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Tuesday
May092017

RUSSIAN FEST DIRECTOR RECALLS BOLSHOI FILM PREMIERE

The Moscow premiere of director Valery Todorovsky’s latest film, The Bolshoi, quickly became the hottest event ticket on the 2017 Russian film calendar. On April 17, 1400 of Moscow’s most esteemed dignitaries sat enthralled as the film unfurled upon the grandest of stages, that of the magnificent Bolshoi Theatre itself. For only the second time in the venue’s 237 year history, cinema took centre stage, albeit to tell the fairy-tale story of a ballerina’s rise to stardom; Todorovsky’s shoot had been the first allowed to film within the walls of The Bolshoi Theatre. In the audience that night was Nicholas Maksymow, the Festival Director of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, Australia's prestigious annual showcase of Russian film culture. SCREEN-SPACE welcomes Nicholas as guest columnist, as he recalls that Moscow night when modern cinema met centuries-old tradition…

Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre houses one of the world’s oldest and most acclaimed ballet and opera companies. Designed by architect Joseph Bové, it’s opening in 1825 gained world-wide recognition and continues to do so to the present day. The Bolshoi is the latest offering from renowned Russian director Valery Todorovsky (The Lover, My Stepbrother Frankenstein, Hipsters) and provides not only a rare glimpse inside the majestic venue, but also examines the pure artistry of classical ballet. (Pictured, above: Maksymow, left, with director Valery Todorovsky at The Bolshoi Theatre)

Bolshoi is a trademarked brand and the producers needed to pre-screen the film for approval by the Theatre's board to use the title. As Todorovsky himself has said, the name Bolshoi (from the Russian for ‘grand’) not only represents classical ballet, it is synonymous with Russian classical ballet itself. (Pictured, right; lead actress Magarita Simonova in The Bolshoi

Not since the 1925 premiere of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin has The Bolshoi Theatre served as a grand movie palace. Attending the premiere of Todorovsky’s latest were the Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, the Deputy Prime Minister, Olga Golodets, and such Russian A-listers as actor/director Fyodr Bondarchuk and Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich.

Never in history has the actual stage been used for a film; the crew was given six days to film on the historical dance floor, an impressive achievement given the intricate and grand art form that is classical ballet. Seeing the dancers perform on the renowned stage with such grace and watching it in an actual ballet theatre made it very easy to forget one was watching a movie and not live ballet!

Todorovsky’s narrative is a simple story of ballet dancers striving to be selected for the Bolshoi Theatre Company that evolves into a captivating coming-of-age journey. Our protagonist is Julia Olshanskaya, played as a youngster by Katya Mainulina, a reserve for Russia’s Olympic Team in Rhythmic Gymnastics, before maturing into Margarita Simonova, a dancer with Warsaw’s Grand Theatre. The similarity between the two girls was striking in terms of their physical traits, appearance and behaviour.

Julia is a provincial girl from a poor family who dances on the streets of her mining town. Her big break comes when former ballet dancer Pototsky (Aleksandr Domogarov) sees potential in the starlet and arranges an audition at The Moscow State Academy of Choreography. Julia’s new life is one of exhilarating highs and depressing lows, as she strives to overcome the difficulties placed in front of her by teachers with their own personal struggles. Life and career choices present a challenge to our ballerina, with her only ally in this maze being her mentor Beletskaya (played wonderfully by an old master of stage and screen, Alisa Frendlich), who instils an inspiring willingness in her student to succeed but also prove she has talent.

The film is unique in how it deviates from the increasingly common formula of a force-fed story that feels predictable. Yes, we do have the perfected scenes of rich kids versus poor kids, kids with real talent versus kids with mothers who think they can buy their way to fame. If such elements seem familiar, Todorovsky’s storytelling is not. These scenes are intertwined with a narrative of the past and the present, which ultimately helps viewers engage with the characters on screen.

The exploration of complex themes and issues, such as the struggle of dementia, is subtle and powerful.  These scenes are humorous, yet touchingly sad; anyone who has a family member suffering from this cruel condition will recognize the authenticity of these scenes. Frendlich captures here character’s suffering brilliantly; her portrayal could have been taken from a real-life aged care facility and edited straight into the film. (Pictured, left; The Bolshoi director Valery Todorovsky)

Aside from a core cast of professional actors, Todorovsky chose to assemble 70 professional ballet dancers and children studying ballet to play the principal characters in the film, a decision that surprisingly pays off. Todorovsky described the process of finding non-actors as the most difficult casting audition of his life.  "It was necessary to first find professional ballet dancers who could play dramatic roles,” he told the premiere audience. “Then we had to find those who would play the characters in childhood. We searched everywhere, visited every city in which there is a ballet school and theatre, so as to ensure the best got to the audition and to achieve a perfect match.” 

Moving and entertaining, The Bolshoi is a majestic treasure that succeeds on the big screen. In its portrayal of young lives chasing the dreams a ballet academy offers, it exhibits an empathy that is lacking in many films of today. It allows the audience to feel a part of academy life, just as it does for the dancers in the film. Valery Todorovsky has a knack for separating the significant moments in the lives of his characters when growth, obstacles and talent are all juxtaposed.  We saw this in Vice (2007), a fictional expose of youth caught in the underworld of drugs and crime, and more recently in the lively and colourful musical, Hipsters (2008). (Pictured, right; a scene from The Bolshoi)

No more fitting score than the music of renowned Russian composer Tchaikovsky could have been chosen to complement the dance action. The director beautifully sums up the film’s score as being reflective of the different phases of the lives of his characters.“Childhood is the Nutcracker, youth is Sleeping Beauty and adulthood, Swan Lake,” says Valery Todorovsky. “Tchaikovsky was not chosen by me, he was chosen by the Russian Ballet.”

Nicholas Maksymow
Festival Director, RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL.

The Bolshoi will be released theatrically in Russia on 11 May 2017 and will premiere in Australia and New Zealand as part of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival from 26 October 2017.

Tuesday
May092017

FIVE DAYS ON LESVOS: THE RICHARD WYLLIE INTERVIEW

In the summer of 2015, director Richard Wyllie and his producer, Sam Brown, left behind their London base and travelled 1500 miles to the Greek island of Lesvos. Their aim was to craft a documentary that examined the role the outpost played as the entry point for an increasing number of refugees, fleeing conflict and oppression via a dangerous ocean crossing. The finished film, an extraordinary work called Five Days on Lesvos, would ultimately capture a tipping point in one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in European history. Richard Wyllie spoke with SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the Australian premiere of his film at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

SCREEN-SPACE: What were your impressions that first day you set foot amongst the refugees of Lesvos?

WYLLIE: I remember thinking how much these people are just like me. Many find the refugee crisis difficult to relate to because the people involved speak a different language (or) the Middle East seems like a different world. But meeting the people, seeing their clothes, hearing about their lives before the conflict, brought it home that it isn’t too much of a leap to imagine myself in that situation. They were businessmen, doctors, students. I wondered what it would take to make me flee my home and make a terrifying journey across the sea with my family. These people are fleeing death and destruction, we should be under no illusions about that. As the week progressed, the sheer numbers of people arriving was pretty overwhelming. We’d film one boat coming in at dawn, head back to the hotel to eat breakfast and there’d be two more boats on the horizon. The volunteers on the island were fantastic, and just as relentless as the boats; they would just carry on helping, getting refugees off the beach, going back for more, all day long.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did the film evolve as you’d envisioned it would? Were there discoveries you made between pre-production and arriving on the island that altered your vision?

WYLLIE (pictured, right): We knew we wanted to make a film about both the refugees and those helping them. Filming on Lesvos was supposed to just be the beginning. We thought we might want to track some refugees across Europe, over months or even years. I called Eric, who you see at the beginning of the film, and he was happy for me to film his work, so we simply agreed to meet him at 6am on top of that hill. We had no idea what we would actually capture during that week. (But) that particular week saw a massive increase in the numbers of refugees; although many refugees had arrived in Greece before this, that week marked an escalation of the crisis. What you see in the film is the effect of that – the island becomes overwhelmed and ordinary volunteers step up to help. It was only when we got home that the idea of simply telling the story of those five days came to us. It really was shot in five days, the characters coming in and out of the film in the same way we met them during filming. Narratively, it worked very well. As the edit progressed, this structure made more and more sense. I like the cyclical nature of what’s happening, because that is what it felt like when we were there.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you set out to make a political statement, a humanist drama or a historical snapshot?

WYLLIE: Probably a bit of all three, to be honest. Samantha (Brown, the producer) and I were getting increasingly frustrated with the depiction of the refugee crisis in the British media. Our politicians were using phrases like ‘swarms of people’ and the right wing press didn’t question any of this. We wanted to make something that gave faces to the refugees, emphasizing their humanity. I don’t like to make films with an overt message, telling people what to think. I like to let people decide for themselves. The best way to do this is to show the situation through the eyes of the characters, let their experiences tell the story, revealing the human drama naturally. It’s the reason why I let the pictures run for quite a lot of the film – I want the audience to decide for themselves what they’re seeing. Some people have said the film is very sympathetic to the refugees, but we simply filmed what was going on. There’s no way you can’t feel sympathy for people in that situation. Historically, we thought that we had perhaps captured the pinnacle of the refugee crisis. In retrospect, we not only captured the beginning of the crisis, but also the beginning of a turning point in the politics of Europe. The refugee crisis has been a trigger for much of the current tumult in European politics, such as Brexit, the increased rightwing fervor and populism. Eighteen months on from those events, the film takes on a new relevance as the political situation develops. Those five days were, to an extent, the catalyst of all that.

SCREEN-SPACE: How do you reconcile the dichotomy of your life as a documentarian? Do you struggle with being so close to the human condition while maintaining the distance your lens affords you?

WYLLIE: I was confronted with something I hadn’t ever experienced as a filmmaker – the compulsion to put the camera down and help. Usually, filming in crisis situations, you’re in the presence of experts who are far better placed to assist people in need. Your job is to film and document. But here, it was ordinary people who were helping; there was so much to do with every boat that landed on the shore. So I would film some of it whilst Sam tried to help people off the boats. We spent some of the time ferrying people off the beach and down into the town; there were elderly people, pregnant women, children, who were in no shape to walking those kinds of distances.

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope western audiences, such as the Melbourne Doc fest crowd, take from the experience of watching Five Days in Lesvos? 

WYLLIE: I hope that people come away realising that these people, and refugees across the world, don’t give up their homes and make these dangerous journeys because they want more money, or welfare from foreign governments. They just want safety for themselves and for their families.  These people deserve our help and, having met them, I’ve no doubt they’d do the same if the tables were turned.

FIVE DAYS ON LESVOS will screen as part of the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Session and ticket details can be found at the event's website here.

Thursday
Apr132017

IN THE FLESH: THE JULIA DUCOURNAU INTERVIEW.

It was the film that became the cause célèbre at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, driven by a wave of glowing trade reviews and the passionate response from audience members, as they emerged ashen-faced from crowded screenings. Raw tells a contemporary tale of sibling rivalry and familial tradition, of a young woman (Garance Marillier) struggling to embrace a destiny forged in blood…literally. For writer/director Julia Ducournau, whose coming-of-age horror/drama earned her the Festival’s FIPRESCI 'Parallel Sections' Prize, it was a challenge to humanize her characters, even as they performed the most inhuman of acts. “Cannibals are usually the bad guys,” the French auteur told SCREEN-SPACE during her visit to Melbourne in November, where Raw earned Best Film honours at MonsterFest 2016

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the great joys of my 2016 Cannes experience was watching Raw with a receptive, energised audience. There was a point – let’s call it the ‘finger scene’ – when we all realised the nature of the journey we’d undertaken…

JULIA: That is so good to hear, because that is so much about what I am aiming at in my film. You would know that, since you started watching horror movies behind your parents back, you do it with your friends or your sister or your cousin. You do it under a blanket or behind cushions on the couch, bonding with that other person over whatever is happening on the screen. It is a scary but also a joyous aspect of watching horror and I love working within a genre that inspires that sense of community, of complicity.

SCREEN-SPACE: What conventions of the cannibal genre did you want to embrace and explore and what tropes were you determined to avoid?

JULIA: I researched a lot of books, but I did not go back to the movies I had seen about cannibalism. I wanted to keep focussed on the ideas that had inspired my story and not over analyse the movies that had come before, so I was not thinking in terms of conventions. I love horror because it has its codes and it is interesting to subvert them, especially with body horror. The one thing I really wanted to adhere was a super realism. My main fear was that people would compare it to vampire or werewolf movies. I wanted people to really identify with this girl, and her needs and desires. I did not want to make it easy for the audience by putting a fantastic veil on it, by giving them some fantasy element that keeps them distant. I didn’t want anyone thinking, “Well, I can’t really identify with these girls because they don’t exist, so I am safe.” I want the audience to be vulnerable to Justine’s developing humanity and to draw comparisons to their own. If you find yourself identifying with a cannibal, you start questioning yourself as a person. The cannibals of such films as Cannibal Holocaust or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre exist in some perverted version of the world. In Raw, I wanted it to be the opposite. (Pictured, above; Garance Marillier as Justine, in Raw)

SCREEN-SPACE: The film is unique in its depiction of sisterhood, both within the narrative and with reference to the often-constrictive boundaries the horror genre can place upon female characters.

JULIA: I wanted to talk about the love they share. It was important that, at the end of their story, there is heartbreak. They have to be separated, not because they want to but because it is deemed that they have to. Their paths are forever intertwined yet completely irreconcilable. This dynamic of love/hate, of rivalry, without ever being able to explain why they change moods from one scene to another is the (essence of) sisterhood, of a bond that every girl understands. I didn’t want any of those boring scenes where sisters spell out their issues to each other. I was trying to create a relationship where you didn’t have to have these explanatory scenes, but instead just go straight to the core of the bond they share.

SCREEN-SPACE: The themes also embrace that dark heart at the core of even the most seemingly pleasant family environment.

JULIA: That’s right, especially in the light of how family politics have been portrayed since the dawn of humanity in all the myths we have created. Back to the days of the pharaohs, through Shakespeare and right up until today, the dark side of the family unit is portrayed as incestuous, cannibalistic, as a rivalry exposed. It is always portrayed in very violent ways. So we are prepared for the family horrors in my film, because we have read Greek tragedy and we have read the Bible. It works in all languages, especially cinematically. (Pictured, left; Marillier and Ella Rumpf, as Alexia, in Raw)

SCREEN-SPACE: In terms of your national cinema, your strong female leads fit well with the great films of the French Extreme movement, like Martyrs and Haute Tension.

JULIA: There is no French Extreme movement. What are we talking about exactly? There are, maybe, seven films that have been made over the course of 20 years. Do you call that a ‘New Wave’, a ‘Movement’?

SCREEN-SPACE: Those films, and films like Inside and Frontieres, reflect a very specific point in French genre cinema when your peers explored undeniably extreme depictions of horror…

JULIA: Those films are totally unrelated works, made by directors who barely know each, over the course of 20 years. For me, a ‘New Wave’ is when a small group of directors talk between themselves, establish a dogma that dictates the direction their collective works will take, like we had in France in the 60s. I am kind of sick of talking about this French Extreme movement that does not exist. I have talked about it with Alexandre Aja, who totally agrees with me. His movie that you mentioned, Haute tension, came out in the 90s! It is so old (Ed: Haute tension was released in France in June, 2003). How can you relate a movie that is 25 years old to what I am doing today? So much has changed. The context in which they are made has changed. I am sick of being put in the same bag just because we are French and we make genre movies.

SCREEN-SPACE: I wasn’t trying to imply that, but I would say that a direct line could be drawn between those films and the portrayal of violence that your film employs. There is a lineage, don’t you agree…?

JULIA: No, I don’t, not at all. And it is not that I don’t like these movies, some of them I like very much. But I am waiting for the writer or the journalist who writes the powerful essay that convinces me that any of what you say is true. You should do it!

(Pictured, above: l-r, Rabah Nait Oufella, Ella Rumpf, Ducournau, Marillier and Joana Preiss, Cannes 2016) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Maybe. Let’s talk specifically about your attitude to and use of gore.

JULIA: Well, I hate gratuitous violence. I always feel used, then I feel annoyed, then I am bored (laughs). If a movie starts with extreme violence, and ends exactly the same way, there has been no evolution. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has very intense action but very little blood, at least before you meet the family. That film achieves a remarkable sense of balance, which is important for me. Any violence that I portray is really the violence that is internal for my characters. Let me say that my problem is not that we are desensitized to violence, but more that violence is completely taken for granted. That is a terrible shame. One of the main reasons we make horror movies is so that we can explore and express our relationship with violence in the most channelled, precise and intelligent way we can. The opportunity to express one’s sense of violence in this way is not given to everyone, so it is more often repressed. Horror movies exist to help those people, and if you use them for no reason at all you are denying the viewer this act of catharsis. Horror movies have always been the true underground cinema, because we talk about what is repressed.

SCREEN-SPACE: You show an unflinching dedication to that principle in Raw…

JULIA: In my own small way, I was determined to show things that must be shown. And when I show it, it will be revealed in the most confrontational, full-frontal way possible, in a manner that stops you from looking away. Just like Cronenberg does in The Fly; very little camera movements, still shots, frontal, centre-of-frame, so that you cannot avert your gaze. This kind of cinema demands that you confront your own mortality. Then your film starts to work in the crevices between scenes, where the moments you don’t show add to the impact of what you eventually do show.

READ The SCREEN-SPACE review of Raw here.

Thursday
Mar092017

THE BEDROOM: THE ANNA BROWNFIELD INTERVIEW

Like the trailblazing feminist pornographer Candida Royalle before her, Anna Brownfield has determinedly chosen the path less travelled to fulfil her artistic vision. The Melbourne-based filmmaker has garnered international acclaim for her works The Money Shot (2007), The Band (2009) and Making it Handmade! (2010), cinema that challenges the mainstream definition of pornography. Her latest feature, The Bedroom, captures key moments in the development of Australian sexual culture across 50 years, all set within the walls of the particularly action-packed title space. Ahead of its US premiere at the CineKink 2017 Film Festival, Anna Brownfield spoke frankly with SCREEN-SPACE about her unique status in the Australian film sector and flying the flag for ethical erotica…

Pictured, above: Anna Brownfield, left, with The Bedroom actress Aeryn Walker (c) Megan Spencer 2014

SCREEN-SPACE: In general terms, how would you rate the depiction of sexuality on Australian cinema screens?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: I think Australians have a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality on screen.  However, what we see on Australian screens ebbs and flows depending upon our political climate. A lot has changed since the introduction of the R rating in the 1970s and the flourish of sexploitation cinema.  One of my favourite is Fantasm directed by Richard Franklin under the pseudonym Richard Bruce, especially the scene where a housewife takes revenge on a thief, on the kitchen table using household items. These films reflected the changing attitudes to sexuality of the time but were made predominately from a male perspective. Now, I think our mainstream film industry in Australia is quite conservative and likes to play it safe when it comes to funding films.  While we have a history of sexploitation cinema, I can’t see the funding bodies supporting this type of film today.

SCREEN-SPACE: Is there a filmmaking subculture that strives to bridge the gap between conventional narratives and graphic sexuality? Is it possible that such a movement could some day flourish?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: When I started making explicit films, there were quite a few art house films being distributed that had storylines and explicit sex; Basie Moi, Nine Songs, Intimacy, Romance, Sex and Lucia to name a few. But this is nothing new, have a look at lots of films made in the 70s! The directors of those films were saying we see actors really crying on screen, so why not see them have real sex.  For me, it was about making films that focused on women’s sexual desires and fantasies, objectifying the male body and bring a female gaze to the genre. That coupled with storylines, feminism, high production values and being creative with the visual language to create something sensual and erotic but also explicit. (Pictured, above; Lily Rei and Rob Paulson in 'The 1960s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite spanning 50 years, is there a 'constant' that your depictions of sexuality in The Bedroom capture? The aesthetics change greatly, but what stays the same?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: Honest, authentic depictions of sex and sexuality, produced in an ethical manner that give agency to performers and promote safe sex.

SCREEN-SPACE: Where do your films in general, and The Bedroom in particular, sit within the broad definition of 'pornography'? Few films employ both graphic imagery and historical context such as The Bedroom.

ANNA BROWNFIELD: When I began, I called my films feminist erotica, because when I used the word porn, people made assumptions about the types of film I made regarding aesthetics and sexual stereotypes.  I frequently use the word explicit and, depending where I am, will use the word pornography. When I made my first explicit feature, The Band, my producer was worried that it wasn’t explicit enough to be called porn but too explicit to be arthouse.  In the end, it was distributed by both sectors of the industry. The Bedroom screened at the Porny Days film festival in Zurich, Switzerland.  I couldn’t attend but one of my friends said there was a lot of discussion after the screening, about if this was in fact a porn film or not.  One of the things I endeavour to do is to push the genre.
As a society, we have come to accept a formulaic depiction of explicit content, or in a term coined so beautifully by Candida Royalle as “porn by numbers”.  Porn and its consumption is still surrounded by so much taboo, I think we often don’t question what we see on screen and I wanted to provide an ethical alternative to that. (Pictured, above: Chloe B in 'The 1970s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: In terms of the production, were the actors told where the scenes had to go and what specifics you were looking for? Or did you let them dictate the action?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: The dialogue in each scene was scripted. In the 1980s sequence, (actor) Christian Vega rewrote a lot of the dialogue as it was important to him that he honour and be true to his community, which I was more than happy for him to do. Regarding the explicit scenes, the performers would discuss it together beforehand and negotiate what they would and wouldn’t do.  On set, I would sit down with them and do a basic blocking of what they wanted to do and how they would move around the space.  As it was a historical piece, I also discussed with the performers about making sure the sex depicted represented the times and who that character was and were they would be in their sexual journey. (Pictured, above: co-stars Emerald and Bandit in 'The 2010s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: It's been over a two decades since your first short, Playing; over a decade since  The Money Shot closed MUFF and became the toast of the festival. How would you describe your journey, working in your chosen form of filmmaking/storytelling?


ANNA BROWNFIELD: At times it has been hard, as I have chosen to work outside of the mainstream film industry, but continue to make other films without explicit content.  My explicit films tend to do better overseas, particularly in Europe, than they do here in my home country. I often look back and think, how did I manage to make that? I work with little to no budget, so it's lots of hours unpaid and doing other jobs to make ends meet.  However, working with very small budgets, makes me inventive and resourceful and provides me with complete creative freedom. I have times where I question what and why I do what I do, but at the same time I love it and it provides me with an outlet for self-expression. That coupled with the faith that people will like what I do and enjoy it if not now, in the future.

THE BEDROOM screens at Cinekink 2017 in New York on March 17; it is available to download via Poison Apple Productions.

Sunday
Mar052017

FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON: THE NICOLE GARCIA INTERVIEW

Reworking Milena Agus’ novel Mal di pietre for the big screen was always going to be a daunting task. The setting of 1950s rural France demanded all the period trappings; the narrative unfolds as an extended flashback; the troubled heroine, Gabrielle, spends much of the film in a mental health sanatorium, where her free will and passion faces prejudice and ignorance. Yet in the hands of director Nicole Garcia and her leading lady, Marion Cotillard, the adaptation Mal de Pierres (From the Land of the Moon) becomes a soaring, moving melodrama; the film screened in Official Selection at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where Screen International lauded it as “an old-fashioned romantic weepie given class and conviction.”

Nicole Garcia is one of the grand doyennes of European cinema. A beloved actress (she has 13 César nominations to her name), Garcia turned to directing with the acclaimed 1986 short, 15 août, a personal slice-of-life drama that featured her husband Jean-Louis Tritignant. It has led to collaborations with Nathalie Baye (Un week-end sur deux, 1990), Jean-Marc Barr (Le fils préféré, 1994), Catherine Deneuve (Place Vendôme, 1998), Daniel Auteuil (The Adversary, 2002), Jean Dujardin (Un balcon sur lamer, 2010) and her son, Pierre Rochfort (Un beau dimanche, 2013). Following the Cannes Premiere of From the Land of the Moon at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, Garcia (pictured, above) sat with SCREEN-SPACE in the Alliance Française tents to talk about her latest film….

SCREEN-SPACE: How did you become aware of the novel? What aspects of Gabrielle most enthused you?

NICOLE GARCIA: A friend of mine told me, “You have to read this book.” So I read most of it travelling between Paris and Marseilles, and when I arrived I rang my producer and told him, “You have to find out if the rights are available.” Maybe I was waiting for this sort of character. Maybe she represents a part of me, or a maybe because she represents a fascinating part of all women. Maybe because the character foreshadows what is happening with the women of today. What I like is that she dared to express the desire that she has. It is not a dark desire; she is not a nymphomaniac or a sex addict, but it is live, real sexual drive. It is also something that is very mystical. But hers is a life in two parts and she doesn’t want to give up on either part. It is her dream to have both elements. (Pictured, above: Marion Cotillard and co-star Alex Brendemuhl).

SCREEN-SPACE: The setting provides an historical framework, but it is in many regards a very contemporary work…

NICOLE GARCIA: (Cannes artistic director) Thierry Frémaux believes that if you set a film in the past, you are foreshadowing what contemporary women will become. Gabrielle is in this very restrictive 1950s society, yet she has this wilful yearning for freedom, which was scandalous at the time. She was accused of being mad. But she represents movement towards the freedom and independence that women have today, sort of the ‘first step on the ladder,’ if you will. But above and beyond the modern interpretation of the text, is that there is something universal in the story, in Gabrielle, and that is the universal strength of feminine desire, which can be frightening. It is something that can overflow, can take over, that can wash away the very person from whom it generates. To this day, it is still viewed as very suspicious.

SCREEN-SPACE: I sensed that the soulfulness of her character comes from a yearning for a truthful connection, whether that is physically or intellectually…

NICOLE GARCIA: Gabrielle says something that is very important. At one point, she says, “I want somebody to talk to me, I want somebody to talk to.” She wants somebody that she can express herself to in meaningful words, which is what she most often wanted to do with this very taciturn, rough Spanish builder. The modern woman has so many outlets, so many opportunities to express and validate and explore her many desires. But Gabrielle does not.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you immediately share an understanding and common goal with Marion about how Gabrielle should be played?

NICOLE GARCIA: During the shoot, there was very little need to explain things. She saw things in the script and in my discussions about the character and just pulled them out, when required. It was two communicating vessels. We didn’t rehearse; the only things we did before hand were costume and hair. So when we got to the set, I’d show her the scene and she’d say, “Ok, got it.” It was just she and I and, with very little need to speak, we formed this character. For me, Marion creates a Gabrielle who is the geography of the film. She is the lavender fields, the Mediterranean, the Alps. In my vision, she emerges from the backdrop of the film. I wrote the role, so it was always within me. She was always the first choice for the role. She is the best actress in Europe at the moment. (Pictured, above; l-r, Louis Garrel, Cotillard and Garcia at the Cannes press conference).

SCREEN-SPACE: The sex between Marion and Louis Garrel, as Andre, is physically raw but also one of the most deeply emotional depictions of lovemaking I can recall…

NICOLE GARCIA: Thank you, yes. I was very worried about this scene. We shot it just before we left The Swiss Alps, so I had to count on the actors just letting themselves go. In the script, it’s very easy; the actors lay down together and their bodies…engage (laughs). Marion knew (the passion) had to shown, had to be externalised. Personally, I find sex scenes in films rather boring, so I watched sex scenes in films from directors I admire, like Ang Lee. Then it dawned on me that the way into this scene is through her eyes. When you realise that she is seeing what she has always been looking for, and that she’s achieved it, is deeply moving. And when you realise it is a dream…well, the force, the power of the imagination is beautiful.

From the Land of the Moon will be screening at the 28th annual Alliance Française French Film Festival. Session and ticket information can be found at the official event website.