Katell Quillévéré • Director
Encounter on the Croisette with the young French director who opened the Critics’ Week of the 66th Cannes Film Festival with Suzanne.
Cineuropa: Where did the starting point of Suzanne come from?
Katell Quillevéré: My first source of inspiration was readings, especially of autobiographies of women who shared the lives of thugs. I was moved by the ones by Jeanne Schneider, one of the partners of Mesrine, and Nadine Vaujour. I was also attracted to these female characters and the way in which they told the stories of their relationships with these men, from a point of view that wasn’t spectacular at all but rather quite mundane. They always dedicate a chapter to their childhood and adolescence, that is the period before the encounter, as if they were trying to understand their own destiny, what led them to meet these men, attach themselves to them, giving up their family for them, and do things they never thought they were capable of doing. Suzanne was born from a desire to tell a slightly crazy love story, and work on the notion of destiny at the same time. I don’t think you can work on destiny without dealing with childhood and adolescence, and therefore I created a story that evolves. I didn’t want to work on destiny in the classical sense, as causation as it is often the case in classic biopics, with childhood as a place of trauma. I wanted to put forward the notion of chance and the mystery that guides our lives. It fascinates me.
The treatment of a destiny over three decades?
With Mariette Désert, my co-screenwriter, I wanted a very romantic story that worked around very clear ellipses. Some films influenced us, notably Il était un père by Ozu and Baptême by René Féret. We imagined the off sequences as very powerful, and the most important moments, those where characters make decisions, would often not be filmed: this would make the spectator active and bringing him to fill in the gaps of the narrative with his own experiences. During editing, we emphasized this principle and nearly a third of the material we had shot, notably the most informative, was lost. And the film is much more silent, purer, than it should have been.
The choice of the social background?
I admire people who simply have the courage to live their lives and those from modest backgrounds and difficult situations: they also bring up issues of destiny because not only must they deal with their problems and sentimental lives, but they must also handle their daily lives, the fear of missing something. Those are the people I want to film.
She’s a girl who ties herself to a boy who is in the margin of delinquency and falls into it herself. But the way in which I film it is quite sober. I didn’t want to be on the side of a couple on the run, a couple of thugs, because that has been done a lot already, but also because I wanted to take the other position, to be on the side on those who stay, on the side of everyday life and not the spectacle, those who suffer from the absence. Only one scene can be linked to organized crime.
The topic of family?
From the start, we didn’t want to stick solely to the love story, we needed to be more ambitious, larger: the film talks about emotions and relationships in general. There is a tension that interests me between the need to belong to a family and the permanent desire to escape it, which was already there in Love Like Poison. There is a young woman who is trying to leave, looking for somewhere else, but who at the same time can’t function without what created her. Once more though, it wasn’t about dealing with causation, but rather with the lack: what is it to live with something missing in your life, like Susanne who lacked and lacks love? When this boy arrives, someone looks at her for the first time like she wants to be seen and that’s why she won’t be able to let go and will follow him in an unstoppable way.