Audrey Diwan: “I was struck by the strength of the culture of shame in which we still live today” – Les Inrocks

By adapting “L’Événement” by Annie Ernaux, Audrey Diwan questions the place of women in society through the story of an illegal abortion in France in the 1960s. Meeting with the filmmaker, winner of the Golden Lion of the last Venice Film Festival, and its actress, the formidable Anamaria Vartolomei.

“When you impose a trip, you have to be sure of the reasons for offering it to spectators”, begins by telling us Audrey Diwan when we meet her accompanied by Anamaria Vartolomei, the formidable main actress of her second film, The Event, who, to everyone’s surprise, won the Golden Lion at the last Venice Film Festival. With a nice cast (Luàna Bajrami, Anna Mouglalis, Sandrine Bonnaire, Pio Marmaï, Kacey Mottet Klein), this adaptation of the eponymous novel by Annie Ernaux places us in the skin of a young student who, in France still conservative of the first part of the 1960s, decides to resort to clandestine abortion.

This first statement from the director with multiple hats (editor, novelist, journalist, especially for Technikart, Glamor and Stylist, and screenwriter, especially of the films of his ex-companion Cédric Jimenez) draws the project of a film that one feels in his flesh and whose feminist positions are obvious. Crude and grueling, the film is immersive in staging, supported by a 1.37 format, making the climate of coercion against which the young woman struggles even more palpable. She is played by Anamaria Vartolomei, the film’s revelation, which we discovered when she was 10 years old in My little princess by Eva Ionesco (2011).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WK4la6cDurE

Tell an intimate story

At the origins of the project, there is the question of the place of women in society, but as very often with Annie Ernaux, the work is not reduced to its subject. Audrey Diwan’s film is first and foremost the story of an outlawed abortion, but it never ceases to put its subject in tension with other aspects of his character’s career: carnal desire, the class defector, professional ambition, sorority and, of course, patriarchy. When asked about the reasons that led her to the adaptation of this novel, the filmmaker points to a paradox that says a lot about the scope of her film:

“When I arrived in Venice, I wasn’t sure if I would reveal how I came to read this particular book. I didn’t know if I would say that, when I had an abortion, I wanted to think about this event and that I was running out of words, that I had started to search and that I had not found much, so much so that I started interviewing my friends and one of them advised me to read The Event. I discovered that I didn’t need to write on the subject because I already had some answers in this novel, despite the fact that it is – and this is crucial – a clandestine abortion.

While reading The Event, I realized how lucky I was to be in a country that offers medical support and where, to save my professional future, I don’t have to put my life in danger. I nevertheless worked for three years on a book whose project is to remedy the silence. And despite all that, I almost censored myself, silencing myself by not mentioning my own abortion while showing the film in Venice. I was struck by the strength of the culture of shame in which we still live today ”, observes the director.

Audrey Diwan, in Paris, in October © Julien Mignot for Les Inrockuptibles

The film’s financing path is also symptomatic of its topicality: “With my producer Édouard Weil, we had difficulty financing the film because of its subject, the reluctance of investors that we had to convince that people would want to see such a film in theaters, to live such a trying experience. The worst reaction I had was when I was told that the film was no longer justified because the law authorizing abortion had already passed in France. When someone comes up with a WWII project, I don’t think they get the answer that it’s not necessary because the war is over. In addition, this is false for two reasons: firstly, the question is still moving, in France, where it is in particular a question of the lengthening of the period during which it is still possible to abort, and secondly because it is there are lots of other countries where this right has not yet been acquired or has been lost, such as Texas for example. ”

>> To read also: Writing, women, yellow vests: interview with Annie Ernaux

Power of incarnation

If a meeting between Annie Ernaux, the actress and the director was planned, it was postponed because of the confinement, a period that Audrey and Anamaria took advantage of to exchange references on the film: “It all started during the confinement, tells us the actress, it was a necessary time for the gestation of the project. It was then that we were able to exchange films and books over the phone that helped to draw the character. There have been The Son of Saul, but also Fish tank and Elephant for the device, the series Girls for the energy that unites this bunch of girls …

I had also read The Secret of Brokeback Mountain and I had found that the weight of secrecy and the fear surrounding the expression of desire that is at the heart of the book resonated with my character. It was the first time that I had involved my body so much. In front of the camera, I used to play with my face, my gaze, but much less with my body. I realized that I was frozen. This film taught me, as an actress but also as a young woman, to let go and abandonment, without intellectualizing too much during the shooting. ”

“There is an element of mystery in Anamaria, a mixture of harshness and candor, a strong presence but never demonstrative.”

Immersive and realistic, the film is also inhabited by a form of minimalism to which the play of the 22-year-old actress is no stranger: “With the narrative and grammar that I wanted for the film, I needed an actress who was able to contain a lot, not to overdo it. There is an element of mystery in Anamaria, a mixture of harshness and candor, a strong presence but never demonstrative. ”

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Anamaria Vartolomei, in Paris, in October © Julien Mignot for Les Inrockuptibles

Kind to her main actress (“I don’t steal the actors. I ask them and they propose me”), the filmmaker wants to destroy the image of the filmmaker / performer relationship of domination. Her desire for horizontality is also evident in the credits since she expressly wanted her first assistant, Anaïs Couette, who also worked on the films of Rebecca Zlotowski and Céline Sciamma, to be credited with directing. A discreet but revolutionary way to bring down from its pedestal the caricature of the demiurge and all-powerful filmmaker.

>> To read also : “Mémoire de fille” by Annie Ernaux: “Is this girl me? Who was I? ”

The year of French cinema

Shot between the two confinements, during the summer of 2020, the film is sent to Cannes and Venice. It is the Italian festival that will be the quickest to commit to the film: “Alberto Barbera, the director of the Mostra, very early on promised us a place in the official competition. The official screening of the film was very intense. There was a rather thick silence there. At the start of the credits, long seconds passed before people started clapping, and I thought to myself that the meeting between the room and the film had not happened. Then people started to applaud.

At the end of the standing ovation, I saw that Chloé Zhao and Cynthia Erivo had not left the theater, whereas usually the jury does not stay once the film is over. I returned to Paris and, one day before the awards, my producer called me to tell me that I received the ecumenical prize. He calls me back two hours later to tell me that I received the Youth Prize, then again two hours later to tell me that I also have the Fipresci Prize [prix de la critique internationale]. I wanted to go, even though I had not been called up for the official jury list. And when the plane takes off, I receive a message from Vincent Maraval [directeur pour l’international de Wild Bunch et distributeur du film] telling me that I am called back for the prize list. I took off in every sense of the word. ”

“It had been 34 years since a Frenchman had won the Golden Lion, but we preferred to highlight the fact that it was a woman who won it.”

But it wasn’t until she got to the ceremony that she really realized what was happening to her: “A few minutes before the ceremony, there is the introductory cocktail and I discover the other people who have been called back. There was Jane Campion, Paolo Sorrentino, Penélope Cruz, Maggie Gyllenhaal… I say to myself, that’s a lot of people. And at the end of the ceremony, when we learn that Sorrentino has the Grand Jury Prize, which is the penultimate prize of the evening, there was a clamor among my team who applauded Sorrentino in a way not at all appropriate … We understood that we had The Golden Lion. ”

While she is currently working on the scripts for the next films by Valérie Donzelli, Gilles Lelouche and Teddy Lussi-Modeste, Audrey Diwan is already thinking about her next production: “I have an idea, but I need some time to write.” She probably also needs time to digest this unexpected price, which the media reception has questioned her: “It had been 34 years since a Frenchman had won the Golden Lion, but we preferred to highlight the fact that it was a woman who had won it.

My Golden Lion has also been compared a lot to the Palme d’Or awarded to Julia Ducournau, saying that it was the Year of the Woman. If we had been men, it would have been said that it was the year of French cinema. This shows how our gender modulates our perception of the world and also the way the world perceives us. I think that’s what interested me about this film, this question of the point of view and how it modulates our existence. If, for a moment, my spectator manages to project himself, physically, into the complex experience of this young woman, then I have succeeded in my bet. ”

The event by Audrey Diwan, with Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Luàna Bajrami (Fr., 2021, 1 h 40).
In theaters November 24.

Styling: Guillaume Boulez
Makeup : Charlotte honinckx
First assistant: Alexandre Wallon
Stage / light assistant: Amanda Sellem

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Audrey Diwan: “I was struck by the strength of the culture of shame in which we still live today” – Les Inrocks