Hailed as the French Girls, Sophie Letourneur’s Chicks (2009) portrays girls that are ten times more wild and, frankly, far more likeable. It’s a piece full of yearning nostalgia but also one that knows that the carefree student life cannot last. While we’ll never know if the friendships themselves are only fleeting, their significance are deep nonetheless.
Gaby Baby Doll (2014), on the other hand, deals with solitude. The film’s protagonists cope with their respective anxieties and find solace in the vast countryside as well as each other. FilmDoo talks to director Sophie Letourneur about each of these works.
So, let’s talk about your 2009 film Chicks. Having been a student at Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris yourself, how autobiographical is the film?
It’s absolutely autobiographical, when I wrote it the script was based on archives of the previous 10 years of my life (birthday videos, recorded phone calls, photographs and memories). The fact is I made the casting over one year because I was looking for a real group that had the same “geography” as my old group…and I found it, it was so weird. The similarity of the characters was confusing…
The film perfectly captures the free fun-loving student lifestyle and really evokes nostalgia. Have you re-watched the film recently and if so, how does it make you feel now?
I haven’t watched the movie recently but I made that movie because I was nostalgic of that period. When I wrote it I had just had my first child and it was a sort of the end of free and fun times. Also, I made it because I exited the group very violently and it hurt me. Each movie is like a mini therapy for me…
While the film’s female characters constantly stress over men, their relationships with each other seem far more powerful and significant. Is this an intentional message about the importance of female friendship?
I didn’t feel like having a message but friendship is very important in my life. And I’m often more fusional and understood by friends than lovers. And when I was in school in Dupérée (just before les Arts deco), we were a class of girls and we had a lot of spontaneous fun! I would rather say that female friendship was not well shown in film in 2007 … or often like an ambiguous erotic relation… although male friendship is a classic of cinema! But now it’s better…
The film feels very authentic and at times possibly improvised, is this true and how much freedom was there on set?
There was no improvisation at all on set. We made repetitions and from these repetitions I made a sound editing that actors learn word for word, point after point like a song. Even the superposition of voices in conversation was precise, like a music piece for several instruments…
Now, let’s talk about your latest work, Gaby Baby Doll. Gaby struggles with a kind of night-time separation anxiety and manifests various infantile traits. What was your intention with this theme?
My intention was to make a kind of therapy again. You’re right: I have a kind of night-time separation anxiety and I manifest various infantile traits. It’s a part of me that is very handicapping in adult life but it’s also the part I like in people: the remaining childishness, assumed fragility, far from the seriousness of adults.
The film sees the two protagonists ‘cured’ of their respective struggles apparently due to their relationship with each other. What does this mean for their ability to be independent?
I don’t think they are cured, they deal with their neuroses. The way to independence is indeed a very important topic of the movie, I wrote a lot inspired by Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment. I think we all follow our path until death, trying to be better but ‘nobody’s perfect’. They make a little progress and it’s good like that but they don’t change completely. And personally I prefer a life where I need others than a life where I need nobody.
In Chicks, Pam finds the countryside dull and oppressive; for Gaby, however, it appears to become a therapeutic force. Is this just a character contrast or does this say something about your own development as a filmmaker?
I think it has something to do with the fear of space. In Chicks, image and sound is all full, full of voices, of bodies, of hair…like city. The group is also a leak of loneliness (cf. night-time separation anxiety!). But to begin the path of independence, to become someone, to really love, we have to cross loneliness a little bit. In the countryside, Gaby is not with her group anymore, she is alone, and she has to look inside herself to feel and understand what’s around her. Yes, my life and my work are linked, and I crossed a deep period of countryside recently and it’s brought me a lot of things and consciousness.
Are you working on any new projects?
Yes, of course. I’m currently finishing a script called HUGE about a ‘9-months-pregnant-in-spite-of-her’ pianist. It’s a comedy about maternity, gender, and love.
Watch Chicks (UK and Ireland only) and Gaby Baby Doll (worldwide) on FilmDoo now!
Banner image from Telerama.