Blanche Gardin and Laurent Lafitte are reunited in the most original drama of the season. Everyone loves Jeanne is the first feature film by Céline Devaux, who told AlloCiné behind the scenes of this film screened in Cannes.
How to represent on the screen the torments of the soul? This is the challenge that has been launched Celine Devaux with Everybody loves Joan, his first feature film. The director offers us a jewel of inventiveness by mixing comedy and animation to dissect the anxieties that run through a melancholy and broken spirit, that of Jeanne, whom you are bound to love.
Jeanne is over-indebted after the bankruptcy of her ecological company which made her a superwoman. She then goes to Lisbon to put her mother’s apartment, who died a year earlier, up for sale. As soon as she arrives at the airport, Jeanne finds herself embarked on an ubiquitous series of twists and turns punctuated by encounters and reunions, which will gradually give her a taste for things, and above all a taste for herself.
AlloCiné was able to speak with the director during the Cannes Film Festival where the film, carried by Blanche Gardin and Laurent Lafitte, was presented in preview at the Semaine de la Critique.
AlloCiné: You have made several short films and you are directing your first feature film with Everyone Loves Jeanne. What made you want to move on to feature films?
Céline Devaux: I kind of had the feeling that it was time to make a feature film. I don’t know if that’s a very good reason to feel that urgency there, because the best reason is to have a story to tell. It made the writing a little tricky because I had to narrow down the themes I was interested in so that I was driven by a character and not just my interests in life.
And suddenly, I started writing after “Gros chagrin” and I met Sylvie Pialat with a draft script. We had an incredible meeting, a perfect understanding. It was really very strong and she accompanied me right away. The fact of being so well accompanied allowed me to write better and to move the film forward.
Did you directly think of Blanche Gardin for the character of Jeanne?
At first, I didn’t think of anyone in particular and besides, it was difficult to write because I find it difficult to write in a vacuum. And at some point, I started imagining it would be Blanche even though I didn’t know her. I had no chance of her saying yes. But it helped me enormously in writing the character because I have a lot of admiration for Blanche. So when she read the script and said yes, it was a huge joy.
The character of Jeanne has a lot of anxieties and inner questions that are catalyzed in this little inner voice. The public will easily identify with this character and Jeanne’s story. Did you draw inspiration from personal experiences for this story?
There is a lot of my personal experience or my relationship to melancholy. But I think it’s pretty universal, it’s hard to exist. We all go through thousands of small barriers in our lives, whether in a conversation, in a situation because of shyness, shame, fear, memory or the projection of a future that we think we know. And in fact, we are wrong.
That’s what has always attracted me in terms of storytelling, whether in the literature of Virginia Woolf or Jonathan Franzen, Philip Roth, Flaubert. They are writers of the interior and who consider that what one lives inside oneself is adventurous. It’s also interesting and it can be epic because you can do whatever you want like go back ten years, come back, imagine five years later, be extremely sad, then extremely happy.
It is a concentrate in our heart at the moment T, completely diffracted. And I think that in cinema, it’s an even more interesting challenge because cinema is made to hide interiority. We are with people, by their skin, by their movements. We are in catharsis, but we are never inside or at least rarely. Or else it’s very conceptual. And that is great.
All the characters in my films are called Jean. It may be a kind of writing coquetry, but I like the idea that there are first names that move from film to film. And in addition, it is a generic name but identifiable and not connoted. I really like this association between Jeanne and Jean, it works well.
It is true that it is difficult to put into images what is going on inside our heads. And to do this, you have chosen to represent the small voice through animation. What technique do you use?
The animation technique I use has been the same since I started making films. I work by hand and it’s acrylic paint on PVC on a light table and I have a camera on it and I evolve my characters and by scratching them a bit like on a painting. So in fact, I don’t change media and it’s surprisingly fast for traditional animation. And above all, it allows me to improvise.
So I start with a character in the middle of the image. And then, if I tell myself it’s very good who turns into a cube, I turn him into a cube. I haven’t, I’m not constrained by bits of my, scene entries and exits see you soon.
Afterwards, as far as the narration is concerned, it is obviously a spring of writing spring of editing springs of staging and enormous comedy because we can experience both the exterior and the interior at the same time time, even witnessing the perfectly sober, very elegant acting of Blanche and her stoic face while the inner character is overexcited. It is sure that it makes cuts, it makes paradox, but it works. Finally, I was very interested in it.
The main characters are called Jeanne and Jean. Why did you choose these names in particular?
In fact, all the characters in my films are called Jean. It may be a kind of writing coquetry, but I like the idea that there are first names that move from film to film. And in addition, it is a generic name but identifiable and not connoted. I really like this association between Jeanne and Jean, it works well.
What also works well is the chemistry between those who embody them, Blanche Gardin and Laurent Lafitte. How was filming with them?
I found myself with a cast of extremely talented, extremely experienced people, much more than me since they are both scriptwriters as well. And so it was an extremely demanding shoot. There is no room for error. But it’s interesting because, anyway, I’m used to doing animation so what I shoot, I either use it or I throw it away. Well there, in fact, it was in the same vein, that is to say that we had to work hard.
But it was such a joy to see them play together. It was so great to film the association of these two very big actors and in addition with a proposal of great sobriety. As the film already has its dose of the grotesque, the acting could not be at all. Sobriety and tenderness were needed.
You transport your characters to Lisbon, Portugal. What motivated this choice of location?
I wanted to make a comedy of anguish, depression and in fact it happened to me during a professional trip to Lisbon. The city was sublime, the scenery sumptuous, but I was depressed. Lee seeing such a beautiful city and feeling that all my senses were shut off was almost a provocation. There was the sparkling sea and these beautiful multicolored buildings and I was miserable as stones.
And it’s even worse to feel that in a beautiful place than in an ugly place. And then Lisbon is the sacrificial Madonna of a Europe in crisis which has made certain countries pay and not others. It’s a city that has been sold out, of which everyone takes pictures without being interested in the locals. It also tells about our Europe.
It also tells of a race for success with Jeanne’s journey and her big project that fell through. It’s all the more punishing for a woman when she faces failure after having had her big moment.
Exactly, it’s so important to succeed. There is so much hypocritical hype about women’s success. This valorization of the woman who does everything – the one who has a career, children and a happy couple – is an absolute lie because in fact it is to devalue each of the elements of this life there and it is to ask women to do what men have never done.
We never put on the cover of a magazine a man who was a great father and a business leader. Which doesn’t mean he’s a bad dad. But it’s stupid to say that. It’s as if you could divide your life into two parts and you only ask that of women. It is a hyper-speculative vision of socially just life.
Another important aspect of the film that adds a lot of warmth is its music. That of Flavien Berger.
In fact, he’s been my friend since college and he’s done the music for all my movies, including the huge misses, including the student projects that no one has ever seen. I also directed some of his clips and we have formed a duo of immense friendship and artistic collaboration for ten, fifteen years.
So he obviously did the music for Everyone Loves Jeanne. You should know that Flavien is one of the first people I talk to about my ideas. When I start writing, he leans into the music and works on it before I tour. It is capable of giving me three hours of music! I was listening to music on set that he had already composed just by imagining the story.
Do you already have other feature film projects underway?
Yes, I’m already writing, because the desire to continue in this direction is strong. But it’s secret for now.
Interview by Mégane Choquet on May 23, 2022.