Something special … Audrey Tautou in Hunting and Gathering .
When I realised that being famous was not a sickness, that was fine
I have hardly even sat down to talk to the French star of Amelie and The Da Vinci Code when she makes a startling comment. "I don't want to lick your shoes."
What was that? I look at my shoes to see whether they need polishing. Is this some strange French greeting, the Gallic equivalent of rubbing noses? Or does the elfin actress have a thing for footwear?
"No, no, no," says Tautou, realising her Australian visitor is baffled. The phrase is a polite French way of saying, "I don't want to kiss your rear end", a reference to a mid-year trip Tautou made to Sydney to visit her friend, fashion designer Laurence Pasquier.
"I went there to see one of my oldest friends 'ooz been living in Sydney for seven years now," she says. "I went to visit her and I had a lot of pleasure to discover this place."
Audiences have had a lot of pleasure discovering Tautou since she emerged in the romantic fable Amelie, playing the impish waitress from Montmartre who ignores her loneliness to help others.
Yet while she might be France's biggest current international cinema export, not everyone there is convinced she is the country's latest cinema goddess.
"Catherine Deneuve is a star, Audrey Tautou is a bankable actress doing a lot of movies," says rising young director Celine Sciamma. "In [Amelie] she was impersonating the young French girl in a very folkloric way. She became emblematic because the whole world saw it."
But the legendary filmmaker Claude Berri, director of the 1980s hits Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, is a fan. "There are people who are popular, like Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Seigner, but Audrey has something very special about her," he says.
Berri, 73, cast Tautou in what might be his final film as a director - the romance Hunting And Gathering. She plays a frail and lonely young office cleaner, Camille, who becomes flatmates with an aristocratic postcard seller, played by Laurent Stocker, and a gruff chef, Guillaume Canet from The Beach.
For Tautou, it's another role that shows her talent for heartwrenching vulnerability, which she can turn around with a warm smile and a sassy line.
Hunting And Gathering is a deliberate step back to a much smaller and more intimate film than The Da Vinci Code, closer to the Amelie experience.