"Shattering the stereotypical image of the butch female cop in a leather jacket"
by Geneviève Rossier et Françoise Deriaz
- After several acclaimed shorts, Swiss-born, French-based director Frédéric Mermoud has made an impressive transition to features with a film presented at Locarno and lauded at Chicago
Cineuropa: How did the sensitive issue of juvenile prostitution emerge in Partners [+see also:
interview: Frédéric Mermoud
Frédéric Mermoud: In order to explore the desire of a 20-year-old girl through a love story – which I instinctively transposed to the coded context of a thriller – I drew initial inspiration from a news story about a gang of youngsters from Neuilly who offered their services online. I didn’t intend to look at a social issue, but to tell the story of two youngsters caught in the net of prostitution.
In L’escalier (“The Staircase”) and Rachel, two of your shorts, you also focused on teenagers. Is this stage in life of particular interest to you?
In my opinion, "the age of possibilities" – as the title of Pascale Ferran’s film puts it so well – is concentrated between 15 and 20. It’s the time when everything is formed and the present is experienced with great intensity. The love between Rebecca [Nina Meurisse], and Vincent [Cyril Descours] is immediate and symbiotic. I certainly didn’t want it to be a damaging or gloomy love affair: the two young lovers are free individuals, who take responsibility for their actions. They’re never victims.
Rebecca and Vincent’s love affair unfolds at the same time as the investigation led by two police officers, played by Emmanuelle Devos and Gilbert Melki…
The film is structured around two intertwining narrative threads. On the one hand, there is the police investigation, which lasts seven or eight days – i.e. a rather compact time frame, in the style of news reports – and, on the other hand, the youngsters’ romance, which is part of a more dramatic structure, punctuated by twists and turns and lots of ellipses.
The intertwining of these two layers creates a certain tension. Right from the start, we wonder what has happened. Why has a body been found in the River Rhone? What has become of Rebecca? The successive build-up of information is replaced by a focus on what the investigators feel about their discoveries.
Nina Meurisse, who plays Rebecca in Partners, appears in two of your shorts. Did you write this role for her?
Not exactly, but when I decided to set the film in the world of prostitution, it was obvious that Rebecca had to be played by an actress who breathes life into the film, and brings a luminous and sunny quality. I wasn’t interested in a cold and morbid personality, a gothic or evanescent beauty.
You also reunite with Emmanuelle Devos, who appeared in Parallel Parking. What prompted you to cast her as inspector Mangin?
While we were shooting that short, writing was already well underway on Partners and the characters’ profiles were outlined. I obviously wanted to work with her again and I offered her the role of the police woman. I really liked the idea of shattering the stereotypical image of the butch female cop in a leather jacket, and the character of inspector Mangin is a radical departure from that stereotype.
How did you avoid the pitfalls of the TV detective drama and series?
How do you break free from the all-pervasive images of the new French thriller and US series? My own solution was to get as close as possible to the characters and free myself from plot constraints. When writing the screenplay, I aimed for perfect credibility by paying close attention to the sequence of events, but during the post-production stage, I realised that I could be a lot more elliptical. Although the narrative is quite sophisticated, it is essentially a character film.
Which scenes were the most difficult to shoot?
The hotel sex scenes were very carefully prepared. I gave the actors the shooting script and explained what I was going to do. Then they could raise their doubts and suggestions. These shots were filmed during the first week, with a limited team. My directing is determined by the actors’ ability to take possession of the space and evolve in it. As soon as the body movement finds its rhythm, they can act in a way that suits them – and suits me too. For me, the most difficult scenes to shoot are those where I struggle to find that circulation within the space.