Meeting with the director of Canal +’s new offbeat Creation, with whom we spoke about her career, the origins of the series and her relationship to actresses.
How did the Neuf Meufs project come about?
Emma de Caunes: I had written nine stories with Diastème, nine portraits of women, and we didn’t know what we were going to do with them. In the cinema, films with sketches are not easy to edit. I then decided to extract one of the stories to make a short film, Violet, which I self-produced and shot a bit with Mademoiselle Agnès and my daughter. I was inspired by her, conversations about sex we may have had between mother and daughter, and it amused him to do it. Following that I made a screening of the film, and Arielle Saracco who is in charge of the offbeat Creation of Canal +, adored it. She wanted to read the rest and offered to adapt it in series. It turns out that the Offbeat Creation is a department that selects the first series productions, and therefore I tick the boxes. We had to readjust our stories a bit because the constraint was to have a unit of time or place, so we linked them by putting all the girls in the same building. Following that I made a unitary, which will be broadcast on March 8 on Canal + shifted, in which I knit the stories differently, with small unpublished scenes that are not in the series.
How did the filming of the series go, and what differences will there be with the film?
We only had sSixteen days of shooting in all, with two days of shooting per story, and we kept the short film Violette to integrate it with the others, we did not re-shoot it. In sixteen days, you had to have enough material for a series and a film! As soon as we had a little time, we would shoot additional little scenes. But only the structure of the film is different, more chronological, with the life of a building that starts at night and ends the following evening. The character played by Philippe Katerine (in episodes 2 and 8, editor’s note) notably makes the link between all the stories in the film, he is more present there.
You co-wrote these different portraits of women with the screenwriter and director Diastème. What did you use for the different stories?
It’s a bit of a mix between personal experiences, anecdotes of girlfriends that I have romanticized, and also several generations: that of my daughter, that she tells me through her friends, her evenings that I have. tried to transcribe, or that of my mother, through the story of Framboise. I wanted to pay tribute to these women around me, and to things that I do not yet find sufficiently represented in the image today in France. Small portraits of women who are not just sketches, but half-hearted stories, with emotions, small shifts that can change a life. For example, this conversation with my daughter transformed me, because I never expected her to ask me such raw and direct questions, and it brought me face to face with my role as a mother. It made me think about our responsibility as a parent with regard to sexuality, consent … It’s up to us to explain to our children, what they can decide to do or not, that nothing is mandatory.
Where does the story of Yumi, the dancer played by Kaori Ito come from?
During the confinement, I saw the very nice film made by Cédric Klapisch on the dancers of the Paris Opera, where we saw them rehearse at home, with the children in their paws, making big gaps in their kitchen, and it moved me a lot to see them being locked up like caged birds. From there started the idea of a story of glances with a neighbor, which gave Yumi’s character back to dancing after a traumatic ordeal. In general, for each character, the idea came from an emotion, from stories of women being able to experience complicated things. I never pass judgment on my characters, I love them all and they each refer me to something that touches me. The character of Lola and her father, for example, is a little nod to my father and me, even if he no longer disguises himself as a woman now … Although! (laughs) I lived with a fanciful father, who disguised himself, made people laugh, and that was normal for me. Let Lola take advantage of the moment when her father is a woman to announce a heartache to him, these are small things that come from me, with a desire to speak to the greatest number. That women can find themselves in these characters, with their doubts, their flaws and their contradictions. It is possible to find yourself trapped in your own desire, to say one thing and to do its opposite …
Show that one can be feminist and full of contradictions, in short?
Of course, and in relation to men too, we made a point of honor with Diastème that they are not all bastards. It can be a trend when you hear “film of women”, but I also wanted to show the fragility of men. I loved shooting the scene where Nicolas Avinée, whose character is getting married and cheating on his girl, starts crying in the cellar. It was a very powerful and very moving moment. When he confides in his problem, and reveals that he loves his girlfriend like crazy but that in bed it doesn’t work, it’s a huge taboo. We should be able to talk about it! Neuf Meufs is for everyone, and men’s flaws are also interesting to film.
How did you choose your different actors? Did you have any names in mind when writing each story?
In the cinema, it’s very complicated because we have to have “bankable” actors, as if we were pieces of meat. For Neuf Meufs, Canal + gave me royal peace, and I was able to go find the actors I wanted. Jeanne Rosa is a friend of mine, I find that she is an extraordinary actress who cannot be seen enough. Mademoiselle Agnès, I wanted to to shoot, we had already done little things together and I knew she was a born actress. For Philippe Katerine, who is a friend, I wanted him to have this kind of character that is both lunar and poetic, sweet and charming as he can be in life. Sarah Suco, I thought of her very quickly because I had adored her in the film Place Publique by Agnès Jaoui. I was very happy to have this freedom to be able to highlight actresses that we rarely see. Then, Nicolas Avinée, Charlie Dupont, Faustine Koziel, Solène Rigot, we spotted them during the casting. Kaori ito, we wrote with Diastème in mind because we had known her since The Noise of People Around, her first film fifteen years ago. Léa Drucker, who played a dancer and choreographer, was coached there by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a huge choreographer, with the help of Kaori Ito. She fascinates me with her humor, and the depth of what she offers. As there is very little dialogue in her episode, she had to make movements feel the way she is trying to reclaim her body after an assault, through the dance game. Finally, I wanted to film Aïssa Maïga because I find her incredibly beautiful and sensual, and I have no recollection of having often seen her play sensuality in the cinema. On the set, she was magnetic, she gave off a real eroticism. With Nicolas Bordier, my cinematographer, we worked on the light to bring out his black skin, I wanted it to be sublime. I wanted them all to be elsewhere; I wanted them to feel beautiful, highlighted. As an actress, I know how complicated this relationship of women to their image can be on a set: the relationship to age, to nudity … There, I have the impression that they are all abandoned to me. They trusted me, and it’s the best gift they could give me.
Neuf Meufs is your first series. As a defector from actress to director, what was your main challenge?
It is not the first time that I am directing, but my very first short film (The Navel of the Universe) dates back over twenty years. I’ve done a couple of commercials since then, little things right to left. What fascinates me the most is directing actors, and I think that’s the case for all actors who go behind the camera. From the moment we found the right actress who corresponds to what I had in mind, we work hand in hand, we understand each other very well. Aïssa told me that on the set, I lived the situations at the same time as them: I laugh, I cry behind my combo, I feel things in a very intense way! (laughs) I also attach a lot of importance to the musicality of the dialogues, and I try to bring the actors to what I expect, while being receptive to their inner music. The scene between Sarah Suco and Nicolas Avinée, where we shot behind closed doors with a small team, it was crazy because what I asked them to say was not easy. Succeeding in saying them while putting both embarrassment and emotion, while raising an uncontrollable desire, it was perilous to film, but they really delivered something strong, and it is one of my best memories of the shoot.
Has the freedom granted to Neuf Meufs made you want to develop other projects?
To be honest, I’ve been writing for several years and trying to get behind the camera, and I’ve had several failed feature length attempts. Now this is it: I knew it was my place and I found it. I had an A3 Cinema baccalaureate at the time, I always wanted to direct. The comedy was a little detour, but not that far, and I learned a lot from it. On the sets I have always been curious about everything, I was very interested in technique, I asked questions all the time … It’s a great school. And there, I’ve never been happier than when I was filming Neuf Meufs. I said to myself: “that’s your thing, you have to continue”. I feel in my place.
What do you take away from the realization of this project in the end?
The real lesson that I took away from all this is that during all these years with these projects that were breaking the mouth, I could have saved a little time since that is when I decided to do Violette that it all started. When I said to myself “come on, I’m going, I take my cock and my knife and let’s go!” We shot with a team of eight people in a day and a half, in a loaned apartment, in the middle of the December 2019 strikes … it was great rock ‘n’ roll. But if I hadn’t done that, the show would never have seen the light of day. This is the lesson I take from it: we must stop waiting, we must do. Even if it means crashing, but what matters is being in the action. And for a shoot we have to find people, we put together teams, and that creates a dynamic. Action calls for action, it triggers other projects behind. We must get started!
Finally, what are your next projects?
I would like to redo a small series precisely, once the release of Neuf Meufs is over. I have to go back down a bit since we shot in September, and we delivered everything before Christmas. Everything happened really fast. I’m going to rest a bit now! Then I would like to propose another series, and I also have 2-3 feature films in my drawers that I hope I can try to put together again. Now, with Neuf Meufs, I have a little baggage.