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LOCARNO 2022 Cineasti del presente

Julie Lerat-Gersant • Director of Little Ones

“The actresses were distracted from their own acting and this made everything feel much more authentic and natural”

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- The French director discusses her film, in which a teenager needs to find the way to break free from her mother in order to decide about the fate of the child she is pregnant with

Julie Lerat-Gersant • Director of Little Ones

The first feature film by French director Julie Lerat-Gersant premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in the Cineasti del Presente section. Little Ones [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Julie Lerat-Gersant
film profile
]
is an intimate portrait of a young woman who fights for a better future for her and her unborn child. We spoke to the director about her motivation to tell this story, her work with the actors and how to shoot with children.

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Cineuropa: Why did you want to tell this story?
Julie Lerat-Gersant
: I worked for several weeks in a maternal centre. I tutored writing workshops for young girls aged 15 and 16 years old. I was impressed by the fact that, at their young age, they carry so much responsibility. They navigate between their motherhood and their childhood. What they experience brings them back constantly to their own relationship with their parents, especially with their mother. I was fascinated by this family repetition that a lot of us know, and wondered what was needed to escape this vicious cycle. 

How did you proceed with your research and the development of the script?
I spent ten weeks in that centre I mentioned, but also had a lot of conversations with experts, namely educators and psychologists. While writing the script, I constantly confronted it to reality. I wanted to be as realistic and credible as possible. Moreover, I witnessed the placing of a child by the youth welfare office. I saw what a trauma it was for both child and mother. That touched me very much.

Did you also work with non-professional actors? How did you find the actress cast in the leading role?
All the main characters are played by professional actors. Only a few supporting roles are played by non-professional actors. As for Pili Groyne, who plays Camille, it took us a long time to find her. We wanted someone with a certain maturity in her acting, and who was still young. We considered casting an actress in her twenties, but she looked too mature. Pili is a Belgian actress who has already played in several productions. She turned out to be exactly what we searched for. 

How did she prepare for the role?
We talked a lot about the film and about its topics. We discussed what it means to be a mother and how the character reacts to others. I wanted her, for example, to see a reflection of herself in the little girl Diana — who is, by the way, my real daughter. Pili and her spent a lot of time together, they got used to each other and liked each other very much. 

Was it difficult to shoot with the children?
Above all, it had to be very well organised. There are strict regulations in France concerning shoots with small children, about how many hours they are allowed to be on the set, for example. We had to deal with their parents and be careful. The adults had to adapt to the children and their rhythm. But this happened to be a very lucky thing. The actresses were distracted from their own acting and this made everything feel much more authentic and natural.

Did you feel that the story also spoke to you on a personal level?
At first I thought that there was nothing of myself in it. But then, besides the fact that my middle name is also Camille, I realised that it's a film about learning to grow and learning to separate yourself from one's own mother. I was reminded of my own childhood and my relationship with my mother. Then, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my mother fell into a coma. I had to start my new life as a mother without her, which made the separation process inevitable. 

The camera is always very close to Camille. There is only one scene in which she is not seen. What were the most important aspects for your visual concept?
Since this was my first film, I took my time to develop its aesthetic, together with my cinematographer. I wanted the camera to show the protagonist constantly, to be close to her and show her intimate details. We played with very tight close-ups and more open shots to be able to show the development of Camille from being, at first, in the shadow of her mother, then coming into her own light. I also wanted the camera to become a part of the group. We tried to shoot with as few cuts as possible. 

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