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LOCARNO 2022 Competition

Sylvie Verheyde • Director of Stella in Love

"I believe that nowadays, many adolescents find themselves very much alone and have a hard time finding their own voices"

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- The French helmer goes back in time by reflecting on her youth, more than a decade after her first autobiographical film Stella

Sylvie Verheyde • Director of Stella in Love

Sylvie Verheyde, who is currently presenting her seventh feature Stella In Love [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Sylvie Verheyde
film profile
]
in the international competition of the Locarno Film Festival, revealed details regarding her personal connection to the film plot, the period recreation process, and her aesthetic choices.

Cineuropa: You started your cinematic autobiographic journey with Stella [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(presented in Venice's Giornate degli autori in 2008), reflecting on your childhood, while Stella In Love is about your adolescent years. Why have you decided to go back to your life story?
Sylvie Verheyde: The first film Stella focuses on a young girl coming from a not-so-wealthy environment and about to enter high school where she discovers a new world, the world of culture, while Stella In Love is looking at a teenager, a slightly more grown-up girl who is in a stage of abandoning her parents’ background. She feels she no longer belongs there but she does not identify with the environment of her friends either. She needs to find her voice, her world, her place in life. I believe that nowadays, many adolescents find themselves very much alone and have a hard time finding their own voices. When I was young, there was some progress made for my generation, however, it has now stopped. That’s why I hope that through my journey, teenagers could realise that finding their own path is a personal responsibility.

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It is delightful to watch a coming-of-age film that is not drowned in alcohol, drug, or sex abuse. Was it really that innocent in the '80s?
Not at all, it is just my private case. Indeed, drugs were all around and Stella grows up in this popular club, Les Bains Douches, which is a risky environment, full of addicts and prostitutes. However, she does not even drink since she feels rejected by that behaviour. She prefers to take the positive aspect of life which is reflected in her love for dancing. The disco where she goes to have fun is a meeting point for different kinds of people from various backgrounds, so there are possibilities to mingle with any kind of social circle. The moment she fails her final school exam, an anxious feeling appears that she might be drifting towards a bad journey – in the '80s, there was a lot of heroin, while the end of the decade was also threatened by AIDS. It was a very tough time in general but in my view, this club was a happy place. Therefore, the character of Stella manages to preserve herself.

It's also a very atmospheric film, it seems you made a serious effort to recreate the vintage setting with those typical interiors, etc. Was that difficult?
There were two elements in this process. First of all, the historical reconstruction of the time was not meant to become another character in the film because my personal take was driven by an inner feeling. In this regard, I had to stay very close to her perception. Of course, all the details and references to the period had to be very precise but without getting obsessed with that. I aimed to stay more focused on her gaze which is essential. Of course, I took care of choosing the right clothing and music pieces but I never reminded the acting team they were performing in a period film. I wanted them to act naturally and spontaneously. The only time I had to remind them they were performing characters from the past was regarding the language use, so that they wouldn't use contemporary slang.

What qualities were you looking for when choosing the actresses?
My approach to auditioning and screen tests was to give them dialogue pieces but also dancing tasks. Some of them are professionals, but not everyone. I met Flavie Delangle, the actress who plays Stella, in the first week and her dancing style persuaded me to choose her. She is not professional but is at ease with her body, and moves very naturally. Being from a popular background myself, I also recognised that in her speaking manner and body language, which was important to me.

Financing a period story when it is not necessarily related to history or politics is not easy, I suppose. What was the selling point of your film?
It was easy to start with because Stella was a success and I had already proved my ability to do a period film in an inexpensive way. The popularity of the coming-of-age genre also helped. What I had to fight for was the scope of the film – producers wanted more professional dancing so they could eventually sell the film to television as well, while I insisted on non-choreographed scenes.

Stella In Love has an open ending. Are you maybe planning to do a third part?
I never thought about it but if I ever do it, it would be about Stella making films. Since we are at the turning point of filmmaking and cinema is completely changing, it might be an opportunity for me to ponder and make a meditation on the state of film art nowadays.

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