French director Rebecca Zlotowski makes her competition debut at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday with a drama Other people’s childrentaking a fresh look at the often overlooked, sometimes maligned figure of the mother-in-law.
Virginie Efira stars as an attractive teacher in her forties with a busy and happy life. In the background, however, his biological clock is ticking. When she becomes involved with a divorced father, she becomes attached to his young daughter.
Efira is joined in the cast by Roschdy Zem as a father; Chiara Mastroianni, in a small role as his ex-wife and the girl’s mother, and documentarian Frederic Wiseman, who makes a guest appearance as a gynecologist.
Other people’s children is Zlotowski’s fifth film after dear Prudence, Large central, Planetarium and An easy girl. The filmmaker was in Venice for the last time with Planetarium who played Out of Competition in 2016.
Deadline spoke to Zlotowski ahead of the premiere in Venice.
DEADLINE: The figure of the mother-in-law has rarely been approached with such sensitivity in the history of cinema. Was putting the figure of the stepmother at the heart of the film in some way an act of activism?
REBECCA ZLOTOWSKI: When you talk about activism, I think all films are militant in some way, even unconsciously, even if they are not political. When I decided to tackle this subject, I was an activist on two levels.
Of course, it is a feminine subject that has hardly been explored before, perhaps because it was not considered interesting, perhaps because it seemed something secondary in the traditional family configuration. . It wasn’t seen as the most emotionally intense place, so we looked to couples on the verge of breaking up or a mother dealing with another woman’s involvement in raising her. her child.
The subject of a woman who is not biologically linked to a family but who nevertheless lives with it, at a time when her own fertility is coming to an end, made me a militant subject both politically, in the sense of saying today we can raise the budget to finance this kind of story and also in the sense of highlighting the emotions of a character, traditionally treated as a secondary character.
It is not about ideology or doctrine. I’m not saying it’s good to be a childless woman, or that it’s painful – the film shows it as being in between. There are many stereotypes around the figure of the mother-in-law and women without children. Like I did with my previous film An easy girl, I wanted to deconstruct a stereotype, and offer another vision of reality.
DEADLINE: You seem to suggest that a film on this subject would have struggled to find funding in the past. Do you think the climate has changed to get these kinds of female-led stories?
ZLOTOWSKI: It’s my fifth film and it’s the first film where I allow myself to consider such a feminine subject as something worth discussing. Before that, I always had this idea that a story like this about a wife and her stepchildren would be considered uninteresting, something minor. That’s why I can’t wait to see how it is received by the public. Collectively, we are all caught up in this idea that stories related to motherhood and the feminine are small, whereas the story of a man who faces a challenge within his business is somehow more worthy of be told.
But the story of my film is not only lived by women, it is also lived by men – the desire to be a father, or not to be. I lament what is happening in the US right now with the overthrow of Wade Vs. Roe and I don’t understand why men aren’t also protesting in the streets – it’s also their right not to have children .
I have the impression that we are at the beginning of being able to tell different kinds of stories, because directors like me allow themselves to approach these subjects. I felt that resonate with my producers, financiers and actors. Each had a connection, a moment of transmission, with a child that was not their own, or a desire or no desire to have children, but that was not addressed before. The film is inspired by my own personal experiences and partly by the fact that when I turned to cinema to find films that would help me deal with the situation, there were none.
DEADLINE: Why did you choose Virginie Efira for the role?
ZLOTOWSKI: We are lucky in France to have such a rich pool of actresses but there are not many in her age group who give off this air of seduction and desire but who are so cerebral at the same time
There is something very special about Virginie. People see her as this blonde bombshell, which both men and women find attractive, but she’s also very cerebral. She always asks questions. If you ever interview him, you’ll understand what I mean. I think that’s why female directors – like Justine Trèves, Anne Fontaine, AIce Winocour, Valérie Donzelli and myself – love working with her. She gets on well with female directors and is open to their ideas.
DEADLINE: You also have Chiara Mastroianni in the supporting role of the biological mother. Was it difficult to get him for a supporting role?
ZLOTOWSKI: No way. She is always unpredictable in the roles she takes. She was offered amazing big roles in the past, which she turned down. There’s an air of mystery around how she chooses her roles. When she agreed to play the part in the film, I clarified that there were very few scenes, but she said, “I don’t care. The story you tell is interesting. The character you want me to play interests me. Let’s go.”
I think that we have broken an unspoken role in the cinema, that there is only room for an important actress in a film. It’s the first time we’ve had two great actresses doing two little scenes together, just because they want to. From a character perspective, the figure of the ex-wife is strong in the background. It was important for me to have an easily identifiable and familiar actress in this role, so that her memory would persist in the film. I needed a star.
DEADLINE: There is a lot of nudity in the film. Do you think you handled that any differently than a male director. Have you hired a privacy coordinator?
ZLOTOWSKI: The scene where the character of Virginie is naked on the balcony is burlesque. It’s a gag. But it’s an interesting question. Maybe. I’ve seen films by female directors in the past where the position of the camera made me uncomfortable. It’s not related to the gender of the director but rather to his style. When I filmed Virginie naked, it was a pleasure to film her because she is beautiful, and I think she had fun too. If I had felt that she was uncomfortable with the scene, I would not have continued.
For the scene in Roschdy where he is naked in the shower. There is no full face nudity but I had to negotiate. It was the first time he had been filmed naked in his career, but he was happy to do it because it made sense with the character. I didn’t use intimacy coordinators, but if I had worked with a young, inexperienced cast or shot a very sexual scene, I would have. It’s as if I was doing a stunt, I call on a stuntman to help me.
DEADLINE: You participated in the beginnings of the French group Le Collectif 50/50 aimed at increasing the representation of women in the world of French cinema. The group appears to have imploded following accusations of sexual harassment against a board member. Where does this lead the fight for gender equality in the film industry in France?
ZLOTOWSKI: I was one of the co-founders but stepped back after two years due to work commitments. I also participated in the [French directors guild] The Society of French Directors (La SRF) at the time. It was a collective period for me. It was a bit like my military service but at a certain point I had to concentrate on my job.
I haven’t been involved in 50/50 for three years now, so I can’t really comment on the crisis it’s going through. Of course, I followed this implosion with sadness. All I can say is that at the time it was created it was a really useful tool that has helped progress.
I was also behind his position which was one of redistribution of power and resources, rather than focusing on sexual harassment. It is possible to reflect coldly on the question of salaries, positions and resources whereas as soon as one enters the realm of sexual harassment, it is difficult to have a cool head; the emotions and radical positions come flooding in and I found it difficult to master these conversations.
The implosion of the collective is a small event in the grand scheme of feminists at a time when we are witnessing the withdrawal of the right to abortion and when women’s rights are under attack in places like Afghanistan and even in Europe, in places like Hungary and Poland. It is vital that progressive groups band together and unite as we face highly organized and united opponents in their campaign against progress.
Looking at the industry, have things changed? The main thing is that there is a political awareness around the issue of inequalities, which did not exist before. Even if inequalities still exist, there is at least an awareness of inequalities, which was not the case before. We were not suggesting that those in power were deliberately blocking the way for women or minority groups, but rather that they were looking at everything through their perspective. Today, everyone understands that selection committees must be diverse and transparent in their selection processes. Everyone understands the urgency of opening the cinema because there is a whole part of the population who does not recognize themselves in the cinema and who have moved to the platforms. In terms of representation behind the camera and in festivals we are far from seeing equality but at least there is an awareness of the situation.
DEADLINE: What are you going to work on next?
ZLOTOWSKI: I’m co-writing the script for the remake of Emmanuelle with Audrey Diwan. It’s great fun but I can’t say anything about it because it’s Audrey’s project. As a director, I am working on another film and drama. I don’t want to say much about the movie yet because it’s too early other than it’s an erotic thriller.
The trailer for the film can be viewed here.