Catherine Corsini, the acclaimed French Writer and Director, brings us Leaving, a film with the amazing Kristin Scott Thomas, Yvan Attal and Sergi Lopez in an explosive relationship triangle this summer.
Birds Eye View was lucky enough to catch up with Catherine in London to talk about her work on Leaving, the reaction of audiences around the world and how open the arts world really is to women writers and directors.
JZ: In Leaving you are telling a story of a married woman and mother who becomes involved in an adulterous relationship with an unskilled repairman, while remaining financially depended on her husband. What inspired you to tell this story?
CC: I mainly wanted to tell a passionate love story, about a love that is extremely strong and very physical and that overrules everything else. The fact that Suzanne, the main character, had to reconstruct her life completely from scratch, her whole history, everything that she has built up so far, fascinated me. She wants to start life all over again, start from zero as if nothing had happened before.
JZ: The film seems very clear in terms of focusing on the three main characters. The setting in a beautiful landscape, but also the music and editing seem to work towards achieving clarity and focus. Was this your intention from the beginning and how did you bring this together so exquisitely?
CC: For me, every single shot in this film is necessary. Nothing could be changed, the film goes forward in a way that it could not have been any other way. It was actually in the editing stage when I realised that the film would have such clarity and that the film would be going straight towards this tragedy, this very strong build up. The question is interesting, because we shot scenes that were more lively and more spirited, but they did not fit in. The film is just very, very lean and this was mainly developed in the editing process; this is what remained. The gun going off at the beginning of the film sets a tone. Everything that is going to happen is, therefore, destiny.
JZ: Was the decision to have the gunshot at the beginning then, only made during the editing process?
CC: No, that was clear from the beginning of the writing process. The editing for this film was very delicate and complicated. The gun goes off but you do not know who is going to die, there is a small margin of error of where you can go with this. I did not want to give away too much in the beginning, but we had cut it down more it would not have worked either. So it was a very difficult editing at the beginning but then what happens is that the film sucks you in and you are taken on this journey.
JZ: The film tells this story very much from the perspective of the woman, Suzanne. Do you think it was important that you as the writer and director are also a woman?
CC: I actually wanted the male characters to be larger and more important, but then in the editing process it became clear that Suzanne had to be more dominant than them. The editor almost had to tell me, look, Suzanne is what interests you more than anything else. In my next film it is the boy that is the main character, but I don‘t know until the end what will really happen.
JZ: What made the three characters most interesting to me was that they seem very strong and determined while lost at the same time. Still, were you at any point in the creative process concerned about stereotyping them too much in this relationship triangle?
CC: What you are saying is true. If I would just read the synopsis of this film: an affluent woman has an adulterous relationship with her Spanish worker – ugh. Why did I want to tell this story, although it could have just completely floped? We did not have much of a budget and I am, myself, sometimes wondering where the propulsion to make this film came from. I think I wanted to save this bourgeoisie women from her boring life and give her a novelistic character. And I did want to show that there is still this very strong class system in France, that people are stuck in their different classes and people do not transition or even much interact between those classes.
JZ: The film was selected by various Film Festivals, amongst them the London Film Festival and Toronto; did you notice that the film was received differently in North America or the UK than in France?
CC: I have toured the whole world with this film. I went to India, Japan, Mexico. In Latin countries, where women are still in a more difficult position and their rights are not as strong, people are very shocked that this woman actually leaves her children. And I am always very surprised by this reaction, Anna Karenina leaves her child and commits suicide, Madame Bovary leaves her daughter and here in this film Suzanne was actually not abandoning her children. She was doing everything she could to see them and remain in contact. In the northern, Anglo-Saxon countries people were not quite as shocked, but still the reaction to a man leaving his children would be different to a woman doing the same. Also, what is quite amusing is that the film appears feminist in some countries but other people read this film as not feminist at all, because she is killing her husband and will go to prison, and therefore she will be forbidden to live her life with her love. But on the other hand her husband declares war on her, and when you go to war you have to pick up weapons and she decides to pick up a weapon against her husband.
JZ: You worked with amazing actors on this film. How did the collaboration with Kristin Scott Thomas, Yvan Attal or Sergi Lopez come about?
CC: I actually wrote this film for Kristin Scott Thomas. I knew for a long time that I wanted to write a role for her. Before I started writing I went to see her and she accepted. With Sergi Lopez I was at first a bit hesitant but not for long, as I knew his charm and sensitivity. For the role of the husband actually I had two different actors in mind but Yvan came along and brought something very important to the film. The three of them together worked so well, which was essential.
JZ: You have been writing and directing successfully for many years. Is there any advice you would give to women filmmakers starting out?
CC: I actually think that it becomes harder over time than when you are younger and carefree and do not realise the full extent of how difficult it would be as a woman to go in this direction. In fact, young women need to be very vigilant, as society is becoming more macho and you have to be stronger to get across your point of view and the way you look at things. At the moment the stories are shifted into this male perspective. I was always thinking that the art world would be more open-minded and modern, but unfortunately I had to understand that this is not true; it is as frozen as the rest of it. There is this huge problem for actresses that if you are older than 35, you can forget about it — that’s it. The appearance of women is still very important, beauty is such a worry. Don‘t give into this ambient cliché and create roles for women that are strong and original and interesting. Of course, there are male directors that also know how to do that, but women need to claim their space as well.
Leaving is out on Friday. Show your support for Catherine Corsini and women filmmakers by going to see it. For more information, visit our First Weekenders page.