Serreau, Coline 1947-

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Serreau, Coline 1947-


Born October 29, 1947, in Paris, France; daughter Jean-Marie Serreau (a theater director) and Geneviève Serreau (a writer and translator). Education: Attended the Conservatoire de la rue Blanche.


Agent—Nicole David, William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.


Actress, 1970-76; director of numerous films, including a segment of Qu'est-ce qu'on attend pour être heureux!, 1982; director of stage productions, including the opera The Barber of Seville, 2002. Actor in films, including Un peu, beaucoup, passionnément … (international English title A Little, a Lot, Passioniately), 1971; La Part des lions (international English title The Lion's Share), 1971; Dada au coeur, 1974; On s'est trompè d'histoire d'amour, 1974; Sept morts sur ordonnance (international English title Bestial Quartet), 1975; and Le Fou de mai, 1980. Actor on television, including Pont dormant, 1972, and La Folie des bêtes, 1974.


Golden Spike, Valladolid International Film Festival, 1978, for Pourquois-pas?; Academy Award, National Academy of Cinema (France), 1985, and César Awards for Best Film and Best Screenplay, 1986, both for Trois hommes et un couffin; Critics Award, Peñíscola Comedy Film Festival, 1992, and César Award for Best Screenplay, 1993, both for La Crise; Commandeur de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Culture, 2000; Audience Award and Norwegian Film Critics Award, Norwegian International Film Festival, 2002, both for Chaos.


Lapin Lapin (play), 1986.

Le théâtre de verdure (play), 1987.

Saint Jacques—La Mecque (novel; also see below), Flammarion (Paris, France), 2005.


On s'est trompé d'histoire d'amour (English title We Were Mistaken about a Love Story), 1974.

(And director) Mais qu'est ce qu'elles veulent? (title means "But What Do Women Want?"), 1977.

(And director) Pourquoi-pas? (title means "Why Not?"), New Line Cinema,1977.

Qu'est-ce qu'on attend pour être heureux!, 1982.

(And director) Trois hommes et un couffin (title means "Three Men and a Cradle), released in the United States by Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1985.

(With James Orr and James Cruickshank) Three Men and a Baby (adapted from Trois hommes et un couffin), Warner Bros., 1987.

(Author of scenario, and director) Romuald et Juliette, Cinea, Eniloc, FR3 Films Production, 1989, released in the United States as Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed, Miramax, 1989.

La Crise (title means "The Crisis"), 1992.

Quisaitout et Grobêta, Actes Sud (Arles, France), 1993.

(And director, actor, and film score composer) La Belle verte, 1996.

(And director) Chaos, Les Films Alain Sarde/TF1 Films Production/Eniloc, 2001.

(And director and composer of film score) 18 ans après (title means "18 Years Later"), Les Films Alain Sarde/TF1 Films Production/Eniloc, 2003.

(And director) Saint Jacques—La Mecque (adapted from Serreau's novel Saint Jacques), Telema, France 2 Cinema, Eniloc, 2005.


Genette Vincendeau, writing in Sight and Sound, called Coline Serreau's career a "high wire act," but one might shift the metaphor a little to "balancing act": for Serreau has managed to keep a steady balance between political activism and commercial success, outright farce and drama of sentiment. Her first feature, a documentary, was hailed as a landmark of feminist filmmaking, while her comedy Trois hommes et un couffin, or Three Men and a Cradle, was not only the highest-grossing French film of 1985 but also one of the most successful since World War II. Trois homes et un couffin is both comic and sentimental in its tale of three Parisian bachelors having to curtail their usual amorous activities, and even their professional careers, to raise an abandoned infant. Farce is the engine that drives the plot at first: the question is what could induce three perennial swingers to settle down, even unwillingly, to such a task. The movie was remade as the popular American version, Three Men and a Baby.

Serreau has balanced a career in filmmaking with a life in the theater as a playwright and actress; she is even a music composer and has studied dance and acrobatics. With a background in feminism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and modernist theater, Serreau has made films that both interrogate gender roles and pose utopian possibilities. Her documentary Mais qu'est-ce qu'elles veulent?, which contains interviews with women as socially and economically diverse as a Swiss church minister and a sex-film star, was named after Freud's famous expression of bafflement: "What do women want?" Her first fiction film, Pourquoi-pas?, portrays a successful ménage à trois in which the woman has a career and the bisexual male partner manages the household. Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, noted that the movie "has its share of warmth, and offers a few amusing glimpses of the bohemian frontier." Qu'est-ce qu'on attend pour être heureux! is about a group of actors rebelling against the commercial film they are making.

Romuald et Juliette—a balancing act of fairy tale, wry observation of gritty detail, utopian hope and elaborate farce—tells of the successful marriage of a white business executive and a black janitor in his building.

Released in the United States as Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed, the story involves a yogurt tycoon on the eve of his greatest financial coup, but he becomes the victim of three different and coincidental plots at the same time: his executive protegé is having an affair with his wife; another executive sabotages the yogurt plant to make Romuald and the protegé look culpable; and a third executive is using Romuald's secretary/ mistress to trap him in a phony insider-trading scheme. All this is the means of igniting the unlikely romance of the title between the tycoon and his office cleaning woman, a black mother of five who lives in a cramped tenement. New York Times contributor Janet Maslin commented that the author "displays a knack for spinning serious social concerns into pure fluff, but the blitheness of her fairy tales can be appealing." Richard Corliss, writing in Time, referred to the film as an "effervescent French comedy" that has a "seductively devious plot."

La Crise ("The Crisis") follows to a considerable extent the pattern set by its predecessors. The opening crisis is actually a multiple one in which the protagonist loses his job, is deserted by his wife, and finds most of his friends and relatives having momentous quarrels with their spouses and lovers. In this case the outsider who leads the middle-class protagonist to reconciliation is not an infant girl or African woman but a lower-class sot who accompanies the "hero" on a sentimental journey. As in her other films, Serreau keeps a cool eye on her obtuse—but educable—male protagonists.

La Belle verte carries Serreau's utopian proclivities a great deal farther: in this comic fantasy the writerdirector plays Mila herself. Mila is the inhabitant of a "green planet" where everyone lives free of stress, pollution, and bureaucracy while practicing vegetarianism and acrobatics. Mila's visit to Earth, armed with a device for "deprogramming" people so that they can be their "natural" selves (to the shock of other Earthlings), allows Serreau to play the role of the beneficent outsider. Whether La Belle verte marks a new direction in her filmmaking or is a fanciful interlude amidst her relatively more down-to-earth comedies remains to be seen.

In her 2001 film, Chaos, Serreau presents a scathing portrayal of men. The story revolves around a couple who are stopped in their car on a small street by a woman being chased by three men. The husband, Paul, immediately locks the car doors and the couple watch as the three men beat the woman viciously, sending her to a hospital. Paul's wife, Helene, feels guilty and begins to visit the woman, who is an Algerian prostitute named Noemie. The ultimate bonding between Helene and the beaten woman leads to the unraveling of Helene's marriage to Paul. In the meantime, the author interweaves several other stories into the plot, including tales about Paul and Helene's son and his sexual activities and about Noemie's past. "This story medley doesn't avoid an occasional bump: from time to time, we wonder if the reels of one film haven't been mixed with those of other films," noted Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. "But the picture holds us, not only through our wonderment at the mixture but through Serreau's dexterity and her casting." Writing in Variety, Lisa Nesselson called the movie a "breathlessly involving tale of urban indifference, rampant hypocrisy and the difference a little human decency can make," adding that this "superbly played pic is a black comedy that's funny but never frivolous as it takes a merciless but instructive look at French society." Film Journal International contributor Erica Abeel commented that the film "is worth watching for its good-humored energy, exposure of social ills, and acting by impeccable pros along with a fabulous newcomer."

Saint Jacques—La Mecque, which is based on Serreau's novel Saint Jacques, tells the story of three siblings—Pierre, Clara, and Claude—who must fulfill a seemingly odd request from their late mother in order to collect their inheritance. The three siblings, who intensely dislike each other, must make the pilgrimage from Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Jacques de Campostella together, as stipulated in their mother's will. The trio are joined on their journey by their guide and assorted other characters who are also making the pilgrimage. Writing in Variety, Lisa Nesselson called the comedy "a road movie for pedestrians."

18 ans après ("18 Years Later") is a sequel to the author's successful film Trois homes et un couffin. The film includes the same three bachelor's from the previous film and their charge, Marie, who has now graduated from school and is off on a vacation with her mother, her mother's American husband, and his two sons. The three bachelor's, however, soon find that they miss Marie, who they realize will be embarking on her own independent life. As a result, they decide to join the vacationers. Judith Prescott, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, commented that the movie "is a gentle, engaging comedy that wisely avoids retreading old ground." Prescott added that "this film cannot fail to delight." Variety contributor Nesselson called the movie "a charmingly barbed critique of American-style competitiveness vs. French-style savoir-vivre."



Rollet, Brigitte, Coline Serreau, University of Manchester Press (Manchester, England), 1999.


American Film, March, 1990, "Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed: Coline Serreau—Remade in America."

Film Journal International, February, 2003, Erica Abeel, review of Chaos, p. 37.

French Cinema, Volume 32, number 1, 1993, G. Colville, "On Coline Serreau's Mais qu'est ce qu'elles veulent? and the Problematics of Feminist Documentary," pp. 84-89.

French Review, April, 1992, Darolyn A. Durham, "Taking the Baby out of the Basket and/or Robbing the Cradle: ‘Remaking’ Gender and Culture in Franco-American Film"; March, 1996, Elaine Dalmolin, "Fantasmes de maternityé dans les films de Jacques Demy, Coline Serreau, et François Truffaut."

Hollywood Reporter, July 3, 2001, Charles Masters, "Serreau Tapped to Head ARP," p. 37; February 11, 2003, Judith Prescott, review of 18 ans après, p. 20.

New Republic, March 5, 1990, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed, p. 26; February 24, 2003, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Chaos, p. 24.

New York Times, July 23, 1979, Janet Maslin, review of Pourquoi-pas?; April 25, 1986, Vincent Camby, review of Three Men and a Cradle; April 13, 1990, Janet Maslin, review of Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed.

Sight and Sound (London, England), March, 1994, Ginette Vincendeau, "Coline Serreau: A High Wire Act."

Time, April 23, 1990, Richard Corliss, review of Mama, There's a Man in Your Bed, p. 94.

Variety, June 25, 2001, "Serreau to Head Filmmakers Group," p. 56; October 22, 2001, Lisa Nesselson, review of Chaos, p. 34; February 24, 2003, Lisa Nesselson, review of 18 Years Later, p. 44; December 5, 2005, Lisa Nesselson, review of Saint Jacques—La Mecque, p. 46.

Video Business, November 3, 2003, review of Chaos, p. 17.


Internet Movie Database, (July 22, 2006), list of Serreau's credits.