Teenagers are under constant pressure. Stéphane Demoustier, the director of ‘The Girl with a Bracelet’, as interviewed by Piotr Czerkawski
Piotr Czerkawski: In ‘The Girl with a Bracelet’, you decided to tell the story of a girl whose behaviour, to put it mildly, escapes stereotypes.
Stéphane Demoustier: First of all, I wanted to make a film about a teenage girl and the secrets associated with adolescence and coming of age. When you are 18 years old, you often do not act as you should or as society expects you to.
Lise, who has been accused of murdering a friend, handles all the turmoil around her with an amazing calmness.
And according to the patterns to which we are accustomed, she should be shaken up and bursting into tears all the time. At least that is the view of the prosecutor as she lays charges against the girl during the hearing. It is not without reason that the trial is an essential part of the film – its atmosphere seemed to me to be an ideal metaphor for the fact that teenagers are constantly under pressure from their surroundings and are subject to strict evaluation.
The prosecutor you mentioned, although not much older than the protagonist, seems to bear no similarities to Lise. Do you think that the gap between the generation of today’s thirty-year-olds and the generation of high school students is really that profound?
It is hard to generalise but it cannot be assumed that a small age difference automatically brings people together. In the relation between Lise and the prosecutor, the different social standing happens to be much more important. It is irrelevant if both women watch the same series or listen to similar music if one of them is vested with clear power over the other and can have a decisive influence on her life.
I don’t want to be rude, but a brief Wikipedia look-up tells us you are over 40 years old yourself. Weren’t you afraid that a portrait of contemporary teenagers presented from your perspective would turn out to be far from reality?
Of course I ran that risk, but I have the feeling that I had done my homework and observed young people long enough; I also had many conversations with them. I owe the most in this respect to my children’s nannies who have been coming and going while I was writing the screenplay at home. I even asked a few of them to read the screenplay and say if they found the text credible.
What is the biggest difference between growing up today and when you were a teenager yourself?
In my teens, there were no social media that for kids today are inherent in their everyday realities. I wonder what will come of all this because the mixture of universal teenage sensitivity and the awareness that virtually all your privacy is constantly being exposed to the public can be truly explosive.
As you mentioned, most of the action of your film is Lise’s trial. While working on ‘The Girl...’, were you inspired by any of the famous courtroom dramas?
Before I started working on the screenplay, I had seen many films of this genre, but the classic ‘The Trial of Joan of Arc’ by Robert Bresson remained the most important to me. I think it is a real masterpiece offering the viewer both mystery and a respectful distance to the protagonist who emanates discreet nobleness. I hope that I have also managed to achieve something similar in ‘The Girl...’.
That air of nobleness about Lise seems to be largely attributed to Melissa Guers who plays the role.
Certainly so. Melissa had never played in a film before but from the moment she came to the casting we knew we were dealing with someone special. Compared with the other girls waiting for their turn, who were laughing and gossiping, she stood out as she was already silent and focused, waiting in the corridor. When it was her turn to audition, our intuition was only confirmed and it turned out that this girl simply has an innate talent for acting in front of the camera.
In ‘The Girl...’ you cast the great star of European cinema, the famous Chiara Mastroianni, side by side with Melissa who was making her film début.
Chiara combines aloofness and fragility, which I found perfectly suited to Celine – Lise’s mother. She is a very important character through whom I wanted to show that the role of the mother in society is undergoing constant evolution. Today, unlike years ago, we allow the idea that a good mother does not necessarily have to be overexpressive and ubiquitous. Celine is withdrawn and she experiences her worries in silence, which makes her very similar to her own daughter.
Talking about the cast, I must again mention the character of the prosecutor, played by your sister, Anaïs Demoustier, known, among others, from ‘Sponsoring’ by Małgorzata Szumowska. Did the bond you have with her make working together easier or more demanding?
The work always runs smoothly with good actresses and Anaïs is simply very talented. I have already worked with many artists, so I know that only the greatest ones can combine intellect and instinct in their work like my sister does. My intention, however, was not only to use Anaïs talent, but also to give her something in return, to offer her the opportunity to gain new experiences. I proposed the role of a public prosecutor to my sister primarily because never in her career had she been given the opportunity to impersonate a character so aggressive and determined.
As the last point of our interview, I would like to compliment you on your attention to detail. The very name of the main character, Lise Bataille, seems to be significant.
This trick, contrary to some interpretations, has nothing to do with the philosopher Georges Bataille. I chose this name, which is quite popular in France, because bataille in our language means ‘a fight’ and it seemed quite ironic to me in the context of a protagonist who deliberately refuses to play by the rules of the courtroom game and does not intend to defend her innocence at all cost.
As a football enthusiast and an SSC Napoli fan, I also noticed, of course, the scene where a friend of Lise’s, named Diego, snaps: ‘I am Diego Maradona!’
I could not help but include this little joke. I love football and take every opportunity to express that love. And if you love football, you have no choice but to love Diego Maradona, too!