On the list of major international festivals, 2021 will remain the year of French cinema. Barely a few weeks after the Palme d’Or won in Cannes by Julia Ducournau for Titanium, another French director, Audrey Diwan, won the Golden Lion in Venice for The event. Two films directed by two women who signed their second film. And if Titanium, who will represent France at the Oscars, electrified the Croisette, The event on an illegal abortion in France in the 1960s is no less hot.
“The Event” is a historical film but which gives the impression of being caught up by the news, isn’t it also a political film?
The right to abortion remains fragile. The countries or regions of the world that question it do not hesitate to claim that it should be banned for the sake of women, to protect them from the trauma that this experience induces. When I confided in Venice that I had an abortion myself, it was to underline the importance of having been accompanied by doctors in a country where abortion is safe. Nothing to do with the experience of Anne in the film who takes the risk of losing her life. My personal experience has allowed me to measure the difference between a legal abortion and a clandestine abortion, not to associate them but to dissociate them. Beyond the question of abortion, I also had the idea to tell a story, a story of class defector, that of a young woman from a modest background, who rises from the head before to be caught by his body. There is its relationship to enjoyment, to female pleasure. In fact, abortion serves as the cornerstone of a whole bunch of other topics and dimensions that interested me in Annie Ernaux’s book.
There is real suspense in “The Event”. Were you aware of making a thriller?
Yes, it’s an intimate thriller. To translate this visually, we tilted the camera behind the character’s back, so that we asked ourselves the same questions as her: who is behind this door, someone who will help her or harm her? The suspense is intensely linked to the chance of a meeting or a gesture … The very tight frame also serves this idea: we do not see people arriving, and when they appear in the image, we are struck, like her.
How did you work the role of Anne with Anamaria Vartolomei?
The shooting was postponed because of the confinement and suddenly, we called each other very often. We exchanged a lot of references. I was talking to him about No shelter, no law by Agnès Varda for the character of Sandrine Bonnaire who is in search of freedom whatever the cost, with this way of standing upright. She was answering me Girl of Lucas Dhont, the suffering of not being who you want or having a secret and a body that carries this secret …
We worked in Zoom on her attitude and her gaze fixed on a horizon line, as if she were the soldier of her own war. After confinement, we both knew each other so well and the character of Anne so well that we saved precious time.
The word abortion is never mentioned in the film. Why ?
At that time, people were afraid. Helping a young woman to have an abortion when you were a doctor was to take the risk of being banned from practicing. In the resistance movements, there are few, people ready to end up in prison to defend an interest which is not theirs. Just as her friends show them their sadness at not having the courage to help her. But someone is going to help her, a guy who doesn’t understand anything at first, who doesn’t know what it’s like to be pregnant or to give up school. He is the resistant of this story, not the hero we imagine, but someone who will defy the law, discreetly and trembling.
The period in which the film takes place is not very marked. As if to better signify that it could happen today?
Above all, we didn’t want the film to be anachronistic, but we didn’t want to do a reconstruction either. This story, I know very well that it is the present of many women in the world, but I have often been asked “why make this film today given that the law in France is passed?” As if we shouldn’t make a film about WWII because the war is over. It’s extremely ethnocentric as a point of view, but it was not yet a topic of conversation at the time. And then Poland returned to the right to abortion and the subject became topical again.
Would you have imagined winning a Golden Lion in Venice?
No no no ! It took me a while to understand. On the screen, we first see me make a strange gesture, and then I was struck by the idea of what that would change, for my film and for my actress, for Annie Ernaux and for the subject… But I had to stay focused and do my speech first. I knew the emotions would come later.
Jane Campion only won the Silver Lion, but we’ve seen you together. Accomplices?
When I left the stage, Jane Campion took me by the hand. We sat down, we talked. She wrote me a congratulatory note on my phone. It was an incredibly sweet moment, of shared experiences. She told me about what had been important to her, such as meditation to refocus and continue to create. Really I found it touching, elegant. That’s all we can hope to hear in such a situation.
You had the same elegance vis-à-vis Julia Ducournau when her film Titanium was selected for the Oscars. You immediately congratulated her on Twitter …
Julia is really someone I really like. There were two films that had the highest accolades this year, we knew only one could be chosen and either way it would be good. I loved Titanium, which I find extremely courageous, which resembles what I know of Julia. And I cried when she received her Palme d’Or in Cannes.
How do you analyze the fact that two French directors are so successful this year?
It is a global system that is changing. The reluctance to entrust the production of a film to a woman, who could have been considered as a brake in the financing chain, is falling. We give more money to women to make films. And as more women make films, more women win awards. It’s mathematical.
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“The right to abortion remains fragile” warns Audrey Diwan