By Indiewire | Indiewire March 17, 1999 at 2:00AM
"La Nouvelle Eve": Catherine Corsini's New Genre of Comedy
By Eve-Laure Moros
Catherine Corsini's autobiographical comedy "La Nouvelle Eve" tells the story of Camille, a 30-year-old single woman who prides herself on her sexual liberty and retches at the bourgeois conventions of marriage and children. . . until one day, she falls in love with Alexi, happily married father and well-to-do member of the Socialist party. Suddenly, the free-wheeling party girl finds herself attending political meetings, babysitting Alexi's kids, anything to be near her obsession -- and conquer him. Set in a multicultural, polysexual, class-divided France filled with underemployment, condoms, psychoanalysis and anti-depressants, the film seamlessly provides a somber backdrop to the burlesque trajectory of its heroine. As in other recent French films ("Nenette et Boni," "While the Cat's Away," "Dry Cleaning"), though the story focuses on relationships, its naturalistic context ironically comments on contemporary French society.
In France, "La Nouvelle Eve" has been a popular hit and a breakthrough for Corsini, whose turn to the comedic genre marks a departure from her previous films ("Poker," "Les Amoureux," "Interdit d'amour"). Particularly successful is Corsini's choice of rising French film star Karin Viard as "the new Eve" -- seductive, frank, and complex. Viard, sometimes compared to Katherine Hepburn, brings great energy to this farce, playing the tragicomic, often pathetic, figure of Camille with spontaneous dynamism and irrepressible charm. The collaboration of Corsini and Viard bows to the slapstick of Chaplin and the introspection of Woody Allen, while creating a new kind of French female character -- unafraid to look silly, yet undeniably strong and attractive. Corsini talks about her inspirations for the film, working with Viard, trying to make a French auteur comedy (a virtual oxymoron, according to Corsini), and the rising success of women filmmakers in France.
indieWIRE: You've said that you had to look to Italian or American comedy for role models, since comedy is culturally, for the French, not your cup of tea. Why is that?
Catherine Corsini: It's a question of culture, and it's true I've been asking myself the same question since I really wanted to do something funny and burlesque with this character. In France, I realized, we don't really have a comedic tradition for auteur cinema. There's Italian comedy, like Nanni Moretti, and the old American comedies, like Lubitsch, Wilder and Capra, and now Woody Allen. But in France, the only real comedies are the huge commercial films -- we don't really have auteur comedies. Because we really are a literary culture. In the United States, you have a certain escapism, like the Western genre, because of all the space you have. But here in France we don't have that kind of space, it's really a geographic question, so instead, we're a culture of language and writing, so it's true that our cinema is also literary, a cinema of Balzac. We have difficulty with genre cinema, like comedy. It's seen as a something suspicious here, and negative, among certain people -- as if it means it has to be something really commercial or a caricature. Among the critics, there's an attachment to a certain idea of French cinema, without a lot of curiosity that it could be something different and that through that, there could be a look at things through a different prism. So it's hard for us to create a funny cinema.
iW: Why did you choose a comedy after your other films were "serious"?
Corsini: Because I'm someone who is curious about all kinds of things, and I like to have fun. It's part of who I am, one of my multiple facets and I wanted to explore it. Cinema, for me, is always an exploration. The next one may be something totally different. I don't want to do comedies all my life. . . Often, we seize on all kinds of things, like a little story we read in the papers. To be a filmmaker, it's to be able to tell all different kinds of stories. But in all my films, what interests me is telling stories about people who are always a little bit out of it, a bit marginalized -- sometimes, I do it more seriously, sometimes with more humor... It was also a way to bring a little distance and humor into a personal story that was very sad for me since this was based on something autobiographical that was pretty tragic. So it would better if I could have fun with it.
iW: Did the fact that this was autobiographical change your method of working with the actors?
Corsini: No, because I think there's always a bit of myself in my characters -- sometimes it's more obvious and sometimes more hidden. But from the moment that Karin seized the character, put her feet in her shoes and took off with them, that's it; it becomes something other than you, the distance is already there, and you work with the character as that. I didn't sit there and think about the character: "I thought this or I thought that at such and such a moment, you have to do this." Instead, I let her determine how the character would act, let her bring her own interpretation to the role -- this is how the character is enriched.
iW: How did you choose Karin Viard?
Corsini: I chose her because I knew her for a long time, and I was actually afraid of her great energy, her appetite for life, but I said to myself that I had to trust that she would bring a lot of life to it. I'd seen her in a film which I really liked by Alain Tanner called "Fourbi." She was great in it. What was hardest for me was to distance this character from myself and entrust her to someone else, but the moment I did that, that was it -- it was perfect.
iW: Did the character change much once Karin took it on?
Corsini: It changed once she told me she would do it, and then right after, she became pregnant, so I waited a year for her, and during that time, we saw each other often, and I worked on the character more. I really need to know someone in order to work with them, so it was a year of really great work. I was able to bring the spirit of the script to Karin, to imagine how she would say certain things magnificently. I was able to revise the character based on knowing Karin better, and it made the character much richer.
iW: When Camille and her friends go to the movies, they see "The Incredible Adventure of Two Girls in Love." Were you influenced by that genre of American independent cinema?
Corsini: In fact, I didn't see "Two Girls in Love" -- it was actually a joke. I wanted to show that whenever her friends (a lesbian couple) go to the movies, they only see lesbian films, i.e. "Two Girls in Love," "Go Fish," sort of militant films, lesbian films. I wanted to show that side of them. And Camille lets herself get dragged along, though at one point, she asks whether they couldn't just see a Western? She'd really like to see other things. It's supposed to be funny. When I went to see "Go Fish," there were only women in the cinema, and I found that sort of funny, so it's a comment on that. But its only meant to be in a small thing the background that certain people would notice but most people would not.
iW: Those films were considered part of the "Queer Cinema" movement in the States. Your film handles homosexuality in a very straightforward way. In Cahiers du Cinema's review of your film, it stated that French Cinema was no longer afraid to talk about homosexuality. Do you think that's true?
Corsini: There have been lots and lots of films in France about homosexuality, mostly male homosexuality. It was a big thing. But what I wanted to do, was to have homosexuality be in the film, but not as part of a debate or in the forefront as some kind of message, but just that it be there in the background, as another element of the characters. What I wanted to show is that it can just be a part of our lives, of friends you might have. The portrait of Camille is very much like that of people I know, so I naturally wanted to surround her with other types of people I know, the kinds of friends I have. I wasn't trying to say it's this or not this, I just wanted it to seem natural. It's true that there was some press that reproached me for not making it a bigger part of the film, but for me, they're just characters, her friends - it's just part of the diversity of life. There wasn't a theme or a message behind it.
iW: There was an article in "L'Evenement" called "Les Nouvelles Eves" about you, and [other French women filmmakers] Tonie Marshall and Judith Cahen with a quote from Francois Truffaut that "le cinema est un art de la femme" (cinema is an art of woman).
Corsini: There are two things going on there: one is the phenomenon of the invention of journalists, who want to write one article about three women who release their films at the same time. The other thing, the quote of Truffaut, is interesting because in fact, I've been thinking a lot about Truffaut when I was making my film. I thought to myself, if there's any tradition of films that mix a certain gravity with humor and sentiment, it's in the films of Truffaut, as in "The Man Who Loved Women" -- he's a man also obsessed by love. If there's some common ground with Italian and American comedy, it could be found in the cinema of Truffaut, which was looking very much at his time, but was also about love, his love of women. If I could be in that tradition, I would be very happy, because he's really one of the directors who really gave me the desire to make films. As for the "Les Nouvelles Eves" what we may have in common is that there is anew kind of French cinema now which is really due to women filmmakers; it's something I really feel. And furthermore, we're starting to have some real success. I think we have way of looking things, a way of speaking, that is more frank and straightforward. I think "La Nouvelle Eve" is like that, it's about not hiding things, not masking reality.
iW: Is it harder to have respect as a woman i.e. for financing, or among your crew?
Corsini: Oh, I don't pay any attention to that. Like any crew, you have all kinds of people, there may be some macho guys among them, but there aren't just angels and just devils. As for financing, I don't think we have any more or less trouble than our male counterparts. When you don't have success with a film it's harder to raise money for the next one, whereas if you do have success it's easier, whether you're a man or a woman. On that point, I don't think there is misogyny because what's important, unfortunately, is that the financiers only care whether your film makes money.
I did enjoy working with a female DP and I wanted for this film to have a crew of lots of women. I thought it fit the character of Camille more, and I thought it was sort of funny to have this crew of chicks.
iW: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Corsini: I don't do any militant activities, but at the same time, I know what I owe to the women who were pioneers and who made it possible for us to vote, have abortions, choose our contraception, and for women to be filmmakers.
["La Nouvelle Eve" is screening as part of the New York Film Society of
Lincoln Center's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series and is currently
playing in theaters in France.]
[Eve-Laure Moros is a filmmaker who has just completed "Made in Thailand," a documentary about women factory workers in Thailand. She is also working on a series for public television about the contemporary visual arts.]