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"I wanted to cross-breed genres"

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Léa Mysius • Director

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- CANNES 2017: We met up with promising French filmmaker Léa Mysius, who has unveiled her feature debut, Ava, in competition in the Critics’ Week

Léa Mysius  • Director
(© Alice Khol/Critics' Week)

The 70th Cannes Film Festival is truly smiling upon young French director Léa Mysius, who co-wrote the opening film of the Official Selection, Ismael’s Ghosts [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
Q&A: Arnaud Desplechin
film profile
]
by Arnaud Desplechin, and has now unveiled her directorial feature debut, Ava [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Léa Mysius
film profile
]
, in competition in the Critics’ Week, an atmospheric and highly original film that flirts with several genres and, right from the get-go, showcases a very promising personal style.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Ava is the screenplay with which you graduated from La Fémis. What was the trigger for this story?
Léa Mysius: I changed the subject matter shortly before the deadline imposed by the school, and so I had to write this script really quickly, and it started off with the image of a dog that had already been in one of my short films, Thunderbirds. I imagined a black dog, a slightly peculiar, scrawny one, walking along a very artificial but jam-packed beach. I wanted to show this mixture of the wild and the artificial. That was the initial image, and I imagined that it was going to lead to the heroine, but at that time I still didn’t know who that would be.

While I was writing this screenplay for my graduation, I suffered from retinal migraines and was forced to write in the dark. That’s how I came to ask myself the question of what it would be like to be blind. And so I took an interest in retinitis pigmentosa, which is a degenerative disease where your field of vision is limited to a circle: everything gradually recedes until it eventually disappears. People who suffer from it first lose their vision in low-light conditions, particularly at night, and that can happen at any age, like it does for Ava at 13 years old.

You chose to blend this idea with the story of a teenage girl who wants to discover love and desire.
This disease, and the fact that she learns that she is going to lose her eyesight sooner than she expected, is what catalyses everything. Ava is at that pivotal age, becoming a teenager, but she is forced to go quicker than everyone else because she wants to see things before she loses the power of sight. Incidentally, at one point in the story, she says that she is scared of only seeing ugliness. So she wants to see more. She’s also a young girl who is initially repulsed by her body. She is very modest: she has a problem with her mother, who, on the contrary, is very open, and she has a problem with the people on the beach because people force her to go on holiday to a place where there are bodies everywhere. By becoming blind, she is obliged to gradually learn to accept her body, develop her other senses and thus become a woman.

What about the film’s other subject, with Ava’s encounter with the young Gypsy, set against a backdrop of a nascent police state?
I wanted the fact that she is losing her eyesight to also be metaphorical in the sense that the world is darkening a little around her, as suggested by the character of Matthias, who talks about "the end of civilisation". But it also stems from the fact that I write based on places that I know and that, where I come from, the Front National got 50% of the votes in the legislative elections five years ago. Gypsies are foreigners, and the locals are still extremely racist. I wanted to show this fairly restrictive, liberty-killing side of a society where Ava, by choosing someone who is different, has virtually already achieved a political act, and running away and living a utopian dream with him represents true freedom.

While we’re on the subject, there are two fairly distinctive parts in the film: once they have got together and consummated their love, the movie has an almost Bonnie and Clyde-like side.
I wanted to cross-breed genres and gradually make the transition from one genre to another. In the beginning, it’s very naturalistic, and then we slowly dig deeper into the story until we essentially reach genre-film territory. It needed to be gradual, and at the end – much like Ava, who is immersed in something very fanciful because she wants to see things, enjoy life and take pleasure in it – the film needed to break away from naturalism and also instil enjoyment in the viewer. The movie needed to really take off.

The playful split-screen moment really emphasises this break in tone.
I wanted the characters to have fun and for the movie to allow the viewer to have a bit of fun as well, because it’s still the story of a young girl who is about to lose her eyesight, and a film about life and desire. Bit by bit, as her eyesight fades away, she discovers her body and desire, she opens up, and she puts her trust in others. It has both playful and romantic elements because Ava is a romantic film.

(Translated from French)

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