Molly Manning Walker • Director of How to Have Sex
“Every single woman has gone through something similar, and we just don’t talk about it”
by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2023: Summer has never been more awkward, or felt more real, than in the British director’s film
In Molly Manning Walker’s Cannes Un Certain Regard entry How to Have Sex [+see also:
interview: Molly Manning Walker
film profile], three friends (played by Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake and Enva Lewis) go on holiday all by themselves, but it’s hard to have fun when you are a girl – especially one who wants to finally lose her virginity, just like Tara. Amidst all that partying, things get confusing.
Cineuropa: It’s an uncomfortable experience watching your film. Even if you haven’t exactly gone through trauma, it still brings back memories of some unfortunate choices!
Molly Manning Walker: Oh, I am so sorry [laughs]. For me, every single woman has gone through something similar [to Tara], and we just don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it with each other; we don’t talk about it in general. We should start because why do our first experiences tend to be so horrible? We have to talk about female pleasure and better sex because there is still so much stigma around it. And then, hopefully, things will finally change.
You also show that women do this to women. Instead of being honest with each other, we lie.
Each of these girls plays a different role in the friendship group. Still, these are so-called “situational friends”: the kinds you end up with because you used to sit next to each other in class, for example. You don’t choose them – they are not your tribe. And then you grow up. But they can still have such a strong impact on your memories and, yes, these early experiences.
It’s a sensual story, too. You can almost touch those sweaty faces, and you can smell the cheap shots. Did you want to exaggerate these “holidays from hell”?
Yeah, you can inhale them! The reality of it all was very important to me. I wanted everyone to feel like they were there with them – like they were also just waking up with a massive headache, sitting in those hotel rooms. I don’t think I am actually exaggerating anything here, though. I went on those holidays, too, when I was a teenager, between 16 and 19 years old, and I saw someone getting a blowjob on stage. There are some crazy things going on.
That’s for sure, and sad things as well. But there is still a bit of hope, which was unexpected, frankly.
It was really important to show that Tara is not a victim – at least not like we experience them in the cinema, where something horrible happens to a woman and it feels like she can’t do anything ever again. And then a man comes and saves her. Tara is resilient and she carries on, but it will stay with her.
When you mention assault, it sucks the air out of a room. It’s still very hard for people to understand, and yet so many women keep experiencing it. Again, we need to start talking about it. Luckily, our financiers have been incredibly supportive throughout the making of this film; we also had incredible female execs. They were really pushing this story to the forefront. But it’s very interesting to see men experience this film here at Cannes.
Does it make them uncomfortable, too?
For sure! You can tell by some of their questions and by some reviews. They really don’t understand it.
On top of that, you don’t spell anything out. Some of the most important exchanges in How to Have Sex are wordless – that’s how Tara communicates with one of the boys, Badger. They just look at each other.
I think that in life, so much happens without words, especially in a space like that, where there is music everywhere and just so much going on. I am also this way because I am so bad at hiding my emotions. You can see them all over my face. There was a lot of improvising in this film; we kept going off script. We would forget about a scene and just… play. It was a lot of fun. When I was looking for Tara, it was all about finding someone with these high energy levels, but also someone who – when she is on her own – can be very internal. Mia [McKenna-Bruce] is a standout talent when it comes to that. I really like subcultures, and that “teenager experience” is something I am super interested in. I would probably like to talk about them again in the future. It’s fascinating: you are just figuring everything out. It’s such a weird time.
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