Agnès Varda 1928
Mia Hansen-Løve: ‘I’d rather not film sex scenes than have virtue police on set’
By Michael Hogan
The French director on making the closest thing to an autobiography, stripping Léa Seydoux of her glamour and dating fellow film-makers
French screenwriter and director Mia Hansen-Løve, 42, was born in Paris to parents who were both philosophy professors. She studied German at university, then had stints as an actor and film critic before making her directorial debut in 2007 with All Is Forgiven. Her subsequent films include Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love, Eden and Bergman Island. Her new film, One Fine Morning, is about a single mother caring for her ailing father while embarking upon a new romance. She lives near Paris with her partner, film-maker Laurent Perreau, and their children.
How closely was your new film, One Fine Morning, inspired by your own late father’s illness?
All my films, in one way or another, use autobiographical elements. Or I should say biographical, because the majority are not inspired by my own story but those of people dear to me. But this one is probably the closest to a self-portrait. The character of Georg has the same disease my father had – a rare degenerative condition called Benson’s syndrome. When I was writing the screenplay, he was still alive and I was visiting him, like Georg’s daughter Sandra in the film. So those scenes were inspired by very fresh memories. I had the intuition that if I didn’t write about it right now, I never would. If I’d waited, I wouldn’t find the courage to turn back and look at these painful moments. But that’s only half the inspiration. The other half is a new love, the rediscovery of happiness, and how to balance those simultaneous feelings of grief and joy.
You cast Pascal Greggory as Georg partly because of his physical resemblance to your father. Did that make it poignant at times during shooting?
It did, actually. I’d wanted to work with Pascal for a long time because he’s a delicate, elegant, smart actor. But by chance, there is something about him that very much reminds me of my father. Sometimes it was very poignant and not just because of the physical resemblance. He also got deep into the character of my father and the nature of the disease. I recorded my father speaking and played it to Pascal. He truly seemed to understand his personality – including the way he stayed polite, even when he was losing his mind. I always found that overwhelming about my father. The last thing that he managed to preserve was his politeness. Pascal captured the feeling of who my father was. It’s an extraordinary interpretation.
You wrote the role of Sandra with Léa Seydoux in mind, but wanted to strip her of glamour. Why?
She’s super-sexy with incredible magnetism, but I wanted to undo that image. I aimed to portray Léa as more real and raw, so we could see deep inside her, beneath her exterior. So she wore casual clothes and had short hair. At first, she’s a very regular person, then when she falls in love and starts this passionate relationship, we rediscover her femininity. I enjoyed the idea of a mature sensuality as she rediscovers her own body.
How has shooting sex scenes changed? Do you use intimacy coordinators now?
No, I don’t. As long as I’m not forced to, I won’t use them. I don’t think I need it. I’m extremely sensitive and pay lots of attention to the respect that the actors need to have for one another. I’ve never had any kind of problem. I’ve never forced any actor to do anything. Everything is discussed and happens in a very smooth way. So for me, intimacy coordinators aren’t necessary. If I was forced to have some kind of virtue police on set, I’d rather not film those scenes. I understand why some people might feel reassured, but it’s very far from the experience of my own film sets.
What would your father make of One Fine Morning, do you think?
He never got to see it and I cannot speak for him, but I can say that he was always very encouraging of my work. Very proud, I think. My father was a philosophy teacher but I always thought he should have been a writer. He had high standards, both morally and culturally. One thing he taught was the importance of clarity. As a film-maker, I’m always looking for clarity in my style. That really mattered to him and it’s partly what made his disease so tragic, because Benson’s syndrome destroys clarity of mind.
Was the process of making the film cathartic?
It certainly was. It’s consoling to preserve certain memories… things that were said, moments that I might have forgotten otherwise. It’s a way of remembering who my father was before he totally disappeared. His spirit slowly dimmed and faded away, but I’m glad I could capture those last moments of light. But actually, the most cathartic thing was turning a difficult, dark reality into something fun. Even though there were times when I got very emotional, I love my job. Ultimately it’s like playing a game. A way to bring some distance. The title of my film, Un Beau Matin, is like the beginning of a fairytale. It becomes something pretend. It’s almost childish, but most directors never really want to grow up. You see that in the films of Spielberg. Directors tend to be nostalgic and want to stay children for ever. The way I found was to turn my everyday life into some kind of fun.
Did it help you with your grief?
My father died during Covid. That period was tough for everybody, but losing somebody in those conditions was especially horrible. Many people, including me, weren’t able to properly grieve. They weren’t allowed to see the bodies of the people they loved. They were unable to hold their hands and say goodbye. The film helped me immensely to cope with that. It was a way to feel closer to him again.
How well does France support its film-makers?
In general, France is very supportive with directors. We shouldn’t complain too much because there is a lot of state support. There is a strong culture of cinema here, especially arthouse cinema, but of course commercial cinema is gaining more power. There will always be a tug-of-war between that and the more independent, fragile, vulnerable arthouse films. I fear that arthouse cinema, even in France, is in danger, but it’s a national treasure we need to preserve.
Your partner is a film-maker and you were previously in a relationship with director Olivier Assayas. Is it just easier to date fellow film-makers?
[Laughs] I guess it’s stimulating for me to be in a couple with somebody who is also a passionate film lover. It’s not a conscious choice, it’s just happened that way. I love to have discussions, to share my doubts and fears with the person closest to me. I have faith in cinema as an art form, maybe the greatest art form. Living with somebody who has the same belief feels less lonely, you know?
What’s the last film you saw?
Maybe this will sound surprising, but two or three days ago I watched [1927 silent romance] Sunrise by Murnau and loved it. I cried, but I cry easily. It was very powerful emotionally and the actress [Janet Gaynor] was incredible. She had an innocence and candour that is extremely modern.
Your 2014 feature, Eden, is perhaps the only good film about DJing. Do you still go out dancing?
You just pointed out a very painful thing about my life! Stop it! [Laughs] No, I don’t go out dancing that much any more. I’ve moved out to Montreuil in the suburbs of Paris in order to have more space for my kids, and a garden. I’m increasingly shy when it comes to dancing. Nowadays I dance with my kids in the living room more than in nightclubs.
What music are you into now?
At the moment I’m listening to Handel, which probably has to do with the new film I’m working on. But Thomas Bangalter, formerly half of Daft Punk, releases a new album this week [Mythologies], so I’ll be immersing myself in that. Apparently it’s less electronic and more like contemporary classical, very different to what he’s done before.
What can you tell us about the next film?
I’m only in the very early stages of writing, but it’s a period film, set in England actually. Hopefully I’ll make it in the UK. I can’t say more than that; not because I’m secretive, but out of superstition.
You directed Tim Roth in Bergman Island. Are there other British actors you’d love to work with?
Robert Pattinson! He’s a great actor, truly. But of course, there are tons of wonderful British actors.
How do you relax when you’re not working?
That’s the second time that you’ve pointed something very painful about my life! I’d love to have more time to relax. We’re very busy, my boyfriend and I, working and taking care of the kids. If I had time, I would read more. To me, reading is like a holiday. I have many unread books waiting for me.
Source: Mia Hansen-Løve: ‘I’d rather not film sex scenes than have virtue police on set’ | Movies | The Guardian
Cécile de France: Acting for the best
For centuries artistic Belgians have headed to Paris to hone their talents. Actress Cécile de France, born in Namur, followed the example of Brel, Simenon, Magritte et al when she was still a teenager. It paid off – she became a star, working with great directors either side of the Atlantic.
“I left to study drama in France when I was 17 years old,” she says. “I’d been in love with acting from the age of six, and went to a school where drama was important, so had appeared in a lot of amateur productions – I fell for the theatre before the cinema. My parents were passionate about it too.”
At 19, after a couple of years of theatrical training with Jean-Paul Denizon, she won a coveted place to study for three years at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de Théâtre in Paris and Lyon: “I’m thankful for the structured way of working that I learned at ENSATT,” she says. “I still draw on those disciplines in all my work, in building up how best to play a character, and the physical side, and practicalities like looking at costume, make-up, hair…”
Another constant in her career established while she was a student, and in the years immediately after graduation, is her keenness to take on an impressive breadth of roles and styles. Her early theatrical grounding saw De France acting in Shakespeare after a Feydeau farce, Greek tragedy succeeded by The Playboy of the Western World followed by Strindberg, “I love the variety of theatre, the energy,” she enthuses. “Every night’s performances are different, the audience reaction and the atmosphere, so every night is unique. It’s the immediacy too, the instant reaction from the audience.”
Leaving the stage behind
That diversity within the theatre was soon matched by a similar diversity in cinematic role. De France’s first French hit film L’Art (Délicat) de la Séduction was made in 2001, just three years after her studies finished, and it seems as if she has been on set pretty much ever since. She has since worked with big names in both French and American cinema, like Gérard Depardieu and director Xavier Giannoli with whom she made the romantic film When I Was a Singer (Quand J’Etais Chanteur): and Alexandre Aja whose 2003 horror movie Haute Tension won her – and him – international recognition, opening doors to Hollywood for both.
In De France’s case Hollywood’s doors opened first to her role as Monique in the 2004 Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan comedy adventure Around the World in 80 Days, and in 2010 to a decidedly different part, starring with Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s supernatural fantasy movie Hereafter. “Working with Clint Eastwood was very formative, his style challenged some of the usual ways of doing things,” she states.
Her times in Hollywood have shown her, as with Hereafter, that it’s not geographic location that determines the experience on any given film: “I don’t think there are actually any great cultural differences or different ways of working between the two cinemas, in France and in Hollywood,” she says. “The differences you do find come out of the individuals with whom you work in those places. OK, in Hollywood the crews are maybe bigger, the resources behind a production there can be huge, but the artistic differences come out of the creativity of the individuals, the directors, camera crew, costume designers, all the talented people you get to work with in both countries.” She refuses to single out any particular film as a special favourite, like a mother refusing to name her favourite child: “Every time I work on a project there is a big artistic investment in time and energy and emotional commitment, so afterwards saying you preferred one over another feels wrong.”
Fine art cinema
De France is, however, happy to express her enthusiasm about her most recent project, La Belle Saison. The film, released in August, was co-written and directed by Catherine Corsini: “It’s a love story between two women, my character Carole who is a militant feminist living in Paris in the early 1970s at the height of that movement, and Delphine, a young country girl who comes to the city to work, played by Izïa Higelin. It’s history with a capital H in a way then, recounting the courage of those struggling for sexual equality, and at the same time it tells the story of the personal lives of the characters. It’s beautifully made, beautifully filmed, wonderfully aesthetic – ‘solar’. I truly think it’s a masterpiece of cinema as fine art.”
She had the opportunity to put her critical faculties to the test on other people’s work at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where she was on two juries (and where she had already acted as MC in 2005). “The experience of being on the short films jury was fascinating,” she says: “These are the talents of the future, some who will undoubtedly be significant creative forces in cinema. The quality of the work is extremely high, it’s cause for great optimism about the future of our cinema.”
What about her own future? Given her habit of taking on different challenges, does she have ambitions to be a director? Her answer is unequivocal: “Certainly not. I love acting, and anyway I don’t believe that I have the team skills needed to be the captain of the ship.”
There are calls on her time though – a world away from the movies – where she must need some of those captaincy skills: “Of course I love to spend as much time as I can with my children [she and her partner Guillaume Malandrin have a son Lino born in 2007, and daughter Joy, born three years ago], and doing projects around the house – manual work like plastering, painting, sewing curtains, bits and pieces of DIY…”
De France already has other – cinematic – projects on the go, including a part in the upcoming Vince Vaughn thriller Term Life, where she plays Vaughn’s estranged wife Lucy, another venture into new dramatic territory as the film is based on a graphic novel. There are plenty more possibilities for growth ahead, and she drops a hint about the appeal that adding a further territory to her portfolio has for her.
“I’d really like to work in London. I love British cinema, its dynamism, there’s a whole-hearted energetic approach, and I like the city itself too for that same energy, and for the feeling of being surrounded by history there.” British casting directors take note.
Source: Cécile de France: Acting for the best | Discover Benelux