Just recently, I was a member of the jury for the II French La Francophone Film Festival Oh La La taking place at the Institut Français in Barcelona. Apart from enjoying the fascinating and multi-themed program, I had the opportunity for a reencounter with Catherine Corsini (Dreux, 1956), a director I had already interviewed for Fotogramas on the occasion of her previous film, “Summertime“, a love story between two women played by Cécile de France and Izïa Higelin. This time Catherine was presenting “An Impossible Love“, an adaptation of Christine Angot’s autobiographical novel published here in Spain in 2018 by Anagram. The film stars Virginie Efira who plays the role of mother to the future writer, brought to life by four successive actresses. Efira, well known for her role as the religious neighbor in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle“, here plays a woman forced to single-handedly raise her daughter from the late 50’s to the present day. The father doesn’t reappear on the scene until the girl enters adolescence and then, it’s with disastrous consequences.
Question: There are several parallels between «Summertime» and «An Impossible Love». Both have a clear structure, appeal to audiences of every taste, and contain a political message about the situation of women over the past fifty years. Would you agree?
Answer: Yes, with these two movies I wanted to send a political message to the public about the situation of women in French society. Both movies deal with male domination, and in this latest movie, you can really see the progressive conquest of women’s independence, in spite of all the difficulties that, in her case, being a single mother, was no mere feat. The movie doesn’t stop at just highlighting Male / Female domination, but links into the problem of social class, since the father of her child doesn’t want to marry her because he comes from the ruling class, while she, at the beginning of the film, is no more than a humble typist. The abominable acts this individual will come to commit also have a social reading, which for me was important to highlight. Coming from different social classes and the problems that can entail in sentimental relationships were, to a certain extent, already present in «Summertime», where the fact that one of the girls was from a rural background, while the other was from the capital, ended up dynamiting the passionate love that had united them, against social conventions.
Q: I really liked how you treat the passage of time in «An Impossible love». Although the film spans almost half a century, the characters played by Virginie Efira and Niels Schneider, who breathes life into the treacherous father, hardly change, except at the end, when they appear with a little more grey hair. The passage of time doesn’t permeate the storyline too heavily, as can often be the case in conventional cinema.
A: Yes, all the historic reconstruction was really something quite interesting and heavily charged with nostalgia, since I’m the same age as the daughter of the character played by Virginie Efira, in other words Christine Angot. So it wasn’t just about going through the history of these characters, and of all France, but also my own past. And, I didn’t want cinemagoers attention to be constantly distracted by things like the characters’ hair while on this trip down memory lane. We wanted to capture this passage of time, but ever so subtly. Besides, our own lives always contain elements that come from the past. What surrounds us doesn’t belong to the present, there is a certain continuity in the passage of time that we were interested in highlighting. So, there are some objects that appear early on in the movie and which accompany the protagonists throughout their constant changes through space and time, because that’s also the case in own our lives. We drag so many things around with us from our past.
Q: What inspired the political shift in your last two movies?
A: Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older. Of course, it’s also because of the relationship I have with my producer, Elisabeth Perez, and above all, because I’m conscious of the urgency to tell more pressing stories, since women’s situation hasn’t improved as much as we would have hoped.
Q: The political landscape has also changed. Worrying forces are appearing which call for a return to a past that precedes the conquest of fundamental rights.
A: Yes, only recently we had to take to the streets once again to demonstrate for the right to abortion. All the extreme positions are coming back. That’s why in “Summertime”, it was important for me to evoke that solidarity between women, the emergence of feminism and the awareness of women who wanted to have their own lives. And here, in “An Impossible Love“, I also wanted to show the struggle of our mothers, who were the first feminists, although very often they weren’t even aware of it, as is the case with Virginie’s character.
Q: I get the impression that as there’s a bridge between two eras, between the first social conquests and the present-day, as if in the years in between we had taken our eye off the ball somewhat.
A: Yes, there was this misconceived feeling that we had definitively secured fundamental rights and that nobody could take them away from us. Even the word feminism in France was perceived as something negative and outdated. And nowadays, thanks also to the whole Weinstein case and the #MeToo movement, women have become aware of male domination, of inequality in salaries and positions of responsibility, as major decisions are still mostly taken by men. Not to mention the rest of the world, like in Iran, where a woman is sentenced to punishment by flogging for supporting other women who don’t want to wear a veil, with a penalty of 35 years in prison … Every time I read news like this, I feel like a piece of me is being torn off, as if they were hurting me, and that’s why I want to do my bit in the fight for definitive equality, a fight that everyone would benefit from.
Q: “An Impossible Love” is also an eloquent piece about Virginie Efira’s body, which we see from a different perspective than the one we’re used to.
A: I have always liked to show love scenes with real women’s bodies, not models, or anything like that. I think there’s a certain modesty in this kind of beauty outside the norms, as if these women were reticent about show themselves, out of a fear of rejection. And I like to admire this kind of beauty, precisely because it goes against the grain. I find it exciting.
Q: What does the figure of Christine Angot the writer in general represent for you, and in particular, “An Impossible Love”?
A: My producer introduced me to her. In France, Christine Angot is someone who attracts a lot of animosity. She’s a regular face on TV screens, and she speaks her mind very vehemently. Never mixes her words. I’ve read all her novels, but this one really touched me deeply, because it’s the testimony of someone who tries to get as close as possible to the truth, as accurately as possible, always choosing the most appropriate words. And I also like the final part of the novel, in which, after having burned all the bridges with her mother, she returns to her, to try to explain everything to her. To explain that the abuse her own father inflicted was also a kind of social vengeance against her mother. This last part has been interpreted as being more didactic, but to me it seems very necessary, both in the book and in the film. After so many emotions, we move on to a more ideological and reflective part that’s almost philosophical. You really have to conceptualize chaos in order to escape from it.
Q: What was Christine Angot’s role in the movie production?
A: She gave me total freedom to rewrite it my way. As I really loved the novel, I was sure that I wouldn’t betray it. She read the script when it was finished, as agreed by contract but she never got involved in the shooting and watched the finished product with her mother. They both really liked it. Her mother even went to see it a second time. She loved how Virginie Efira gave life to her fictional replica.
Q: My favorite scene is the one where the daughter appears with her father, after an outing, and we immediately understand that something has happened, just by the look on her face. The audience realize something that the mother is incapable of seeing and that’s truly disturbing.
A: Yes, it was a challenge to reflect all the violence that, at the same time, cannot be expressed, since girls who have been abused and sexually abused don’t dare to speak about it. It’s truly disturbing when you come to understand afterwards everything they’ve been through.
Q: It’s strange, because at the Oh La La Festival we also saw “Little Tickles”, the film in which Andréa Bescond recalls the abuse she suffered as a child, in her case at the hands of the best friend of the family. It’s like as if everything is coming to light now.
A: I haven’t seen the movie, or the play. But it’s clear that we are in a moment, as we said before, in which women, and also men, as is the case with François Ozon’s latest movie, (“By the Grace of God“), are taking the floor to speak openly about the abuse suffered as children, without having to feel guilty about it. After the screening of “An Impossible Love“, I met women in their 40’s and 50’s who were very moved, because they’d never spoken about what had happened to them in their youth. I think it’s important that there are films like this which encourage people to open up and share what they are carrying around inside.
Q: Why do you think “An Impossible Love” hasn’t managed to find a distributor in Spain?
A: A lot of my movies have gone down well in Spain, maybe it’s not the best time for French cinema abroad. I hope your article will enable me to find a distributor.