Musical producer

With ‘CODA’, the French producer revisits history and heads for the Oscars

“CODA” producer Philippe Rousselet is thrilled, but not surprised, that his heartwarming drama about a deaf family is now a favorite for Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday.

He always knew the story was good – so good he did it twice.

“‘La Famille Belier’ was a tremendously successful comedy, as we love them in France,” Rousselet told AFP, referring to the original on which the Apple TV+ hit is based.

“With ‘CODA’, (director) Sian Heder made it an American movie the way Americans like it – more of a comedy-drama.

“I think both films took the best of what we know how to do in each country.”

By French national standards, “La Famille Belier” was a hit, with three million people having seen it in theaters after its release in late 2014.

“CODA” (an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults) only had a limited theatrical run, then went straight to streaming, where it was a ratings hit that also pleased critics.

Both films follow the fortunes of a high school teenager as she juggles her musical ambitions with her family’s reliance on her to connect with the hearing world.

In both versions, much of the dialogue is done in sign language.

To make “CODA,” Emilia Jones, who plays teenager Ruby, and writer-director Heder both learned to sign.

But while “The Belier Family” featured hearing stars playing deaf characters, the equivalent roles in “CODA” went to lesser-known deaf actors — with the exception of former Oscar winner Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God”, “The West Wing”).

“French films are largely financed by television. To make ‘La Famille Bélier’, you had to have known and recognized actors”, explains Rousselet.

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

– Reputation –

“CODA” has been gaining momentum in recent weeks, its reputation swelling by winning awards from the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild of America and BAFTAs.

He’s now neck and neck in most best picture Oscar predictions with “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s brooding western about toxic masculinity.

Adding to its momentum, Troy Kotsur seems like a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor honors, for his funny and moving portrayal of Ruby’s eccentric father.

Like its predecessor, ‘CODA’ was made relatively cheaply, its $15 million budget being less than a tenth the cost of the special effects-laden blockbuster ‘Dune’ – another Best Picture nominee.

“It’s not really a question of budget, the story is unique and very strong”, explains Rousselet.

“This film deserves to be where it is in this time that we live in. It’s an important film, a film that feels good.”

And since the second time around is going so well, the story looks set to get a third outing.

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

And success on the New York scene won’t come as a surprise to Rousselet either.

It all depends on the content, he says.

“He touches people and brings them together with his human values.”