“Our film is modest"
by Domenico La Porta
- CANNES 2014: Cineuropa met the French directors Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis to talk about their film Party Girl, which won the Caméra d’Or
To write and direct a film between three people is the bright idea of the directing trio composed of Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis which came to fruition in Party Girl [+see also:
interview: Marie Amachoukeli, Claire B…
film profile], presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the 67th Cannes Film Festival and winner of the Caméra d'Or and an ensemble prize, a clear endorsement all the same…
Cineuropa: How was the idea of Party Girl born?
Samuel Theis: It was born about four years ago, more or less. It arrived in various stages. You should know that all three of us have been friends for a long time. We first tested these 15 years of friendship at work by collaborating in Claire (Burger’s) short graduation film at the Femis cinema school, which was called Forbach and was selected at the Cinéfondation. This short film was already based on Angélique and on my family. It showed us that there was real acting potential for tapping there. Like in the short film, the starting point for this story was a real element of my mother’s life: the wedding she had at almost 60 years of age even though she was not in love. This act posed the question of knowing how, when you’ve spent your life in the night-time underworld, you manage your exit…
This autobiographical material is both beautiful and fragile. Did it give you wings, or rather did it weigh you down like an added responsibility in directing your first film?
Marie Amachoukeli: The fact that there are three of us creates balance and a series of safeguards that we each put in place at different points so that we never indulge in a tearful or complacent autobiography.
Samuel Theis: We knew from the outset that we wanted to make a fiction, a motion picture which might flirt with certain aspects of documentary film, but which would never be pure autobiography. That leaves a bit more flexibility for the story, and that protects us, Angélique and everyone.
And yet you knew how to keep the authenticity close to the non-acting of your actors. How did you work with them?
Claire Burger: We tested absolutely nothing. That’s what was very nerve-racking, and that unknown was part of the adventure. We knew what we wanted following a trajectory that we had written. We dived in with the actors, always hoping that the desired chemistry would appear, but we were never sure of it. No matter what we set up, it always appeared, but never where we expected it to. It was surprising, unsettling at times because it revealed real feelings, and we had to stay concentrated in order to capture them without leaving the story’s setting.
Marie Amachoukeli: The film was not improvised. It’s very much written, even if we had to be able to accommodate what the actors were suggesting, to realise that — perhaps — it was more interesting than what we had planned and that we needed to adapt, rewrite constantly in order to always go in the direction of the story and to respect our characters and their own words.
The interior and exterior areas you film are not common in cinema. Do you think that all spaces are potentially cinematic?
Claire Burger: Absolutely, and it’s rather a forgotten notion which we must return to. The more distinctive you are, the less you fear being original, the more I feel that you can really reach out to the majority. Just because people have a Lorraine accent doesn’t mean your film will be regionalist.
Samuel Theis: Indeed, the story, the purpose in itself, remains very unique and at last, the border aspect, the region, is apparent in many places: in the mix of languages, in the musicality, but also in the landscapes, the faces, the tattoos even…
Marie Amachoukeli: It’s not easy to film a border. You can always film a sign, but it’s artificial. This invisible line must be reflected elsewhere so that the camera can capture it.
The night-time world is linked to sex, but the film, just like Angélique, in fact, is very modest. Why this approach?
Samuel Theis: Firstly, because Angélique is very modest. Then I think it was amusing in terms of narration to play on the contrast of what you expect from the night-time environment. Just because you’re paid from midnight to 6 am to wear seductive outfits and to seduce people doesn’t mean that defines who you are all the time.
Claire Burger: Samuel (Theis) is just as modest as his mum. It must be a family thing. So, that’s also reflected in the production. In making this film, he had to understand how Angélique works on a very personal level. That was difficult for him, but that also helped him a lot to better understand what happened at the time of the marriage.
Samuel Theis: This modesty was also a limit for us. We came across Joseph Bour (who plays Michel) quite late in the casting. He was a real showstopper for us, but not for Angélique. She found him extremely funny and it worked really well between them in this combo, but physically, she had problems. It was even impossible to ask them if only to kiss on the lips. She couldn’t be affectionate with him. You see that in the film, and it influences the story.
Director trios are very rare. Did you share out tasks specifically?
Samuel Theis: As a group, we really did everything, everywhere, all three of us. It was just impossible to leave one thing to one person, to alternate or to delegate particular tasks.
Marie Amachoukeli: That has the advantage of a shared duty. I think that with three of us, we feel more solid when times are hard and when there are difficulties.
Claire Burger: Every project has its own configuration. That worked for this one, but that’s not to say that it will work the same way on the next one.
(Translated from French)