Set in a Parisian suburb, Hélène Zimmer’s “Being 14,” which screened in the Viewpoints section of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, chronicles the tumultuous relationship among three schoolmates — Sarah, Jade and Louise — as they navigate their way through classes, parents, parties, sex, bullying and everything in between.
Indiewire recently chatted with Zimmer, who wrote and directed the film, about how she managed to replicate a verité approach within the framework of a fictional narrative. Below is an edited version of the conversation with Zimmer.
Was there a particular cinematic reference that inspired this film and its distinct point-of-view?
The idea of the movie wasn’t influenced by anything except for my memories from my adolescence. There wasn’t one specific film that made me feel like “ok, I want to do a movie about adolescence.” But when I was looking for references to speak with all the technicians that were working with me, the one that was the most important for me was “À nos amours” by Maurice Pialat, and [my reason to reference him] was not a filming thing, it was just because of his point-of-view on a young girl, adolescence and sex.
How did the script influence your decisions about camerawork?
In the script, the dialogue is very raw and rough, but the story, [from] my point-of-view is fluid, not brutal. The way I wanted to shoot them [was such that] the camera would be very fluid so that the camera movement never [imposed itself on] that young group. And I wanted all that to [seem] like we are with them, we follow their point-of-view, but I didn’t want to accentuate their movements. I just wanted to follow it with kind of a distance, but also not so much. Not be too close and not be too far.
Whenever an adult appears in the film, we typically only hear their voice. If we do see them onscreen, their face is usually outside the frame or partially obscured by the camera remaining at a distance. Was that intentional?
The adults in the movie are always out of the frame or [in the] shadows. My aim with shooting the adults that way was to always stay with the teenagers, in the teenagers’ world, with their point-of-view. What I wanted to do [the] most with the movie was to never see [the adults] point-of-view so that the people who watch the movie [are not influenced by the adults’ point-of-view on what is happening in the narrative]. The point-of-view is [also] a feminine one, so I exclude, I avoid the masculine [perspective]. The only people whose feelings we really understand are those of the three girls. [With the] boys it’s about representation. You know how when you are in school and you are young, you pretend a lot of things and you are just acting most of the time? The only ones [in the film] who we see not acting are the three girls — but the boys, we can’t really see how they are feeling.
How did you find your cast?
We did a casting call for maybe six months or a little bit more. We found them in front of school, on the internet and through agencies. The girl who plays Sarah, I met her in the subway. She was in front of me in the subway — that was after six months of casting and I still couldn’t find someone to play her and she was so important. When I saw her I saw all the things in her eyes that I expected for that character.
Were any of the scenes improvised?
The script was written very strictly and I asked all the actors to learn all their lines very sharply and perfectly. Then, while shooting, when everyone felt comfortable and they knew what my goals were and what their characters represented in the movie, they were able to play with that and add some stuff. We shot some scenes totally improvised. It was rare and we really liked it. I worked a lot with the technician and with my operator before the movie because I didn’t want to do a documentary, I didn’t want the camera to ever be rogue.