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Marie Noëlle • Director

“My film should encourage women to do what feels right to them”


- For her biopic on Marie Curie, French writer-director-producer Marie Noëlle studied the original diaries of the two-time Nobel Prize winner

Marie Noëlle  • Director
(© Birgit Heidsiek)

With her biopic Marie Curie, The Courage of Knowledge [+see also:
interview: Marie Noëlle
film profile
Marie Noëlle, who co-directed films such as The Anarchist's Wife [+see also:
film profile
and Ludwig II [+see also:
film profile
with her late husband, Peter Sehr, shows that she can helm a film brilliantly on her own – in much the same way as Nobel Prize winner Curie had to prove in her own career after the sudden death of her husband, Pierre. Marie Curie, The Courage of Knowledge is released today in Germany, courtesy of NFP Marketing & Distribution.

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Cineuropa: What fascinated you most about Marie Curie?
Marie Noëlle: I really admire her free spirit. She didn’t care about any kind of conventions in that period. Marie Curie always focused on the issues that she considered important for her, and by doing so, she remained true to herself. We can all learn something from her. It is amazing that she had the courage to do so, especially in a period when everything was much more difficult.

For your research, you gained access to her original diaries. How difficult was it to get the permission to study them?
This was indeed very difficult. I had to apply for them in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale and explain the finer details of my project. It took a long time for me to receive an appointment at the library. I had to sign a declaration stating that I was aware that the diaries are still radioactive. They have been stored in her office. In the library, they were brought to a special reading room. For me, it was important to take a look at her handwritten letters because I wanted to see the style of her handwriting. She had a very elegant style and made almost no mistakes, even though she was originally from Poland.

Did you also get in touch with her descendants?
I met her granddaughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, who married the grandson of Paul Langevin, who was seeing Marie Curie after her husband’s death. She is convinced that we can deal with radioactivity. She has a similar mentality to Marie Curie, who was not afraid in the face of danger. It was an exciting time when a group of physicists discovered radioactivity, relativity and quantum theory, which physics is still based on today. These people were humanists who were passionate about science, and they wanted society to benefit from their discoveries.

Did this approach work out for Marie Curie?
When World War I started, she rebuilt and repurposed cars into mobile X-ray labs and went to the front line. This way, she saved the lives of many soldiers and spared them from amputations. She had to fight for that because many doctors didn’t want to have a woman on the front line. Curie even brought her 16-year-old daughter with her, who also worked there. With my film, I want to encourage women to study science because we are no less talented than men. It is important that we do what feels right to us.

How did you find your leading actress, Karolina Gruszka?
That happened by chance. I had been looking for the right leading actress in France for two years, and the distributor who was working with me at the time wanted a well-known actress so that he could finance the film more easily. There was a lot of interest in the lead role of Marie Curie, but I couldn’t find any actresses who really convinced me. So I started to look for the leading role in Poland by myself and began to collect a lot of photos. Among them was a picture of Karolina that grabbed my attention. When we met, I knew that I had found my Marie Curie. And she could even speak French.

Where did you shoot the film?
We shot most of the scenes in Poland. I went to the places where she grew up. The beach near Gdansk is amazing because it is 27 kilometres long, and since Marie Curie loved to swim, I really wanted to show this. But actually, the Solvay Conference, attended by scientists such as Albert Einstein, did not take place by the ocean, but rather in Brussels.

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