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CANNES 2023 Cannes Première

Valérie Donzelli • Director of Just the Two of Us

"I thought it would be fascinating to explore how this woman who’s also an idealist could allow herself to be trapped"


- CANNES 2023: The French filmmaker discusses her new film, which unpicks the dynamics of control through the story of a couple

Valérie Donzelli  • Director of Just the Two of Us
(© Christine Tamalet)

The sixth feature film by French filmmaker Valérie Donzelli, Just the Two of Us [+see also:
film review
interview: Valérie Donzelli
film profile
was unveiled in the Cannes Première section of the 76th Cannes Film Festival at the same time as being released in French cinemas.

Cineuropa: How did you come across Éric Reinhardt’s novel which you and Audrey Diwan adapted? What was it about the story that made you want to make a film about it?
Valérie Donzelli: I’d met Éric a long time beforehand, at a festival where we were serving on the same jury. So when the book came out, I bought it, because I knew him. I read it while I was in the middle of filming Marguerite & Julien [+see also:
film review
film profile
and I was totally captivated by the story. I thought it would be fascinating to explore something that was so difficult to write. I saw its film potential straight away and I knew that I’d adapt it someday. I sensed it needed to be set over the long-term and would need time to mature, in some sense. When I decided to go ahead with it, I read other books about control, I met with psychologists and psychiatrists, and I sought out accounts from the women around me.

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Which of the characters in the couple fascinated you the most when reading the book: the woman being controlled or her twisted, manipulative partner?
What I found interesting was the way Éric described this toxic, masculine character and the manipulative tactics he resorts to. And I thought it would be fascinating to identify with the female character and to try to understand why this woman who’s also an idealist allows herself to be trapped: it’s because she believes in their love story, because she thinks that things will sort themselves out; she puts up with it, she keeps hope. But the scene which made me want to adapt the book into a film was the one where he goes his mea culpa and passes himself off as the victim. I thought it would be fascinating to see just how far he’d go to turn the situation back on her and trap her even more, not only asking her to help him, but also depriving her of her role as the victim.

Did you change anything from the book?
I changed a lot of things. Firstly, because the film is from Blanche’s viewpoint, whereas the book is from the writer’s perspective, since it’s a woman writing to a writer and telling him that his book saved her, so she tells him her story. There isn’t a writer character in my film. It’s a woman who takes control of her story and who speaks at a very particular point in time, which I won’t give away, where another woman is able to listen to her. Another difference in the book is that the twins are polar opposites, whereas I thought it would be fascinating for this control to work on one of them but not the other; it’s almost like they’re two sides of the same person. The film is quite psychological, so I thought it would be interesting to explore these two points.

What do you mean by "psychological"?
We’re looking at things through Blanche’s eyes and witnessing the fragmentation of her mind. It starts with her losing her bearings, because control is about taking over the other. When you’re taken over by a stranger, when they get inside your head, you no longer know what to think, you don’t even know how to speak anymore, you don’t know anything. The only thing Blanche knows is that she has her books, her passion for literature and her work, and she clings on to these things. She has the children too, of course, but she even gets to doubting the bond she has with them, because their dad poisons everything he touches.

What were your main intentions with the mise en scène?
I thought the film should have the feel of a gradual state of apnoea, so we needed long sequences with a slow pace, and less cuts than you’d usually have in a film.

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(Translated from French)

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