Ursula Meier • Director of The Line
“Usually in cinema, violence is shown through male protagonists, and when there are women, they’re mostly teenagers”
by Teresa Vena
- BERLINALE 2022: The French-Swiss director’s tragicomedy deals with the representation of female violence, casting aside the usual stereotypes
After Sister [+see also:
interview: Kacey Mottet Klein
interview: Ursula Meier
film profile], Ursula Meier comes back to the Berlinale competition with her new feature The Line [+see also:
interview: Ursula Meier
film profile], which tells the story of three sisters who all have to deal with an egocentric and demanding mother. We talked to the French-Swiss director about the main topics of the film and how she developed the characters.
Cineuropa: Here, as in your previous films, and particularly Sister, you deal with the topics of family and sisterhood.
Ursula Meier: The starting point was the wish to tell the story of a violent woman, of female violence. Stéphanie Blanchoud, with whom I wrote the film, has experience in boxing and already wrote a play dealing with this subject. Usually in cinema, violence is shown through male protagonists, and when there are women, they’re mostly teenagers. Normally in these cases, it's also connected to topics like drugs or prostitution. I wasn't interested in that. I asked myself how it would be possible to show the violence of this female character without having to give too many explanations. I then connected the story to family, because that’s what shapes us, and because I didn't want to talk about any other social or political topic.
The part of Margaret, played by Stéphanie Blanchoud, is very demanding, physically. How did you and she prepare for it?
It was a long process. While writing the film, it was important for me at one point to see the protagonist’s damaged face. It was an essential image for me in order to visualise the film. I started from her body; it was the inspiration for the film and somehow the landscape of the movie as well. Seeing the face made me realise that it was already such a strong picture that it wouldn't be necessary to show any more violence besides that. It was very difficult to find out how much violence to show. For Stéphanie, as well, it was important for her to see herself with the make-up, to be able to build up the character. Once, she even went outside like that, observing the reactions she got from others.
During the film, we realise that the character of Margaret's mother is even more violent than Margaret herself.
Yes, we wanted that to become clear gradually. It's another kind of violence: she abuses her children, which is a more hidden form of violence. Each of the sisters reacted differently to it. One tries to be particularly normal, but actually isn't, the other finds refuge in religion, and then there is Margaret.
How did the topic of religion come into the story?
It appeared very quickly. We were working on the character, and I said to Stéphanie that I imagined the youngest of the sisters praying. It was really intuition. Religion is what saves her: Jesus is her only friend, as she says at one point. It reflects a certain survival instinct. I like to think of this kind of power that helps her cope with everything. It was interesting to show her as a character that absorbs all the violence of the others and, at the end, explodes. It's finally then that the mother realises that she has gone too far, even though she won't change much.
How did you find the young actress?
We searched for a long time and were really blessed when we found Elli Spagnolo.
Did the topic of the music as a central theme appear from the beginning of the writing process?
Stéphanie is a singer, and I thought it would be nice if she sang in the film. I thought it would show a nice contrast to her violent side. At first, she didn't want to, but then she finally agreed. Her singing reinforces the character of the protagonist, who also has a very fragile and soft side. Then, each generation has its own kind of music to represent it, and it's music that forms the link between all of them. It is the only positive thing that the mother shared with her daughters. It also creates another link between Margaret and her ex-boyfriend.
Do we need these visible and invisible lines in order to be able to live?
Yes, I guess so. It is sometimes necessary to create a distance between us and someone or something. I, for example, need a certain distance to be able to observe Switzerland. We need the lines, but we also have to be able to cross them.
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