François Ozon - site officiel

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Interview with Géraldine Pailhas

Géraldine Pailhas - Jeune & JolieAfter 5X2, what was it like working with François Ozon again?

Before offering me the role, François wanted to make sure Marine Vacth and I seemed like we could be family, but he still sent me the script right away. He’s very respectful. Nine years after 5X2, I was so happy he thought of me! Working together again felt very natural. We’re in tune with each other’s thoughts, words and actions. It was simple, easy.

How did you feel when you read the script?

François had given me the title and the basic storyline. As I read the script, I thoroughly enjoyed discovering his take on such a sensitive subject. I didn’t expect to be so shaken up. I loved diving into the vertiginous private world of this young woman. I understood her mother’s pain. I could hear François’ voice in his 17-year-old protagonist. It was beautiful. All that remained was to meet Marine and find out if we would make a convincing mother and daughter. I fervently hoped so.

Did he take inspiration from your experience as a mother to flesh out your character?

No, the script I read was pretty much the way we shot it. But François is attentive to remarks, compliments or criticisms, and regularly asks our opinion. It’s very nice. In the end he’s the one who decides, but he maintains an open atmosphere. I like how he seems so relaxed about his project. He’s totally committed, but chooses to keep things light and lively.That’s no doubt why he’s able to work so quickly and so often. He possesses that rare quality of making you believe everything is easy for him.Yet throughout the shoot he was constantly paring things down, eliminating details to get to the essence. He approaches his subject openly and without malice, making his love for his characters all the more palpable.

Tell us about meeting Marine Vacth.

The instant I walked into François’ office and saw Marine I was moved by this quiet young woman wearing no make-up, her hair tied back in a hasty bun, her teenage figure poured into tight jeans and a black turtleneck. She seemed reserved, even shy. But amazingly graceful. No visible signs of vanity. I was flattered that François saw a resemblance between us. He filmed our two faces next to each other. I sensed that we would have no trouble getting close.

The resemblance between you two strengthens the mother-daughter relationship in the film.

We’re witnessing this young woman’s sexual awakening. How does her mother fit in to her new life as a woman? More importantly, how does her mother not fit in? Isabelle needs a role model, but she also needs to detach from her role model. It’s fascinating how the physical resemblance between Marine and me can help explore these questions. To accentuate it, François had me lighten my hair.

Tell us about working with Marine Vacth.

From the very first take we were playing off each other, we were in sync, almost like two dancers. I think she could tell right away I liked her. And she liked me too. I’m not into rivalry between women and neither is she. We quickly overcame the obstacles inherent in relationships between actors, or between an older woman and a younger one, and were able to start bonding. I loved holding her face in my hands – that pouting mouth, still so childlike; those big green eyes, brimming with tears. Despite her shyness she let me in, and I was surprised at how strong my feelings for her were. She really moved me. Obviously the film’s subject matter and the roles we were playing facilitated that. It’s not easy for a young actress to play such a role.You really have to let yourself go, have complete trust. I don’t think Marine ever so much as batted an eyelid. She never expressed the slightest reservation or fear. I never heard her say, “I’m scared”. She blew me away. She’s got so much fight in her, and so much discipline.

Jeune & JolieAnd you worked with Frédéric Pierrot again.

I think it’s the fifth time we’ve worked together. He was in my first TV movie, seventeen years ago. He was also in LA NEIGE ET LE FEU by Claude Pinoteau. I love him, he’s a wonderful actor. Frédéric, Nathalie Richard... François put together a highly likeable group of actors, all particularly adept at disappearing into their characters, no big egos.

Tell us about the shoot.

François spends his time cheerfully solving problems. I love his spark, his impatience, the way it gets the cast and crew hopping. I love to watch him getting results from the anxiety he arouses in us! He’s having fun and at the same time galvanizing us, he utterly respects the delicate nature of certain situations. On set, he knows how to strike just the right balance between complicity and distance. I also love how involved he gets with the clothes and hairstyles. He loves to play dolls with his actresses – dressing them up, doing their hair – and he’s not about to deprive himself of that pleasure!

The scene where the mother hits her daughter is both brutal and emotional.The mother quickly asks her daughter for forgiveness.

In the script that scene ended with the mother’s anger, but when we shot it, François let the camera run and I did indeed come back and implore Marine. François asked her to sit up and continue the scene. As the film progressed, François let things happen naturally and allowed us to take possession of our characters. He was nourished by our embodiment of them, and his vision nourished us, we felt valued.

The mother you play is shaken up but not threatened by her daughter, though there are uncomfortable moments, notably when Isabelle comes home late from babysitting and has an ambiguous conversation with her stepfather.

Yes, it was interesting to show a little glint of rivalry, one of those fleeting emotions inherent in all mother-daughter relationships, especially when the age difference is minimal. But I never wanted to stray too far from the reassuring quality a mother should have toward her daughter, with all the clumsiness and intrusiveness it implies. We know we shouldn’t say it, we’re aware of that, but it’s too late now, we’ve said it! I liked the irony of this crisis arising in a financially comfortable, educated family, where communication is favored and access to psychiatry is normal, common, even systematic.

And they appear to be a happy family.

Yes.Though there was a divorce, and undoubtedly the father behaved somewhat badly in the past, it would appear that nothing can break up this well-born little unit.The mother feels omnipotent, entitled to happiness,with her “little boy” and her “little girl”.Isabelle’s transgression is like a tsunami crashing down on the family.A violent wake-up call.

The scene with the psychiatrist is quite funny.

François wanted me to play the indignant mother to the point of ridiculousness. This is her chance to finally blame the father, unload what she’s been keeping bottled up inside. He told me,“This session is yours!” She kind of forgets for a while that the session is really about her daughter.We laughed a lot when we shot that scene. I think it was the only time François had cause to complain about Marine and me!

Jeune & JolieYour character is constantly asking herself what made her daughter do this. Do you have an answer to that question?

No, and I did my best not to seek one, not to ask the psychiatrist. It was better for my role.Anyway, can there really be one pat answer? Isabelle’s parents have divorced and her mother has no qualms about disavowing her father, that’s not great. But is it enough to push Isabelle to embrace prostitution as a form of sexual initiation? One possible reason for Isabelle’s behavior is the fact that her mother is not ready to let her daughter go. Isabelle can’t cut the umbilical cord, she has to rip it out by becoming a creature of her own making, excluding her mother, making her not “responsible”. That’s what Isabelle is really doing – creating a new identity for herself, and taking her grandmother’s name while she’s at it! She’s shaking up the family roles.

Maybe prostitution is also an extreme act designed to overcome her inability to feel things, as evidenced when she makes love for the first time?

So much damage has been done by sanctifying virginity.And now it’s almost the opposite, teenage girls are anxious to rid themselves of it. You’ve got to get it out of the way, check it off the list. Even though it can shape your future sexuality. Something about the way she behaves that night leads Isabelle to believe she is master of her acts, her feelings, her emotions, her body. That feeling of control is something she will try to find again in the act of prostitution, in organizing her sexuality this way.

But then she meets Georges.

Yes, meeting Georges really shakes her up. And not just because he dies. She really feels something with him, and François films it beautifully, with great sensitivity. We are in her body with her, it’s amazing how much we feel.We’re so happy that she’s finally gained access to pleasure, both physical and intellectual.

How did you feel when you saw the film?

I was blown away by how the cleverness and tightness of the script disappears behind the powerful, gut-wrenching humanization of the characters. François filmed his characters, especially this young woman experiencing her sexual awakening, with so much love, so intimately, so honestly.