admin On maggio - 15 - 2014

Angelique is a 60-year-old bar hostess. She still likes to party, she still likes men. At night, she makes them drink, in a cabaret by the French-German border.

As time goes by, clients become rare. But Michel, her regular client, is still in love with her. One day, he asks Angelique to marry him.

Interview with directors Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis, speaking in one voice.
What brought you to this character and her entourage?
The film is a portrait of Angélique. She is Samuel’s mother, and the film introduces her real family. All members play their own parts. And we have picked non-professional actors to play the other characters around them.
How did the three of you get together on this project?
Our relationship isn’t merely professional, our close bond allowed us to take the plunge as co-directors. We are real friends in life, and we have known each other for a long time. Making such a film together required a great deal of trust. We have joined forces. Marie and Claire had already made several short films together, including C’est gratuit pour les filles (2010 César Award for Best short film). With Samuel, our trio had already co- written and co-directed a medium-length film, Forbach (2008 Cinéfondation 2nd place Prize), as part of our training at the FEMIS film school. Samuel’s family already appeared in that film. When he decided he wanted to make a feature film about them, quite naturally, the three of us started working on this new project.

What triggered the writing of this feature film?
It all started with a real-life event: Angélique’s atypical wedding a few years ago. At almost sixty years of age, her getting married raised some questions. It was like a conclusion to the journey of a woman who has only known night-life and who resolves to settle down late in the day. We thought that this situation really called for a film.

How did you move from reality to fiction?
We started with the autobiographical context: Angélique’s children, her cabaret life, her wedding, her daughter Cynthia placed in a foster home, etc. Then we had to fictionalize the events and organize them to make it a cinematic story. So, regarding her children, we started from their real relationships. In that respect, we didn’t make anything up. This is strong enough, this is our basis. We decided that the wedding would be the common thread to be unwound all through the film. Starting from these real elements, we had to give Angélique’s character
a strong trajectory, and therefore make out scenes, situations, stakes, while remaining true to what the characters were at heart. So it was a tough balance act: we were walking a tightrope between fiction and reality. All three of us were responsible for this delicate balance, since fiction always requires strong acts, while using reality compelled us to be careful.

Angélique is bigger than life!
Definitely. She is unconventional, she exceeds any known frame of reference. With her kids, for instance, she isn’t only a mother, she is also the bar hostess, the seductress. Angélique goes around with everything she is in every sequence. That is what is always so unsettling about this character. At the same time, we had to contain this aspect of her personality so that everyone could see through it and relate to her. Generally speaking, we had to create cinematic characters, so that any member of the audience could identify with a situation or a protagonist in the film. We had to leave some things unaltered, while stylising others. In our portrayal of Angélique, we started with what she really is. Many things are really hers, like the jewellery, we didn’t have to make many things up. We like her exuberance, that often had to be contained, sometimes even levelled down! We had to make a real character out of her, without betraying her. Through her, we wanted to question love, family, freedom, margins. Is Angélique free or is she selfish? Is she spontaneous or thoughtless? Generous or irresponsible?

The whole film is interspersed with doors open onto fantastic, novelistic horizons. It gives away a thirst for romance…
To draw Angélique’s portrait, we could have made a documentary, but we really had a longing for fiction. Her journey inspired us, stirred our imagination. We wanted to tell a story. Reality and ordinary people’s lives are fraught with fantasy. So is Angélique’s life. It is fascinating to search for romance where it is secretly hidden. Our job was to find and show it. At the same time, reality was our guide, and we wanted it to feed and support fiction whenever possible. We created the conditions for reality to show up in the writing, the shooting, or the editing.

Did you feel like explorers in Lorraine, an area neglected by the cinema?
Claire and Samuel were born and raised in Lorraine. Therefore, they have an intimate connection with the subject, the region, the people and the local dialect. Marie had a fresh outlook on this location. Her perspective was precious. Through Angélique’s portrait, her intimate story, we also told the story of a whole region and social class. By talking about her, we could show what the life of a bar hostess is like, and the consequences it has on family life. We could also talk about the men from the area, former miners.

What do these people do, who are they, what do they have to say? We wanted to bring cinema to Lorraine, to this family, these hostesses, to places it seldom visits. Then, we needed to broaden the scope, to embrace and sometimes trigger fiction, novelistic or cinematographic elements. This was a major stake for us, an exciting if sometimes scary challenge. We composed a versatile crew, eager to follow us in this adventure. We meant to make a different film, outside the established production system, but aimed at the widest possible audience.

What method did you use to direct the actors? Was it all about improvisation?
The actors knew the story, but we didn’t give them lines to learn. They would just show up on set and we would explain the sequence to them right before shooting. We started from written scenes, from Angélique’s story, so that they could improvise and capture real-life moments on the fly. We gave them the context, the situation, the conflict they had to play. We would let them perform, then we would adjust it as we went along. This is why the script was crucial, we had to be well-prepared. We had to be able to rely on it and to go back to it regularly, so that we wouldn’t get lost in their propositions. We worked in such a way that the three of us would always agree. We all had monitors. We made all the decisions together, at every stage of filmmaking, which could be difficult for our collaborators, because it took time. As for the acting, we also directed the actors together. On set, we would first play the scene we had written ourselves, then the actors would make the words their own. But there was no definite recipe. Each person was different. Some needed to rely on the dialogues we had written. But
the text was too restrictive for others and would only make them bad, so it was better just to give them their characters’ intentions. Those who played their own story based their performance on their own experience and knowledge of the situations. But we were always on the lookout for a mishap, sometimes we even brought one about, we found it very exciting. We had to set them in motion and embrace the unexpected. They aren’t actors, they needed to feel safe and free, to completely forget about the camera. In this regard, the film crew had to adapt to them, not the other way around. We adapted the framework to the situation, but it was no mere video recording. The actors would play the same sequences several times, until we got what we wanted. Sometimes we also let ourselves be surprised, when discovering a location or hearing a spontaneous exchange between the actors, then we would imagine new scenes. The idea was never to constrain reality, but to remain open to what it had to offer, all around us.
How did Angélique enter this character, based on her life, but rewritten for the screen?
Angélique was brave enough to fully embrace her character. Right from the writing process, she had no wish to cast a veil on the sometimes complex subjects to be tackled in the film: her unconventional life, her relationship with her children, with men. She has had a life of night-clubbing, partying, alcohol but also mystery. We tried to capture something of this mystery with her. She agreed to open up and give us full access to her inner, private self.
Do you feel close to the cinéma vérité movement?
We’re aware that our filmmaking isn’t ground-breaking. We weren’t the first to use reality and non-professional actors. But our work doesn’t fit, in some theoretical way, into a cinema genre that would have fascinated us and that we’d want to recreate. We may find cinéma vérité or neorealism evocative, interesting or even inspiring, but we don’t claim to be followers. Cassavetes, Pasolini or Pialat, to name a few, are also major references for us. To make Party Girl, we watched again and again Mamma Roma, A Woman Under the Influence, Wanda, in other words, films portraying free, atypical women.


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