Myriam Aziza uses personal experiences to inform her widely admired debut feature, “The Evening Dress” (“La Robe du Soir”). “Like many of her male classmates, 12-year-old tomboy Juliette has a crush on Mrs. Solenska, a teacher distinguished by stylish attire and an uninhibited, provocative classroom demeanor. Juliette’s fascination turns into all-consuming obsession, forcing revelations from both the girl and her teacher. A daring coming-of-age story, the film is elegantly commanded by director Myriam Aziza along with a fearless lead performance by young actor Alba Gaia Bellugi.” [Synopsis courtesy of Outfest]
Outfest screenings: July 11 & 17
Aziza on her filmmaking journey….
After briefly studying mathematics, I entered the film school FEMIS’ filmmaking department in 1991. There, I directed three short films “Sauf le vendredi” (“Except on Fridays”), “Méprises” (“Do not lean out”), “Comme on respire” (“As I breathe”) which were given awards at different festivals. After leaving school, I met Sophie Bredier and co-directed with her two documentary films about identity questions, “Nos traces silencieuses” (“Our silent traces”) in 1998 and “Séparées” (“Separated”) in 2001.
While pursuing different projects, two short films, “Le Pourboire” (“The tip”) shot in 2000 and “L’âge de raison” (“The age of reason”) in 2004, and my third documentary film “L’an prochain à Jerusalem” (“Next year in Jerusalem”) in 2007, I dedicated my partner Sophie Bredier and I dedicated ourselves to writing my first full-length film, “The Evening Dress.”
On coming to the story for “The Evening Dress”…
When I was 12, I had a French teacher I liked a lot. I admired her and she was a good role model. I wanted to be her favourite pupil. Throughout this story, I want to deal with the question of the construction of femininity at this peculiar age, between childhood and adulthood, which had not been shown much in cinema. We usually see stories about teenagers, 15 or 16 years old. Mrs. Solenska represents the picture of the inaccessible adult woman, a picture of a perfect and idealized woman, which contrasts with the very common and austere picture of the story’s mother.
I also wanted to say something about the power a teacher can have on pupils when the line between education and seduction becomes blurred. More or less, some teachers play with it in order to fill a narcissistic wound. Their class is their theatre stage and the pupils their best audience, but they don’t always realize the impact this has on students. Throughout this story, I wanted to do a portrait of two lonelinesses: the child’s one which is filled by imagination and the adult’s one which takes refuge in the positive picture sent by the pupils.
I was interested by taking the point of view of Juliette, by being in her mind. We must guess and share her emotions by staying constantly with her point of view and we must feel like her even when she gets out of control or she betrays or she denounces. We see how much her feelings compel her to act out. The unbounded imagination of Juliette is the main dynamic of the story.
I tried to show what she feels thanks to pictures and a work on sensations. Beauty, colours and love are missing to Juliette and these lacks express themselves more on the body than in the mind. Her fantasies are based on the imagination and this imagination takes in the reality to build itself : a dress, a colour, a smell …
On artistic choices….
I wanted light, sunshine, bright colours, heat which contrast and emphasize the loneliness and her pain. I chose to film in cinemascope because this format anchors the movie in the fiction. Paradoxically it allows to materialize in the picture the emptiness around Juliette. For this film, I wanted the direction to be in the service of the story and of the emotion. The sobriety allows her to highlight the emotional strength.
During the writing and the preparation of the film, I thought a lot about two films : “Misunderstood” from Luigi Comencini and “The 400 blows” from François Truffaut. In those two films we are always in the child’s point of view, and Comencini and Truffaut express something very strong about loneliness of childhood. I was also very inspired by the directing of Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World” and Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
I’m presently writing the script for my next feature film “Coming In,” a comedy about a Jewish young woman shared between a woman and a black Muslim man. It’s a reflection about communities, sexual and religious identities.