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Meet the 2011 ND/NF Filmmakers: “Belle Epine” Director Rebecca Zlotowski

Meet the 2011 ND/NF Filmmakers: "Belle Epine" Director Rebecca Zlotowski

It’s been two weeks since her mother died, and Prudence is home alone: her father is overseas on business, and her older sister, stricken with grief, has absented herself. Sixteen going on seventeen, Prudence is failing to come to grips with the sudden loss of her mother and loses herself in antisocial behavior. Turning away from the Jewish heritage personified by her supportive aunt and uncle, she finds herself drawn to a wrong-side-of-the-tracks classmate and her biker friends, who gather for chaotic, sometimes lethal, nighttime motorcycle meets on the edge of town.

Aided in no small part by rising star Léa Seydoux’s compelling, intense performance, debut writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski delivers a terse, impressionistic exploration of the chemical reaction between the dissociative suspension of bereavement and the hothouse solipsism of adolescence. [Synopsis courtesy of ND/NF]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the 40th edition of New Directors/New Films to submit responses in their own words about their films. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

“Belle Epine”
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writers: Rebecca Zlotowski, Gaëlle Macé with Christophe Mura and Marcia Romano
Producer: Frédéric Jouve
Artistic Director: Jean-René Etienne
Cinematogapher: George Lechaptois
Editor: Julien Lacheray
Production Designer: Antoine Platteau
Original Score by: ROB
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Anaïs Demoustier, Agathe Schlencker, Johan Libereau, Guillaume Gouix, Anna Sigalevitch, Marie Matheron, Marina Tome, Carlo Brandt, Nicolas Maury

Responses courtesy of “Belle Epine” director Rebecca Zlotowski.

Did an event lead you to become a filmmaker?

I do not remember a specific event. Rather, the interest in storytelling, the light, the music and the certainty of never being completely alone in making a film logically led me from French literature to screenwriting and then directing.

The origins of “Belle Epine”…

“Belle Epine” was initially a school project to get my diploma as a scriptwriter at La Fémis, the French film school. The assignment was to write a feature on my own. My idea of writing films had always been communal in nature, so I was confused and miserable in the beginning. I asked Lodge Kerrigan, whose films I adore, to help me build the plot. Then the film became very personal, more personal no doubt than the scripts I was co-writing for other directors. A young producer read it and convinced me it would make a good film if I admitted I wanted to direct it. I pretended to think for five little seconds and then said yes!

Drawing inspiration from youth…

I had the idea adolescence was not an age of innocence or purity, but instead it was full of lies, fatigue, a certain idea of responsibility and guilt. That’s why I wanted to cast young actors and actresses, not young non-professionals whose age would be closer to that of the characters. I had a deep faith in fiction and working with actors. Loss, which is the hidden subject of the film, seemed to me very austere and harsh, and my purpose was to turn it into a cinematic experience, connected to the youth, the speed and the excitement of being a certain age. The illegal and dangerous run of Rungis, near Paris, where motorcycles would compete in the late 70’s was the perfect setting for all these emotions.

The thrill of the shoot…

The most spectacular issue was to shoot the motorcycles running by night in Rungis. Stunts, speed and the security on the set would make my producer sweat because I had never directed anything before, not even a short film. The shoot lasted for only 29 days, and we had little money. I decided to start shooting with those sequences because I knew it would make the film enter into the spirit of excitement that way.

Casting the lead…

The origin of “Belle Epine” is a bit literary: I found a diary on the street near my place in Paris. The girl in the diary was 15-years-old in the 1980’s and was reporting one year of her life. It was the starting point of “Belle Epine.” Then I cast Lea Seydoux for the lead role. I didn’t write for her, but instead only met her. It was a way to establish a pact of mutual responsibility between one another.

Future writing projects…

I am still writing for other directors, among them Teddy Lussi Modeste, a young director who I met at La Fémis, whose first feature, “Jimmy Riviere” (which I co-wrote), is just being released in France. We are currently writing Lussi Modeste’s second film. I am also writing my second feature. I cannot say much more, but if “Belle Epine” portrays a young girl, her emotions and expectations, this second one will absolutely be turned towards heroic men, in what I see as a French action movie!

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