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Shalimar Preuss • Director

"Behind the opaque face of a teenager, there is vibrant passion"


- Guest at the Rendez-vous with French cinema in Rome, the director talks about her debut film, Ma belle gosse, in which a teenager starts a pen relationship with an inmate

Shalimar Preuss  • Director

In Ma belle gosse [+see also:
interview: Shalimar Preuss
film profile
, the first feature length film by French Canadian Shalimar Preuss, a 17-year-old Maden spends her summer holidays with her family on an island in Western France, secretly maintaining a pen relationship with a local inmate. A spontaneous and fresh group portrait, but also a journey through teenage fantasies.

Cineuropa: The camera follows the young actors very closely, especially Maden. How did you work with them? How much improvisation is there?
Shalimar Preuss: The film is a mélange. There was a precise screenplay, and then there was some live material, which was unforeseeable. I told the older actors to read the script, but I didn’t tell the younger ones to. I explained their roles. I didn’t want the young ones to read the script because the written word crystallises things. I was interested in what was happening between them at that moment in time, how they lived in the home. Like a cooking recipe, I knew which ingredients I wanted, and I needed to see whether it would work. The camera travelled in the scene, it stopped on things that were happening and followed what was going on. The sound was live.

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The ties between the various people in this family are left unclear. Was that wanted? Why?
The important thing was the trio of the father, the daughter (Maden) and the half-brother (Raphaël), who does not normally live with them. The others represent a general family. It was perfectly clear to the actors and children who each of them were, I told them the story of this fictitious family. It was important for their acting. We worked on it first. The children drew a family tree two generations deep. They knew the family names, stories and secrets. I didn’t want defined relationships on screen. I wanted to maintain this loose, surprise aspect.

Maden is a bit like the young character in Pauline at the Beach by Eric Rohmer. Was this one of your references?  
I may have thought more about The Green Ray and Jacques Rivette. But beyond references, the film was centred around this young girl, who I was fascinated by. The girl playing Maden is called Lou and I have known her since she was two. I used to babysit her. I saw her grow up. I know her face and her personality well. I wanted her to have an androgynous side to her, which is why she has short hair, like a boy. The twins are Lou’s real sisters and the father and Raphaël are actual father and son. The younger girl is also a daughter of one of the actresses. 

The children play in the old ruins on the beach. Where did you shoot the film?
I was looking for a place in France, which had a prison close to a beach, and I found it on the Ile de Ré, close to La Rochelle: a historical prison, with high walls, very romantic. As for the rest, all people from my generation have played on the beach in the bunkers left behind by the Germans. I looked for places, which would evoke European holiday memories, even if not universal ones. The sea there was of great interest to me, because the tides are so big, the landscape is always changing. Sometimes organising shooting was difficult, especially because of the landscape, which could change from one minute to the next.

What does the letter writing mean for Maden? Will she continue to write to him?
For me, the exchange represents a young woman’s fantasy. It is not realistic, nor is it Romeo and Juliet. She thinks the relationship might work and I find this kind of faith quite beautiful, of great inspiration. Behind the opaque face of a teenager hides vibrant passion. The letters are something she controls. There is something dangerous in writing to an inmate, but it is also safe because he is behind bars and nothing can happen. This contrast between danger and safety was of great interest to me, also because it exists in all relationships. In the end, Maden finds her place with the children again, at a time which will also be the last summer of her childhood.

(Translated from Italian)

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