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CANNES 2024 Proyecciones especiales

Noémie Merlant • Directora de Les Femmes au balcon

"Es como si la ciudad gritase y se derrumbase a la vez"

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- CANNES 2024: La actriz, guionista y directora francesa habla sobre su segundo largometraje, que se centra en tres amigas juntas en un día abrasador del verano marsellés

Noémie Merlant • Directora de Les Femmes au balcon
(© Fabrizio de Gennaro/Cineuropa)

Este artículo está disponible en inglés.

After her debut feature, Mi Iubita Mon Amour [+lee también:
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, French actress-writer-director Noémie Merlant decided to explore a mix of genres: her sophomore feature, The Balconettes [+lee también:
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, mixes comedy, horror and drama as three girlfriends reunite under the scorching sun in the South of France. We met with the director shortly after the premiere of her film as a Cannes Midnight Screening to talk about balconies and the shifting power of the gaze.

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Cineuropa: Can we talk about Marseille as a setting first?
Noémie Merlant:
I've been living in Marseille for three years now, and I really love the city. I had a crush on it immediately! I felt as if she was a person – or a woman, to be precise. She was alive. It’s in the atmosphere; it’s like the city is screaming and falling apart at the same time. So the film was always going to be set in Marseille.

The balcony can be seen as a space where the public and the private meet; is that how you consider it as well?
For me, this script started from a real experience. When the #MeToo movement was in full swing, I started realising how trapped we are within the patriarchal dynamics, and I felt like I wasn’t in my own body. So, I came to my apartment with my girlfriends – there would be three or four of us sometimes – and the balcony felt like the only safe place where we could really be ourselves. It is, as you say, both outside and also still part of the intimacy of your flat. But from the balcony, we can have a vision of the outside. We [women] don’t have a place in the public space, on the street. There’s always a gaze; there is oppression. On the balcony, you can dream. You can also look out from that viewpoint and maybe change something.

That comes across in the film’s visual style because it starts with exterior shots, and suddenly, we find ourselves inside, before the characters take to the streets in the end. Was there a journey for these women, reclaiming the public space for themselves?
Yes, exactly. But I wanted the very first shot to be from the point of view of the guy, like in so many films – you share the male gaze directed at a woman. So that’s why we adopted this viewpoint, which is, in a way, that of society, to “get” inside the apartment, before changing the gaze. Then, the camera turns, and we are looking through the eyes of a woman, gazing at this guy across the street.

You introduce each character, Nicole, Ruby and Élise, with a title across the frame, and while they have their solo sequences, we feel they are somehow always together. How did you strike this balance?
From the beginning, I knew I wanted their names to appear on screen, like in a comic book or a farce. And not only with the names; I wanted everything to be very colourful and exaggerated – the acting, the camera movements, the mise-en-scène. I wanted it to be over the top! At the same time, the film is about female friendship and how it can help you navigate trauma and carry on afterwards. I didn't want those three to be together all the time, because they are different individuals who can be by themselves; I wanted to separate them for a while, and then build a connection through the editing to show that they are still thinking about each other.

At one point, Nicole says that as a writer, she wants to examine new forms of storytelling that are not based on conflict and resolution, which reminded me of Céline Sciamma’s approach to narration, with desire as a driving force, instead of conflict. Was this something you talked about while collaborating with her on the script?
Yes! Thinking about desire in that way changed my life, also after working on Portrait of a Lady on Fire [+lee también:
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. Nicole is that kind of feminist who is trying to reinvent and rediscover herself by breaking the rules, not for the sake of it, but to try to find out who she is and how she can reframe the patriarchal ideas that are also a vehicle for narration. Because the conflict-based narrative and dynamics between men and women are very patriarchal.

Furthermore, on a set, where there are conflicts, there is often a hierarchy and tyranny, and I personally don’t feel good working like that. I feel that there is more surprise and more creativity when everybody feels safe and open enough to share their ideas. That’s very important for me. Also, what was equally important to include was the abuser’s confession at the end because this is what we want to hear from an attacker as they take accountability for their actions.

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