Here at the Berlinale, films in Competition receive press conferences where journalists from around the world ask questions. Many of them, for whatever reason, are incredibly bizarre.
This was especially true at Friday’s press conference for “Elle s’en va (English title: On My Way),” a competition title directed by Emmanuelle Bercot (“Backstage,” “The Players,” also an actress who was in “Polisse” (which she also co-wrote) and “Carlos”) and starring French superstar Catherine Deneuve. In the film, Bettie (Deneuve), a former beauty pageant winner, who, after being dumped, grows tired of the pressures of managing the family restaurant and tending to her aging mother in her small French village and leaves town to smoke cigarettes in the great outdoors and just let loose. While on her escape, she’s given purpose by her estranged daughter: Bettie must take her grandson to stay with his grandfather, father’s father. The film becomes a road movie through the French countryside in which Bettie is taught the value of love, friendship and family, lessons taught by people she’s spent much of her life avoiding.
Once on the road, Bettie’s encounters with her past happen very rapidly and her responses to confronting her past are incredibly forceful, but still, the film has a very real, very sweet center. Judging by the start of the film’s press conference, though, you would think the film was not worth speaking of on its own terms.
The first question came from a woman who wanted to know more about the lack of close-ups of Bettie’s face in the film. The journalist seemed to want a certain kind of shot of Deneuve. Luckily, Bercot made lemons out of lemonade and explained why there were so many close-ups of Bettie’s many body parts. Responding to the journalists demand for an explanation as to the lack of close-ups, Bercot said, “I think that’s going a bit far. I think you do have a fair number of close-ups on her. They’re not zooming in totally on the eyes. I have a hair fetish, and that applies especially to Catherine Deneuve’s hair. That was a joke between myself and the hairdresser of the film. Her hair is important as her face and her eyes. We have [close-ups of] her hands and her feet as well.”
Next, a question on working on the character. A standard answer.
Then, a journalist, who identified himself as coming from Ukraine, said that he was an archaeologist in a former life. The film, he told Bercot and Deneuve was like an “Archaeological Museum of Women’s Glory.” No, he corrected himself, an “Archaeolgical Museum of Women’s Glory and Senility.” At which point, Bercot startled giggling and Deneuve looked miffed. Deneuve responded quickly to the long question. “I’m not sure I’m with you there. I’m not sure I want to go down that archaelogical path to senility.”
The next question is a common enough press conference faux pas: answering a question to a star who wouldn’t normally give you an interview. The journalist had heard something about mutual respect between Deneuve and Stanley Kubrick. Mme. Deneuve, have you ever worked with Kubrick. In a standard PR answer, Deneuve said it would have been an honor. Great body of work, but no, there were no opportunities. Next.
A German journalist took note that some of the songs in the film were sung in English, others in “something like Spanish.” “Can you have German music in a French film?” At this Bercot threw down her translator earpiece, laughing, frustrated that no one seemed to be taking her film seriously. Deneuve stepped up, defending the French use of German music: “You have classical music sometimes. But Germans sing in English anyways, so you might as well have it in English anyway.”
From there, the questions gained some direction.
Deneuve on her own personal connection to the film’s theme of aging:
No, it’s not easy for a woman [to age]. It’s not easy if that woman is an actor. That doesn’t mean you need to get obsessed about it. If there’s nothing you can do it about it, you might as well get used to it.
On the film’s depiction of the pursuit of happiness:
Deneuve took on the flim’s happy ending: “Yes, anything’s possible. There are retirement homes where people fall madly in love, get married at 70, 75 or older.”
Bercot, who cowrote the film, added, “I think you’re happiest as a child because you don’t have anything to worry about That’s sort of everyday happiness if you like. It’s a permanent state. You can have moments of happiness without it being a permanent state. If we’re happy all the time, we wouldn’t have a word for it, it would just be normal.”
Deneuve on her personal relationship with cigarettes:
It’s great. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either. It’s getting harder and harder in Europe. I light up from time to time, and that’s when everyone flashes a camera at me. Those are the only shots anyone ever wants to use. So i’m described as an inveterate smoker.
On the evolution of the project, Deneuve confessed that she didn’t come onto the project because of the plot, which was formless when she signed on, but because she wanted to work with Bercot. Bercot said of the story development process:
For me, the reason for this film to exist was Catherine. I wrote it for her. The driving force behind this film was not the story we tell in the film, but rather working with Catherine. She is the film as far as I’m concerned. I can’t put it better than that. I had one idea as a starting point, to film Catherine. The script just grew and grew and grew, fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. There was not an all-embracing theme intiially. This idea of family relationships was not behind the film, it just happened. It was not my concern originally.