Women and Hollywood: You say in the press notes that you are interested in “people who are not on the correct road.” Can you elaborate further on that?
What is attractive to you as a director?
Anne Fontaine: When characters are drifting away from the “correct road”, or in fact from any road they were supposed to follow, they lose control, they
find other goals…and possibly their real selves. All these moments of changes, of self-questioning, are like an engine to the films I make – that’s where
lie the dynamics I’m interested in as a director.
WaH: You were very lucky to have Christopher Hampton adapt the script from a Doris Lessing novella. Talk about his contribution to the story.
AF: Christopher and I have known each other for a long time. He’s been generous enough to provide me with support and advice before, even for
French-speaking films like Coco Before Chanel. My English is way too limited for me to write directly in that language. But whether I write the
script or not, I always involve myself in the writing process, meeting and talking with the writers on a daily basis. In this case, I needed an Anglo-Saxon
writer by my side at all times during development, and he was my very first choice. For an “author-director” like me (and like most French filmmakers),
Christopher is really great to work with: he has a very clear idea of what should be done, yet remains very respectful of the “director’s vision”. More
specifically, he has a deep knowledge of Doris Lessing (her work and her life), which of course helped a lot during the adaptation process…
WaH: What drew you to this story?
AF: This is such an original love story! I had never heard of a fusional foursome. What’s really special here is that the tension doesn’t come from
rivalry, jealousy, or any negative feeling – it’s built on love. Each of those four characters is simply in love with the other one. I know some people
might find it hard to believe, but Doris Lessing, whom I had the privilege to meet before the shoot, told me her novella was based on a true story – which
made it even more impressive and inspiring to me.
WaH: Christopher Hampton says that he finds it troubling to fund films with female leads. Do you agree with this? Do you see anything changing?
AF: I’m usually making French films, and most of the funding I need comes from there. We still have the ability to make movies which are neither mainstream
entertainment nor very low-budget hard-core independent. From that perspective, Christopher’s observation has less to do with France than with the
Anglo-Saxon system. This being said, I had female leads in virtually all of my films, but I don’t really ask myself any gender questions. I just try and
find characters that interest me, irrespective of their status.
AF: Again, I believe the story was the key factor, for both of them. Naomi said very smartly that very few films were made that featured two women so close
to each other. We met several times, they saw some of my previous films, and we all felt that we could work pleasantly and harmoniously together… which
we did, actually.
WaH: This is a story of true female friendship which is still not rarely seen in this way. Can you comment on that?
AF: ” not rarely” or “rarely” ?… I don’t know, female friendship implies female lead characters, which probably has business constraints – moviegoers’
demographics and all that…
WaH: What is your response to people who say that the story borders on incest?
AF: “borders” makes a significant difference, in this case! There are no blood relations between any of the lovers… I appreciate that the situation is
controversial, but all players are grown-up, lucid, intelligent, and more than willing.
WaH: The locale is like a character in the film. It heightened the sensuality. How long did it take to find your setting?
AF: When I met with Doris Lessing, she said that The Grandmothers (her novella) was based on a true story – one she heard had happened in
Australia. We started by selecting locations through the regional websites (each Australian state has a very well organized film agency, which provides
filmmakers with significant resources). Once we had narrowed down the search to 5 or 6 locations, I flew out there, and visited various places, in Western
Australia and New South Wales. At the end of that process (which lasted roughly twelve months), I felt that Seal Rocks (north of Sydney) had the perfect
mix of seclusion, visual power, and beauty of course.
WaH: You’ve made films in France and are now branching out into English language films. Female directors like you have been able to create full bodies of
work in France and several other countries like Australia where there is government funding. But it is still so hard for women directors especially in the
US. Do you have any comment on that?
AF: First of all, I’m not really “branching out into English language films”. The Doris Lessing novella, the characters, the background, everything in that
story required the English language. But my next film is French-speaking, and so are most of the developments I’m working on. I’m certainly very happy that
France has an effective public funding, because it protects our cultural diversity. However, I’m not sure this has much to do with our strong number of
women directors. There is no “women quota” or any rule that would favor female filmmakers – this would be illegal, anyway! I assume the explanation is more
cultural than legal. For whatever reasons, several women directors bloomed in France from the sixties and seventies onwards, and this trend has never
WaH: You said that contemporary Hollywood doesn’t really “do justice to a certain type of female character: the woman who is over 40, beautiful and
sexually vital. A woman who has desires and is desirable.” Why do you think that is still such a struggle?
AF: Well, Hollywood is still the cradle of many myths, including the one of eternal youth. I find it odd that the very notion of desire, when applied to a
woman over 40, is turned into a pathology or a mockery in a number of films. But Hollywood is not the only place to blame, by far. This is just a
rendition, possibly magnified by the power of movies, of a general state of things, social, cultural and political.
WaH: Do you have any advice for women directors?
AF: I have no general advice for directors, women or men. Making films is – or should be – a very personal experience. You shouldn’t listen to anybody,
other than the people you choose to listen to…