On the occasion of the theatrical release of her latest film, Petite Maman, Céline Sciamma came to discuss with us. The opportunity to learn more about this beautiful film, which by its singularity and authenticity, will take you back to your childhood memories.
Can you tell us about the story of your last film Petite Maman? What does she represent to you?
The story of Little mom, it is the story of a little girl who befriends another child and this other child could be her mother, child. It is the story of a few days of friendship between a mother and her daughter. It’s a little time travel, an emotional time travel. The film is designed to be viewed by children as well as adults. The film is for me an intergenerational cinema experience where we share the same emotions between adults and children.
What I find very pleasant in this film is its authenticity. How did you manage to convey this authenticity in such a beautiful way, to make a story that seems very personal, universal?
This is a question that I asked myself and my solution was not to place the film in time. That is to say, we do not know when is happening. My desire was that a child of the 1950s, a child of today and all the children in the meantime, could all say to themselves: this is my childhood, it could be my childhood, the time of my childhood. This implied that the costumes, the furniture, all the reality of the film could be a time common to several generations. There is no time machine in the film. It is the film which is a small time machine. With this idea, that it is a journey in time which is neither in the past nor in the future, but which is in a shared present time. The entire artistic direction of the film is trying to create a world that could be shared by 50 years of childhood.
You are very involved in the creative process down to the smallest detail, I am thinking in particular of your work on the costumes. Can you tell us about this aspect of your job?
Yes, completely. It is true that it is a film on which it was a question of entirely building a space. I was really able to have access to a level of intervention where you choose the slightest switch. And it’s true that I like it. I really really like it. For once, the fact of shooting in the studio and completely building the space, there was an opportunity that I really seized and which was part of the pleasure for me of making the film, that’s for sure. As for the costumes, I always do, on all of my films. But it is true that there, I did it entirely. I didn’t do it on Portrait of the Girl on Fire because it was period costumes, so it was not possible. But it’s also a way for me to start forging a collaboration with actresses, at a time when we don’t rehearse. I dress the characters and we start a dialogue about it. It’s a way for me to start the relationship with the actors in the film. For me, the costumes are not strictly how the characters are dressed, it is also part of the material, of the image of the film. The fact of making the costumes, I do them very early on to choose the colors. And suddenly, I arrive with the costumes as the first indication of the film’s color chart, of what the image will be made of. Discussions with the director of photography and the production designer also revolve around the costumes.
How do you create a working relationship with such young actresses?
By trusting them completely. That is to say that I, for example, for the casting I saw only them. I did not put a competition between several possible children. I didn’t have them test things in front of the camera to choose them. We chose around the idea of the film, their desire to make the film. There was the possibility of doing that.
After trusting people so much it can put pressure on them. I am aware of this. You really have to assume that you work exactly as I work with all actors and actresses. That is to say, to share ideas, not to try to obtain things other than through the real work of making a film. I think that when you give a child autonomy and confidence, he feels confident. Then you have to live up to the confidence that children give you. Confidence is there from the start with the kids. After that is how to live up to their confidence. I am also lucky, which is that as I have already often worked with children, the children who come to make my films, they know for which cinema, what type of cinema they are coming. They also come to make this film. That too is something I think about trust. Confidence in the eyes, I like this look, I want people to look at me like that. It also gives me confidence, their confidence.
There is an important element in your film, it is a cabin. What does this cabin represent for you?
I chose the idea that they make a cabin above all, not time for symbolic questions but because I believe that it is really a fantasy common to all childhoods. It’s not just a childhood. I think it’s a unifying fantasy to build a shelter like that together and play at home. In this idea of a common house that they create, it contains many subjects and dynamics of the film. I really remember this desire to build cabins… which was often disappointing in addition because we were not super competent. I think it’s a common childhood dream, an adventure that combines all eras, children today want to make huts as much as children from several centuries ago.
If I had to sum up New Zealand cinema internationally, three names come to mind, Jane Campion, Peter Jackson, Taika Waititi. What do you think of these three names?
This inspires me with three quite different things. Jane campion obviously his cinema, his existence, the influence of his cinema, his gold palm, changes my life, changes our lives. The Piano Lesson, it is for the film and the success of the film, a moment of change in the projections that we can make of ourselves as female film-lovers as young girls film-lovers who dream of making films. Suddenly, Jane campion opens up a space, first through his films, and secondly because his films have an impact and above all the longevity of this dialogue. All of these films are important.
Peter Jackson, he is a filmmaker who also counted a lot, especially with one of his first films Heavenly Creatures, Celestial Creatures with Kate winslet. There was a lesbian romance between two teenage girls, it was extremely rare, it was pictures I was looking for. Peter Jackson, although obviously I love the Lord of the Rings, I liked it a lot, it is first related to Celestial Creatures. Taika waititi I met him in the “Season Awards”Because we had films at the same time. He is a very important contemporary personality who brings comedy and politics in an ultra contemporary way. The common point of these talents is nevertheless to be absolutely local with their films which come from New Zealand. But in the talents they reveal, in the way they unfold in the world, there is something that influences cinema in a super strong way with a real cultural impact.
In recent years, voices have been raised against a cinema considered to be more and more standardized. Are we heading towards the end of singularity in cinema?
Cinema has always functioned with the idea of solidarity between an art and an industry. We can see that this solidarity is deteriorating. Movies that have more exposure are always a bit the same. However, it is the balance of power between these things that is growing. But it’s been years. However, products that are exported, including French products that are exported, can also be standardized at times. It turns out that the France produces a lot of films and that it has a very important policy of exporting its films. A policy which is thought out with its circuits and therein, it also makes travel the avant-garde, the films of authors and also films which are intended more for export. It’s a whole, a balance of power between opportunist cinema and that with vision. There is a lot of power in these things. This really raises the question of how we define the Movie theater. If we don’t just want to regret the disappearance of the experience of theatrical cinema, if we condition the existence of Movie theater on the condition of showing the film, we are the loser. But I think the definition of cinema is bigger and broader. We are at the heart of a transformation. You have to be very vigilant, you have to be very active. How to be active? By being mobile, by not being nostalgic and by continuing to offer shapes.
To be discovered on the big screen in around thirty rooms across the New Zealand. Long live the Cinema.
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Céline Sciamma tells us about her latest film Petite Maman