Rebecca Zlotowski • Director
"A story that isn’t afraid of being a bit enigmatic"
by Fabien Lemercier
- French director Rebecca Zlotowski deciphers Planetarium, a film that plumbs the depths of and trouble with suggestion
Released today in France by Ad Vitam and tomorrow in the Czech Republic by Fénix Distribution, Planetarium [+see also:
interview: Rebecca Zlotowski
film profile], which was unveiled out of competition at Venice before its gala screening at Toronto, is the 3rd feature film by Rebecca Zlotowski following on from Belle épine [+see also:
film profile] and Grand Central [+see also:
interview: Rebecca Zlotowski
film profile]. We caught up with the director in Paris to talk about this spellbinding, cryptic and hybrid film starring Natalie Portman, Emmanuel Salinger and Lily Rose Depp.
Cineuropa: Why the subject of mediums, and how did you develop the screenplay for Planetarium?
Rebecca Zlotowski: I took an interest in the Fox sisters, legends of sorts in the United States who invented the ouija board and spiritual communication. And Natalie Portman, who I shared this idea of making a film about mediums in France with, drew my attention to Victoria Woodhull, the first female candidate to the American presidential elections, who used spiritualism and spiritism as a political propaganda tool, and also had a younger sister. I found their stories fascinating, just like the idea of mixing politics, spiritism and feminism. It brought together subjects that I find captivating: belief, faith in the plastic dimension and the incantatory magic of cinema. When I was doing my research, I discovered that the Fox sisters were hired for a year by a banker. I turned him into a film producer, saying to myself: "these two sisters will meet a Jewish producer in France in the period between the two world wars, the victim of anti-Semitic slander". But this complicated the screenplay, because the Vichy laws weren’t yet in place to be able to bring anti-Semitism into it. It was then that I learned that the character I was imagining really existed: his name was Bernard Natan. With Robin Campillo, my co-screenwriter, we really took hold of the figure of Bernard Natan, most notably by using the minutes from his trial, but also by taking the character in a very phantasmatic and personal direction.
This way of building the film in layers to some extent reflects the different levels in the film.
It’s put together like a magic lantern: you have one image, then another, then another, and they all work together to form one fluid movement. Each time I opened a door, it was a door that was part of the same film, a story that isn’t afraid of being a bit enigmatic. It made sense for us to use a film producer, because we were going to talk about ghosts, in terms of spirits and in relation to belief and faith. Ghosts in the world of film, anti-Semitism and the rise of popularism, along with new technology.
Did having Natalie Portman on board change the scale of the project?
When an actress of her statute, who embodies the very notion of Hollywood film, takes interest in a European director who’s not particularly acclaimed, it’s because the American system no longer gives actresses roles that demand they take an interest, which male actors don’t necessarily do. Having a star who is as well-known as her obviously came as a sort of positive anomaly for us, as in France we’re not used to making films with actresses of this calibre, but from a financial standpoint it actually didn’t change much funnily enough.
How did you go about portraying this mix of the fanciful, politics and a form of poetry, whilst playing with impressions of the elusive?
It was a bit like a sort of ectoplasm that I wanted to get out of my system, related the political crisis we’re living through today. Sometimes you have these seesaw moments when you feel that anything could happen, with some quite unappealing possibilities. What you experience has elements of tragedy to it, but it’s hard to express in clear terms. Cinema is there to portray it and describe it. What we wanted to do with Robin Campillo, was to try to "match images to an atmosphere and words to things you can’t define and name today." But it’s not a nice message. It’s a film with a somewhat threatening message, like a stormy sky.
It’s an astonishingly realistic period film.
You can make period films on the back of intuition from films depicting the same period which evoke a certain emotion in the audience straight away, like Carol for example. We went in a completely different direction: being ultra-realistic about it, using the most modern, cutting and clearest images as possible. This shock transfiguration of reality into hyper-reality is not to be original, but to be more contemporary.
(Translated from French)
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