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France / Belgium / Iceland

Dinara Drukarova • Director of Woman at Sea

“I hope the film is received as both a visual poem and a realistic tale”


- The Paris-based Russian actress chats to us about her directorial debut, adapted from the French literary hit Grand Marin by Catherine Poulain

Dinara Drukarova • Director of Woman at Sea
(© Joan Calvet)

Paris-based Russian actress Dinara Drukarova’s directorial debut, Woman at Sea [+see also:
film review
interview: Dinara Drukarova
film profile
, distributed by Rezo Films in France and by its production company, Slot Machine, internationally, was first shown in the New Directors section of the San Sebastián Film Festival, and then more recently at the Ostende Film Festival. Drukarova explores all kinds of contrasts in her portrait of a lady on water: land and sea, male and female, body and soul, realism and poetry. The first-time director sat down with Cineuropa at the second edition of the Polarise Nordic Film Nights in Brussels, where Woman at Sea was chosen as the opening title.

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Cineuropa: The film is adapted from Catherine Poulain's Grand Marin. How did you discover the book, and how did it make its way into your creative process?
Dinara Drukarova: I read an article about Catherine's book in the newspaper, about seven years ago. Her picture next to the article really struck a chord. There was such strength coming out of her gaze. I bought the book, and images quickly came to my mind. I just loved this metaphor of a person who wants to leave everything behind and reach the world's end. A need to leave the land and invest in the sea in order to confront herself, and find an understanding of her own strengths and weaknesses. She does all this by entering a profoundly masculine environment – and a harsh one, too.

Indeed, Lili finds herself at odds with the rest of the crew in this male-centric boat. What part of a woman's life experience did you want to convey?
Lili's story echoes that of many women, really, well beyond all the stereotypes that society, religion and any kind of structure dictate. All she wants is to follow her instinct and to defend the position she's chosen through her work. She wants to earn that respect and to avoid moulding herself into what her co-workers might expect of her. Come to think of it, it’s easily comparable to what women face in the movie industry.

Why did you decide to mention so little about Lili's past and motivations?
She is quite cryptic, yes. I tried to invent a backstory for her at an early stage of the writing process, but it completely eclipsed the story. There would have been no room left for the audience to immerse themselves in it. That's why we never get a full background. But if you're attentive, you get to imagine her story. When she tells Jude [played by Icelandic actor Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson] that she can't stand walls and would rather drown than stay on land, it tells you something. I know those kinds of existential sentences moved me when I read them. That's why I kept all of the exact dialogues from the book. At the end of day, I hope the film is received as both a visual poem and a realistic tale.

Why did you relocate the story from Alaska to Iceland?
I was originally thinking of Quebec because I needed half of the dialogue to be in French in order to meet the criteria from the Centre National du Cinéma, which co-funded the film. But when the pandemic hit, the location we had found was completely shut down. My producer then asked me about Iceland. I felt the attraction, clearly, but thought it would be too expensive. Yet we tried, and we managed! And the landscapes are perfect for our story, with their magnetic beauty and harsh conditions.

Talking about images, how did you work with Aki Kaurismaki's long-time collaborator, Timo Salminen?
We already knew each other because I had already asked Timo to work on my short film Ma branche toute fine [2018]. He's a poet, and that's exactly what I was looking for. I gave him carte blanche, in a way. We chose a ‘scope format to embed the idea of immensity and space in the audience's mind. It generates a strong contrast when you add Lili's tiny body in the middle of it, and her solitude, too.

Did Catherine Poulain see the film?
She did, three times! The first time, she was really shaken and kept saying: “This is going too fast!” She saw it a second time, and the third was at the San Sebastián Film Festival. That's where she told me that she finally felt at ease watching it and loving it. She said it finally felt like a separate work of art, different but connected to hers.

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