Mona Achache • Director of Little Girl Blue
“Seeing this deeply personal journey projected up on the big screen felt soothing”
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2023: Thanks to this film, some very private parts of the director’s family story are now exposed for the world to see
Little Girl Blue [+see also:
interview: Mona Achache
film profile], premiering in the Special Screenings section of the Cannes Film Festival, is an intimate piece of autofiction, in which a mother’s death by suicide triggers a journey back to examine two generations of women. Directing this journey, with the help of a big-name actress (Marion Cotillard) quite literally stepping into the clothes of the main subject, is daughter-director Mona Achache (The Hedgehog [+see also:
film profile]), who got to meet quite an incredible character in her mother, Carole, along the way.
Cineuropa: There’s no getting around the way this project was conceived: it started with a drastic and brutal event. Can you speak about your journey from the news of your mother’s death to your arrival at the idea for this film?
Mona Achache: I first felt a mixture of grief and anger. Then I had these 25 boxes that I had to take care of and move away. I opened one of them up and just realised that I could not get rid of my past, that this past was something I had to explore. Maybe I was even experiencing some kind of blockage as a filmmaker for not having explored it before – the subject of my mother and her mother, my own genealogy. So I simply followed the creative lineage of my female ancestry, and this material helped me avert my eyes from my mother as I knew her, and to see her as the extraordinary person living the life she lived. Carole was an incredible character for a movie; in real life, it was more difficult.
When you presented this project with a view to getting financial support, what was the reaction?
Right away, I went to my producer, Laetitia Gonzales, the first outside person to confirm that this story was worth telling. We then got support from the Centre National du Cinéma and from a French distributor, Tandem. After that, it was hard. We were questioned about the re-enactment aspect, as people were doubtful of having an actress embodying my mother – which to me was a crucial and also poetical part of the film. And then, there were those who shook their heads and asked, “Yet another #MeToo story?”, to which I could only reply, “Yes, yet another one!”
Did they change their tune once it turned out that said actress would be Marion Cotillard?
To some extent, but people were still somewhat sceptical. On the other hand, her coming on board made my script feel more alive, once I could write “Marion”, rather than “the actress”.
What was her reaction to your idea?
Marion and I had met a few times, and I felt a connection, a strong feminine lineage, of sorts. I also felt that she had the capacity to embody my mother. I wanted an iconic actress for this part, as a counterbalance to her death and all the darkness she had inside her. It was a bit of a fantasy for me. Marion fully engaged in the script; she was quite wonderful. From very early on, it was her or no one else for this project.
And now, this personal story, a very private aspect of your family life, is up on the screen for the world to watch, world-premiering at a grand film festival. What kind of feeling does this give you?
Seeing this deeply personal journey projected up on the big screen felt… soothing. A movie theatre is so very intimate. You’re there, in the dark and in silence. In a way, there’s something gentle and compassionate here, as every single one of us has a past to deal with. The exposure of myself, and the lack of modesty that went with it, is truly a theme of this film.
Within the film, one can also feel that there’s perhaps another movie waiting to come out – not least owing to your mother, a great character, as you rightly note. Can you envision a more fictional, more traditional, film here?
It’s funny, as I experienced great doubts when it came to making this film about her… But once I had finished the editing, I had all those incredible moments of my family history that are not in the film swirling in my mind. My mother was an incredible person, very multi-faceted. [If I made it], maybe it would deal with the relationship she had with motherhood, and especially the mother-daughter relationship that she and I had. It would certainly be a fiction film. The idea has come up in my head, but I try to suppress it. But let’s see. Maybe I’m not quite finished with this story just yet.
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