PARIS, one of the most romantic cities in the world, has a starring role in the new Afrikaans romantic comedy French Toast.
The movie, which was released on Friday, April 24, is doing good business, taking more than R660 000 at the South African box office to date.
Actress Lika Berning, who plays photographer Lise le Roux in the film, told The Witness it had been wonderful to shoot in the French capital.
“It really is wonderful having the chance to travel,” she said, “and I think the Paris setting does a lot for the story as well. I feel very lucky because you don’t often get a chance like this in South African films.”
Berning didn’t get much time to wander around Paris in her downtime, due to the tight 10-day shooting schedule, but said she didn’t mind as most scenes were shot around the tourist spots, like the Sacré-Cœur [cathedral], the Eiffel Tower and Montmatre.
“The only problem was timing. We had to try and beat the crowds when it came to filming,” she added.
French Toast, directed by Paul Kruger (Liefling The Musical), revolves around Berning’s character, Lise, who lives with her father, Izak (Deon Lotz, Skoonheid, Sleepers Wake, Roepman), on a wine farm near Stellenbosch.
She has been caring for him since her mother died, leaving a secret French toast family recipe as her legacy. Then one day Lise stumbles upon her mother’s old diary and discovers she has a brother or sister living somewhere in France.
Despite the fact that Theo Human (Paul du Toit), her father’s right-hand winemaker, is about to propose, Lise decides to travel to Paris to find her lost sibling and the truth.
On arrival she meets a French chef, Jean-Pierre Baptiste (Thierry Ballarin), who is in need of a photographer for his new cookbook. Lise agrees to take the photos for him, if he helps her track the clues to her lost sibling.
And as they explore Paris together, Jean-Pierre’s expressive personality slowly unravels Lise’s reserved layers.
Asked how she came to get the role, Berning said she and Kruger had first spoken about the film during the filming of Liefling, in which she played Liefling Marais.
“It was my first film,” the actress, who also appeared in The Bang Bang Club, said. “I was an unknown actress really, even though I had done a bit of TV work in 7de Laan and Binnelanders.
“Paul spoke to me while we were filming and said that he had this idea for a new movie called French Toast and thought I would be perfect for it. That was in 2010.
“I couldn’t believe it when he came back to me years later and asked if I was still interested. Paul is amazing to work with and when he has a dream of something he really goes for it.”
She also enjoyed working with Ballarin, whom she describes as the consummate gentleman.
“He’s also hilarious,” Berning added, “and very French. He is not at all familiar with the South African braaivleis and boerewors thing.
“He’s very cultured, stylish and well read … but also funny as well.”
Away from the cameras, Berning — who graduated with an honours degree in documentary filmmaking from the University of Cape Town in 2003 — works closely with her husband, Clyde, in their not-for-profit production company, iKasi Media.
They offer aspiring filmmakers in remote areas of South Africa the chance to enhance their skills through training programmes, workshops and matching raw untapped talent with industry expertise.
“Young people in these areas get so little exposure to the industry, so for us it was a no-brainer to get involved and to do something to help them,” she said. “The response has been amazing from both the students and funders.”
The actress also sees iKasi as a vehicle for South Africans to tell their own stories.
“I am especially interested in cross-cultural stories because fascinating things can happen when people from different cultures interact,” she said.
Looking ahead, Berning — whose parents are actress Jana Cilliers and director Regardt van den Bergh — says she is busy decorating the nursery for her second child, due in September. The baby will be a brother or sister for her son, Hugo.
She is also working with her father as she is keen to get more involved with film production and directing.
Berning acted as associate producer on Van den Bergh’s film, Uitvlucht, a story about a love that conquers all, which will be released later this year.
In 2010 Berning filmed a documentary with her mother.
The film, Bettie, was an intimate portrait of her grandmother, Bettie Cilliers Barnard, who was a painter, a forerunner of modernism in the 1950s South Africa.
“She was a true pioneer and a risk taker in this conservative era,” said Berning of the film, which was completed at the end of 2012 and broadcast on Kyknet.
• French Toast is showing at cinemas in Durban
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