By FF2 Senior Contributor Lesley Coffin
Writer-director Catherine Corsini has gradually emerged not only as one of France's top female directors, but one of their most respected auteurs of her generation. Although she originally pursued a career as an actress, writing and directing proved to be her true calling. And she's been pursuing that ambition since the early 1980s with a multitude of shorts, telefilms, and features. Fifteen years ago her feature Replay had her in competition at Cannes and in 2012 she returned to the competition with the film Three Worlds in the Un Certain Regard competition. Just this year she was named President of the Jury for the 2016 Palm d'Or.
Her new film, Summertime, feels like a big leap forward for Corsini. While many of her films have been critically praised, this film is a true crowd-pleaser…feeling at once universally appealing and deeply personal piece of art. The film tells the story Delphine (Izïa Higelin), a mousy country girl who takes the big step of moving to Paris and meets the brash city-girl Carole (Cécile de France), a militant feminist leader who opens Delphine's eyes to the women’s movement. As their friendship grows into a love affair, each is asked to make sacrifices if they hope to pursue their relationship. While the melodramatic elements of the film suggest a movie inspired by a film like Brief Encounter, Corsini has made a movie with a jazzy tone and sun-drenched style that made it one of the most enjoyable and unexpectedly emotional movies at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Corsini wrote the film with Laurette Polmanss, and produced it with her girlfriend Elisabeth Perez...only adding to the sense that this movie is Corsini's most personal work yet. Although we had a language barrier and had to have a translator, Corsini proved to be a funny and thoughtful auteur to speak with and provided a delightful and insightful interview.
Q: Why set the film during the women's movement of the 1970s and have that as a backdrop for such an intimate romance?
A: It was a period of time, at least in France, where there were few pictures taken and not as well-known. That time in history has been put down. Few people know about that part of our history, so I really wanted to put an eye on it and show it to be a noble, enthusiastic, and important movement. How important feminism was for the family structure we see today. Personally, I believe that this feminist revolution was even more important than the 1968 revolution. Some sociologists, like Foucault, feel the same way. So I felt it was important to take a look back at that time period. Also, I made this movie at a time when there was a very strong homophobic movement in France, when there was talk about gay marriage. So I felt it was important to go back and do a circle to show the courage of the feminist movement, and how it relates to the courage of the gay rights movement. How they have leaned on one another to gain strength.
Q: What was your relationship to the feminist movement at the time? Were you living in Paris at the time or see protests first hand?
A: I wasn't engaged in it at all, the only action I ever took was to gather money for a friend of mine who needed to go abroad in order to have an abortion. Otherwise I wasn't involved at all.
Q: The stark difference between city and country life is important to the narrative and showing how different the two characters’ personalities are. What cinematic choices did you make in order to show those differences visually?
A: To start with, it was important to find a way to mix the country and city environments in this film. It’s difficult to do that in a country like France, because when we consider Paris, it's like a real magnet attracting everyone. It's a pull of concentration compared to the relatively deserted countryside. There is a void of cultural structures where Delphine lived. So to reproduce the time periods we watched a lot of movies from that period. For example, we noticed that a lot of the films made about of the countryside had a very raw use of light, which became very important to me and we utilized that in those scenes. We also watched a lot of movies by Goddard and other directors from the new wave who filmed in Paris to see how they films Paris in that period.
Q: Why did you choose to use English language rock music, rather than popular French music?
A: I found a connection between the spirit of the movement and the music sung by Janis Joplin and when I did my documentation and spoke with feminists, they said they were listening to a lot of Janis Joplin music as well. So I felt I needed to include her songs. Also, there're the music of Colette Magny, she has this very bluesy voice and sang a lot of songs in English which were revolutionary songs. And both these women were very interesting personalities to me as well. As for the music Carole brings back to the countryside, it’s the music by a band called Rapture. I also had some very lyrical scenes with music composed for the movie, just to appeal to the romantic side of the movie. Because this love story is universal, so I needed the music to feel more classic.
Q: The two men in the women's lives who have relationships with Delphine and Carole, did you feel their reactions to learning they were gay, and the anger they showed, had their basis in feeling mislead or betrayed or a deeper sense of homophobia?
A: For me, those scenes were a little tricky and complicated, because I really didn't want the guys to have the bad press. I don't want to show guys as assholes or homophobic vs the women who are totally heroic and positive. I wanted to show that they have their own suffering and have some reactions which are noble and courageous. For Carole and her boyfriend, we see that they've been together for a very long time and he’s one of these militants. So of course he's jealous when Carole announces she's in love with a woman, because what he likes about her is her indifference, her spirit of revolution. He doesn't like this side of her running around like a female in love. He feels he has a higher opinion of her than what he sees her doing with Delphine. So he does try to understand her, even though he makes some very toxic comments. Like when he says he'll just go sleep on the sofa. But he is definitely hurt by Carold and he is suffering, even as he tries to show understanding. As for the guy in countryside, he's been in love with Delphine since they were young and just doesn't understand when she says she's in love with a woman. When he says to her "you've counted on me so much” and asks if he’s her alibi he's not angry, he's not an asshole or homophobic at all. He's just deeply hurt.
Q: Throughout the movie, the movie feels almost equally split between their perspectives. You started with Delphine’s, and then we see Carole's point of view when she comes to terms with her sexuality, and then goes back to Delphine’s perspective. Was that an intentional way of making this their shared love story?
A: Obvious Delphine is the heroine of the movie, it starts and ends with her. It's the encounter with Carole which really transformers her persona. But in the movie, the one who gets hit the hardest and suffers the most because of their choices is Carole. She changes everything in her life for Delphine. She lets the boyfriend she lives with go and she's even willing to move to the countryside in order to be with Delphine, until she's being kicked out. But she always keeps her militant spirit and doesn’t change the way Delphine has to. Delphine has a real journey in the movie because she can't make her own decisions. I wanted to show how intertwined their lives.
The relationship with Delphine's mother and both Carole and Delphine is interesting because she’s very loving, but she is also the character who has the most outward display of bigotry.
Q: When developing the story and writing it, why did you feel it made sense for her mother to react to her daughter that way, rather than Delphine's father?
A: I can only explain that it relates very personally with my relationship with my mother. I know what it's like to be a very young homosexual woman who has to tell her mother and that seemed to be the most challenging and difficult thing I had to do. I fantasized about the terrible outcome, afraid that she would die of shock or kick me out of the house forever. So it does relate to a very personal fear in my own life.
Q: You've said that this is the first film you made with your partner Elisabeth Perez and that it was true partnership. What did it mean to make this movie, a love story, with someone you're in love with?
A: When you're doing something you really love and working with someone you love, it’s a far richer experience. We were sharing very strong emotions on this movie, and when you're sharing the work and the questions, you feel like you're doing the movie as a duet. Even though I directed, I felt it was an amazing experience to feel like a duo on this movie and to have someone to share the anguish and emotions you have while making a movie. It’s something I always wanted to do, and even though I’m doing it a little late in life, it makes me so happy. It’s the most important thing to be able to share things you love with the one you love.
© Lesley Coffin FF2 Media (7/17/16)
Top Photo: Catherine Corsini
Middle Photo: Cécile De France and Izïa Higelin in Summertime
Bottom Photo: Cécile De France and Izïa Higelin in Summertime
Photo Credits: Clash & Toronto International Film Festival