by French director Remi Bezancon. 'Most times they are caricatures,' he says. 'The best film about maternity is Alien.' Yes, that's the Ridley Scott sci-fi thriller in which a man is impregnated with and then torn apart by an extraterrestrial foetus.
Motherhood is anything but a joke in Bezancon's latest film, A Happy Event, which opens in Hong Kong this week. When the story begins, Barbara (played by Louise Bourgoin) is a gifted student who's just one philosophy thesis away from landing a professorship in a prestigious French university. But after a traumatic pregnancy and painful childbirth, her academic aspirations give way to a life of sleepless nights and soiled diapers - not to mention a broken marriage. Happy it surely isn't.
'The biggest challenge was to make [Barbara's life] as realistic as possible - especially when she's delivering the baby,' says the 40-year-old Parisian director.
The film is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel by philosopher-writer Eliette Abecassis. Producer Isabelle Grellat originally thought of recruiting a female filmmaker with experience of motherhood for the job. When he finished Abecassis' book, Bezancon called Grellat to offer his services. 'Because I'm a man and I don't have a child, I don't have a fantasy about the whole thing,' says the director. 'I have the distance you need to talk about this subject. I think I couldn't have made this film if I were a father because I would be too involved.'
The same reasoning led to Bezancon's decision to hand the role of Barbara to Bourgoin, who previously played feisty or dotty women in films such as The Girl from Monaco or The Extraordinary Adventures of Ad?le Blanc-Sec.
'She works on her role a lot and she's very serious about it,' Bezancon says of his star, who studied plastic arts in college before becoming a weather presenter on TV and then an actress.
'I wanted to have someone who hasn't had children yet, so that there would be no reference points for her. To prepare for the part, Louise followed a nurse for a week, seeing 10 childbirths.'
Bezancon co-wrote the script with his partner, Vanessa Portal.
'It's very interesting to write this with my wife, as it's a film which questions [the notion of] a couple ... it's a way to talk about these issues.'
Bezancon's two previous outings also examine domestic dynamics. His 2005 debut, the comedy Love is in the Air, shows how a man struggles to overcome a fear of flying, caused by the knowledge that his mother died giving birth to him in mid-flight.
The 2008 follow-up, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, charts the ebb and flow of life in a family through five key incidents across three decades. 'Families are interesting,' Bezancon says, 'because they are like small societies.'