“CODA”, adaptation of “The Bélier Family” to conquer the Oscars

Los Angeles (AFP) – A low-budget film with 100% French financing, deprived of theatrical release by the pandemic, “CODA” has overcome all the obstacles one by one, accumulating prizes in recent weeks to rank among the big favorites for the Oscars.

Few know it or care about it in Hollywood, but “CODA” is the adaptation of a French success, “La Famille Bélier” by Eric Lartigau, which had already created a surprise in France by exceeding the milestone of three million spectators in cinemas when it was released at the end of 2014.

“+ La Famille Bélier + was a wonderfully successful comedy, as we like them in France. With + CODA +, (the director) Sian Heder made it an American independent film as Americans like them, more of a dramatic comedy”, analyzes Philippe Rousselet , the French producer who carried the projects on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I think the two films took the best of what we know how to do in each country. As a producer, it makes the journey extremely interesting, I didn’t have the impression of really making the same film” , he assures AFP, who met him in Los Angeles a few days before the Oscars ceremony.

The director of “CODA”, Sian Heder, rewarded at the BAFTAs, March 13, 2022 in London Ben Stansall AFP

The success can be explained in both cases “mainly by the story they tell and their characters, it was not a question of means. It is an extremely singular and strong story”, underlines Mr. Rousselet.

Both works follow a high school student torn between her newfound passion for singing and her family, all of whose other members are deaf and depend on her to communicate with the hearing world. “CODA” is the acronym for “Child of deaf adult”, literally “hearing child of deaf parents”.

As in the original film, many of the dialogue in “CODA” is done in sign language, which the actress playing teenager Ruby (Emilia Jones) and director Sian Heder learned for the occasion.

But while “La Famille Bélier” featured hearing stars (François Damiens and Karin Viard), “CODA” favored authenticity by giving the roles to deaf actors, relatively unknown.

Actress and singer Louane Emera receives a César for her role in the film "The Aries family"on February 20, 2015 in Paris
Actress and singer Louane Emera receives a César for her role in the film “La famille Bélier”, on February 20, 2015 in Paris BERTRAND GUAY AFP/Archives

“French films are largely financed by television. To make + La Famille Bélier +, the question could not arise, we had to have known and recognized actors”, explains Philippe Rousselet.

Ten years later, “it was obvious to us that we had to do + CODA + with deaf actors”.

“Little Thumb”

Still considered an absolute outsider in recent weeks, “CODA” has slowly established itself by winning successively the prize of the American actors’ union (SAG Awards), then that of the producers’ association (PGA).

According to many Hollywood experts, Troy Kotsur, who plays Ruby’s father, is the clear favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

And “CODA” is now neck and neck with “The Power of the Dog”, which had been leading the race from the start, to win the supreme Oscar for best feature film.

Actor Troy Kotsur honored at the BAFTAs for his role in the film "CODA"on March 13, 2022 in London
Actor Troy Kotsur rewarded at the BAFTAs for his role in the film “CODA”, on March 13, 2022 in London Ben Stansall AFP/Archives

Like “The Bélier Family”, “+CODA+ was made with a relatively reasonable budget, especially given the other films in competition on Sunday. The film cost 15 million dollars. Faced with +Dune+ (165 million, editor’s note) we are really Tom Thumb”, smiles Philippe Rousselet.

“But I don’t think it’s a miracle. The film deserves to be where it is in this period in which we live. It’s an important film, a film that does good, that touches people and brings together with its human values”, estimates the producer, who does not yet dare to envisage a victory Sunday evening.

Six months on a shelf

The course of “CODA” towards recognition will have been strewn with pitfalls.

Filming in Massachusetts, in the northeastern United States, was certainly finished before the pandemic.

But the Covid-19 came to upset everything in the post-production phase, in June 2020.

“We couldn’t finish the film, we had to transfer all the post-production from Canada to Los Angeles because our director couldn’t travel anymore,” recalls Mr. Rousselet.

Still remained to sell “CODA” on the American market, which proved complicated with closed cinemas in the United States. “So we put the film on the shelf for six months. There was no question of sending an internet link to American distributors so that they could see the film at home between two appointments,” he says. .

Oscar nominations
Oscar nominations AFP

Hope returned when “CODA” was chosen as the opening film by the prestigious Sundance festival in January 2021.

But the pandemic has again forced the organizers to a 100% virtual edition…

In the end, this did not prevent streaming platforms from snatching the film at Sundance, an auction won by Apple TV+ with the record amount of $25 million.

Whether or not he triumphs at the Oscars, “CODA”‘s career won’t end on Sunday.

Philippe Rousselet is already working on a Broadway adaptation in the form of a musical, in partnership with a famous theater troupe made up of deaf actors.

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“CODA”, adaptation of “The Bélier Family” to conquer the Oscars