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Cyril Mennegun • Director

"Ambition is not solely about money and casting"

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- Cyril Mennegun deciphers the surprising success of Louise Wimmer and talks about his second feature film, La rencontre

Cyril Mennegun • Director

Revealed at the Critics’ Week in Venice, Louise Wimmer [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
was very successful in theatres in France and won the César 2013 for Best First Film and the Louis Delluc Prize 2012 for Best First Feature Film. Let’s glance back at this widely-noticed achievement with its director, who is currently preparing his second opus, La rencontre, with Alexandre Guansé and Céline Salette heading the bill.

Cineuropa: Beyond the quality of the film, how do you explain the success of Louise Wimmer on a subject (a woman nearly 50 years old, fighting to overcome poverty) that was not particularly “glamorous”?
Cyril Mennegun: It is obviously the result of the work of the entire team, from production (Zadig) to distribution (Haut et Court). But I also think that the movie has a sort of resonance with our time, with the general issue of the financial crisis and the audience’s need to have access to works that shed light on questions that concern us all on a daily basis, with a more sensitive approach than that of journalists who deal with these problems mainly using numbers, in a rather dehumanizing way.

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How does your past as a documentary filmmaker influence the way you approach fiction?
I am completely self-taught, I did not attend cinema school, so I do not have a path filled with strong theoretical references and I built my cinema education quite late in life. I learned through making documentaries and what I have retained from that time, beyond a way of capturing reality, is respect for the person you are filming, whether real or not, respect for a character who is written into a screenplay and described within a fictional world.

What are your cinematographic references? 
Among others, I like Italian neo-realists, John Cassavetes, Anglo-Saxon filmmakers such as Lodge Kerrigan who, in my opinion, are major players even though quite minor from the box-office point of view, Laurent Cantet, Bruno Dumont.

Why are you so loyal to your producer, Bruno Nahon?
He is very coherent about his tastes and values, what he wants to do and the tools at his disposal to finance and create films. We have worked together for ten years and he is highly representative of a generation of up-and-coming producers, personalities very concerned by the world’s current situation. He fought for Louise Wimmer because it was a first feature film, on a subject that was not easy, without any stars and with an unknown director.

What do you think about the recent debate on the complicated emergence of young French directors making their first and second feature films?
When I was working on Louise Wimmer, I was told: "It’s almost impossible to make a first feature film today”. Now I am sometimes told that making the second one is even harder. There is always something that tries to put you off (laughter). But I do not believe that there is an absolute truth, it all depends on the kind of movie you want to make, the energy you put into it and the screenplay. In any case, it is always hard to make a film. No one measures the time, effort and work it required to turn the path taken by Louise Wimmer into reality. But it is also a path that can give courage to those who want to make films: you don’t have to give anything up in order to succeed.

How is your next project coming along?
I am finishing the writing phase and next winter I should be filming La rencontre (provisional title), a love-story with the financial crisis as a backdrop, and a reflexion on the margins of the world. My work always focuses on portraits and bringing out strong characters. The cast will feature Céline Salette, but I will again bet on a complete unknown with Alexandre Guansé. I am convinced that French cinema needs new faces and if people like me do not make it happen, I do not know who will. It will not be a difficult film to finance, because for the time being I want to remain free. I could make a film with more money, but I'm not making any hold-ups. Ambition is not solely about money and casting, it is about remaining coherent about who we are and working in that direction and on the way we tell things. Despite all the prizes won by Louise Wimmer, I still consider myself as a filmmaker in the making.

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