Bérangère Mc Neese • Director of Matriochkas
“Being a tributary of other people’s gaze and desire is a very difficult thing. I also wanted to push myself”
- Cineuropa chats with the young Belgian actress and filmmaker Bérangère Mc Neese, the director of the short work Matriochkas which has been pre-selected for the 2021 Césars
We sat down with Bérangère Mc Neese, who entered the acting world as a child and whose 3rd short film Matriochkas has spent the past year scooping up armfuls of awards and nominations: having bagged the Magritte for Best Short Fiction Film in February, and now eligible to contend in the same category at the Oscars, the work has also just made its way onto a shortlist of 24 shorts which have been pre-selected for next year’s Césars. The director looks back on the unusual path she has taken and the particular way in which her young filmmaking career is unfurling.
Cineuropa: You started out as an actress very young – what drew you towards this field?
Bérangère Mc Neese: My father’s side is a family of artists. My grandmother comes from Kentucky, but a whole period of her life was spent in New York where she worked as a model and an actress. She has 6 children and all her children are musicians, painters, actors… For that reason, wanting to be an actor was never considered to be anything spectacular in my family, there was nothing rock’n’roll about it. I knew quite early on that that was what I wanted to do.
At what point did you decide that you also wanted to tell your own stories?
I wanted to write stories that I found interesting, and the medium which I was most familiar with for telling those stories was film. And on a more practical note, it’s very strange being an actor/actress, it’s a really unpredictable thing. Being a tributary of others, of their gaze and of their desire is a very difficult thing in and of itself, but to then forge a career out of it… I also wanted to push myself further.
Your first short Le Sommeil des Amazones is a story about sisterhood, a theme which runs through all of your films to date and which we might come across again in your first feature film?
I really like exploring relationships between women, which I haven’t seen that much of at the cinema and which I find really interesting. They come in all different shapes: in Matriochkas, for example, we tend to focus on the mother-daughter relationship.
I made my first short films at a time when people were beginning to raise questions over the visibility of women directors, and I suddenly found myself at festivals which were screening films by women and offering thematic programmes. It’s brilliant, of course, to have this visibility. But it can sometimes feel limiting; you can sometimes feel a bit suspect, or at least feel that others suspect you’re there purely on account of your gender.
Matriochkas has enjoyed an incredible film career: copious awards, the Magritte for Best Short Fiction Film, a very recent nomination for the Césars, its elegibility for the Oscars following on from the film’s victory at Palm Springs… How does it feel to receive such an avalanche of awards?
It’s a wonderful surprise each and every time. Especially in the US where I wasn’t sure the film would be well-received given its subject-matter [Editor’s note: it features a young woman confronted with the question of abortion], which makes it highly political over there, even if it isn’t the film’s main subject. In fact, during the shoot, I insisted on the fact that it wasn’t a film about abortion, I saw it as more of a subtext. Also, at the time, I didn’t feel that it was a political matter, but I came to realise that it was. It’s a highly contentious subject.
From your perspective, what are the greatest challenges involved in the transition from short to feature-length films?
I knew immediately what it was I wanted to write about. When it’s your first feature film, you want to pack lots into it, which isn’t always a good idea. So you have to pick out the best bits, and that’s an exercise that I struggle with. It’s a time-consuming process and, up to this point, I’ve only ever had to deal with a more immediate style of writing. And whilst Matriochkas’ trajectory has opened doors, it has also raised expectations, which is quite unnerving.
On that note, what kind of projects are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished filming a series for TF1 called HPI, which is a comedy thriller. I’ve also just starred in François Pirot’s feature film La Vie dans les bois [read our news], in Julien Leclercq’s Netflix series Braqueurs, and in a TV special for France Télévisions.
Behind the camera, I’ve directed an episode for the second season of a documentary series called Hobbies for Canal+. And I’ve just finished shooting 3 episodes of Baraki, an upcoming RTBF series which is now in the image editing phase. And now… I’m going to get back to writing my feature film, and I’m also working on a series. It’s been a very busy year. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so much in my life as I have these past few months.
(Translated from French)
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