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Virginie Verrier • Director of Marinette

"I could see a fairy tale and a wonderful message of hope in Marinette’s biography"


- The filmmaker spoke to us about her biopic on the star and pioneer of women’s football, which is released in French cinemas this week and also competing in Tribeca

Virginie Verrier  • Director of Marinette

Marinette [+see also:
film review
interview: Virginie Verrier
film profile
is director and producer Virginie Verrier’s second feature film after À 2 heures de Paris [+see also:
film profile
(2018). Released in French cinemas on 7 June, this biopic on footballer Marinette Pichon (played by Garance Marillier) is set to enjoy its international premiere in competition in Tribeca on 11 June.

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Cineuropa: How did you come across the story of footballer Marinette Pichon and what made you want to make a biopic about her life?
Virginie Verrier: I wanted to talk about sport, because I’ve done a lot of it myself, especially athletics. It’s not easy to make a film on this subject in France, and everyone told me that you can’t make a film about sport, even though Marinette isn’t a sports film in the strictest sense. I also love biopics and biographies. That’s when a friend who knew Marinette Pichon pointed out that she was releasing her autobiography Ne jamais rien lâcher. My response was: who’s she? I’d never heard of her. As for women’s football, media coverage of it for wider audiences mostly came about from the World Cup onwards, which took place in France in 2019. So I read Marinette’s biography and I realised just how much of a pioneer she was. And she’d had a difficult childhood too. I could see a fairy tale and a wonderful message of hope in it. What won me over right away was her resilient and incredibly strong character, the way she’d be put to the test but always push through, never giving up.

How did you balance depicting her journey as a high-level sportswoman in a sport we wouldn’t necessarily expect to see girls in, with the personal, human dimension, relating to her complicated family, and her love life which was pretty avant-garde for the time?
It was the challenge of interweaving these three aspects and doing it seamlessly which interested me. I didn’t want to leave anything out, I wanted the different elements to blend together because she lives through all of it simultaneously. But the ways she behaves in her love life and on the pitch aren’t the same. I thought it was important to juxtapose these differences, especially the fact that she’d accept certain things in her private life but was a warrior on the playing field. There are certain paradoxes, especially between what she experienced at home - an infernal huis-clos - and how she expressed herself in the open air, killing it on gigantic pitches. It helped me to paint a concise, well-rounded portrait.

How did you decide to film the football matches?
I definitely didn’t want to film them as you see them on TV. I didn’t see the point of long focal-lens shots from the edge of the pitch. I wanted to stick to the character like glue, stay close to her emotions, and to actually be on the pitch amongst the girls. I’ve always had a soft spot for manga-style, comic book writing, like in Captain Tsubasa, and that’s what sprang to mind immediately: being close to their faces, capturing their expressions and any vital action. I didn’t want to bore viewers with football tunnels, I wanted to stay on the pitch and not waste a single moment.

Why choose Garance Marillier for the lead role?
I could either find a footballer who could be taught to act or choose a sporty actress who could be taught to play football. I followed Garance on Instagram, like I do with other actresses and actors that I like, and one day she uploaded a short video talking about the fact that she played football. So she was the first to be sent the script and she accepted the part straight away.

You’re also a film producer. How did the funding process unfold?
Certain backers and potential co-producers were reluctant. They’d tell me that no-one was interested in women’s football, but in my mind, that was just a backdrop: the film is about a life, about emancipation. I was also told that having a heroine who’s a lesbian would be a cliché... So I decided to produce it alone, and support from the Hauts-de-France region helped me to start developing the film. Once the screenplay was written, France 3 and Canal+ were quick to come on board. Unlike the USA, being both a producer and a director isn’t very common in France, and I got the distinct impression that I’d have to prove myself when it came to banks and institutions. But, at the end of the day, that’s how I managed to make the film. Otherwise, I might still be organising meetings and trying to find a producer.

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(Translated from French)

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