Valley Of Love US première Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
The day before the opening night New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema screening of Guillaume Nicloux's Valley Of Love, starring Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, attended by John Waters, Cindy Sherman, James Ivory, Angélique Kidjo, Emmanuel Finkiel (A Decent Man), Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang co-writer Alice Winocour (Disorder), Nicolas Pariser and his star Melvil Poupaud (The Great Game), I met with Eva Husson for a conversation on her debut feature Bang Gang (Une Histoire D'Amour Moderne).
Eva Husson with Valley Of Love director Guillaume Nicloux Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Tara Subkoff's teenage #Horror, Ben Affleck, a cat and Gillian Flynn, author of David Fincher's Gone Girl, Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, Cervantes, C.G. Jung, Dostoyevsky, Homer, and a Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Van Gogh connection bring us into the present.
Two best friends, teenagers Laetitia (Daisy Broom) and George (Marilyn Lima), are torn apart when privileged Alex (Finnegan Oldfield), who lives alone in a big house in the suburbs of Biarritz, while his mother is away for the entire summer as an archeologist, plays them against each other. "You are much prettier than your ugly friend" is all it takes for George to take her clothes off. After their first encounter, he does not respond to her texts anymore and she plots to somehow win him back or take revenge by suggesting parties at his house with the entire youth of the area invited that turn from alcohol and pill fueled spinning the bottle to random sexual encounters.
As this is the 21st century, everything is recorded by the kids' phones to put up on Alex's specially created site together with his pal Nikita. "Alex, I'm a virgin," says Laetitia, before she has sex with him, phone in hand, taping the whole thing, while the party is raging downstairs. Laetitia's shy neighbor Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre) prefers to go to parties where people dance as though they are punching each other in the face, and is not so convinced if he should join the others.
Eva Husson in the spotlight with Film Society of Lincoln Center's Associate Director of Programming Florence Almozini Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Eva Husson states that the story is based on fact - which part of it is unclear. Could it be a news story that a large number of students from one high school turned up with syphilis? The film tells us how they got there and not where they will end up.
Anne-Katrin Titze: You begin with a quote by C.G. Jung. How did that come about?
Eva Husson: It's saying that you can build a sense of self and a sense of identity after going through dark things and that sometimes the only way to light is through darkness. That is my experience. Jung is someone who worked so much about the subconscious and the idea of feminine - masculine and the symbolism of things. When I came across that quote, I was like, oh, this is exactly what I'm talking about. I have a lot of moments that are very dreamlike in the film. I think dreams are important to the day-to-day reality. So I thought it was quite relevant.
AKT: Sometimes it is not very clear what is dream and what is reality.
EH: In life, too. Sometimes you project things. For example, that sequence when George comes back from her first night of sex with Alex. And she's skating and it seems like she's floating and it's very dreamy. For me it's really about her perception of what happened. [Laughs] Because what happened was pretty common and mundane. She's had sex with a guy who thinks she's cool but not that cool. If she'd have understood that she would never have dreamed the way back to her place that way.
Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre) George (Marilyn Lima)
AKT: There are other moments where you work with the discrepancy between what we see, an older audience maybe, and what they perceive as happening to them. You state that the events are based in reality, on facts. Which part?
EH: The main skeleton of the film is basically a true story where you have about 300 kids going to parties and having sex from time to time with one another and they had, If I remember correctly, seven cases of syphilis. It came up again in smaller events since then. One of the financiers of the film sent me a funny e-mail four months ago, about a group of British teenagers who had syphilis.
AKT: You have a line in the movie stating that this is the 19th century disease of Baudelaire and Nietzsche and Van Gogh.
EH: I think it's funny because in the 19th century it's almost a disease for the intellectuals. Obviously these kids are not intellectuals. There was a little bit of tender irony on my behalf. I thought about making them readers at some point but it was just going to get too complicated.
Isabelle Huppert introduces Valley Of Love at the Walter Reade Theater Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: So you cut the books?
EH: Yeah. It was hard for me to do. My teenage years were not like that. All my friends read Dostoyevsky and Homer and we were a bunch of pretty geeky… Not geeks, but like intellectual kids, we would do drugs and it was this weird atmosphere. But I was afraid that I would cut myself off from some part of the audience by letting them think that maybe it was a little bit snobbish if I made the kids too intellectual. Let's not put that ingredient in.
AKT: Not make them anything, really?
EH: Exactly. So that everybody can project their own teenagers on to that.
AKT: You added hamsters?
EH: Blame that on my husband. He told me that story about hamsters once and I thought it was funny and I thought that animals are always good in a film.
AKT: Well, there's something about not killing animals in a film. Did you see Gone Girl?
Alex and George with Nikita (Fred Hotier)
AKT: I asked the writer and Ben Affleck about the cat - because the cat seemed to be the only one in that house not mad. Ben Affleck said to me "Well, you haven't met the cat." And she [Gillian Flynn] responded that she was playing with the screenwriting rule to never kill the cat. You kill a hamster.
EH: I didn't kill the hamster!
AKT: The hamster died on its own?
EH: He's not dead at the end, he moves. I think he escaped - he is like running free and naked in the woods.
AKT: Have you seen #Horror, Tara Subkoff's film?
EH: No, when you're a filmmaker, you don't have the time to see movies anymore.
George (Marilyn Lima) looks up with Laetitia (Daisy Broom)
AKT: I thought about it because of the subject matter of cyber bullying of young girls. It is a very different approach. Alex uses an effective line to tear the girlfriends apart by telling one that she is the pretty one and the other is the ugly one.
EH: He is bullshitting. He finds the other one pretty. He's just being an asshole.
AKT: Exactly. You captured that asshole-ness well and how easy it is for him.
EH: He doesn't realize how mean he is. I think, honestly, in the end he can be a nice guy. I'm convinced that he is going to turn out to be a nice guy. A lot of people don't think so but I know for a fact. I've seen men being quite confused about how they could behave with women when they were teenagers. When they're adults, they just turn into fine men.
AKT: He has his archaeologist mother.
Gabriel and George
EH: Beyond that. He does find in the end that all that is just too much for him. He is not a Wolf Of Wall Street. He is not reveling in all this. He loves it at first because it's about not being lonely and it's exciting at first. And then it's just too much energy for one guy. Finnegan [Oldfield], who plays Alex, has this thing, which is why I cast him. He has this very, very endearing smile. The second he smiles you just want to forgive him everything. That was important for me to have that side for the character. He is not just an asshole. He's an asshole who is charming as well.
AKT: That makes him dangerous, too.
EH: I think it's up to girls at some point to understand that you can't take everything for granted and at face value. When a guy keeps feeding you ridiculous lines like this, you just have to laugh it off. It's not the end of the world, that's what George learns as well. It doesn't mean that she doesn't meet someone who's fine for her, which is Gabriel.
AKT: With the ending you could have gone into much darker territory and you decided not to.
Alex (Finnegan Oldfield)
EH: That was essential coming to the project. I think the darker side of this story has been explored by a movie like Kids. It made sense at the time, in '95 because of Aids and the way our generation reacted to love and love making. In 2016 it would be just strange to go in that direction. Plus, it's not right with who I am and the way I see life. I wanted to talk about how important it is to at some point find someone who sees you for who you are - whatever that is. You probably don't even know yet at that moment that that's who you are. But it's a defining moment and a really beautiful moment.
AKT: It's a very romantic idea.
EH: I'm very romantic. And I'm a firm believer as well that you can be romantic and yet have these weird, intense experiences in life. The bottom line is that adolescence is a very plastic moment where you bounce back. I don't want to hear that they will never recover from that. That's bullshit. It's just not true. Teenagers always recover.
AKT: We live in a different time now where everything is recorded.
Eva Husson with uniFrance President Jean-Paul Salomé Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
EH: Even with that, I think you can't hold somebody accountable for thirty, forty, fifty years for something that happened. It sounds like a trauma at the time for some people but I think it's high time to show other reactions as well. Like George's reaction where she refuses to be slut shamed, because it's not who she is, it's not how she feels, and had she been a boy, there wouldn't even be talk about her actions and her behaviour. I am sick and tired of seeing women represented as victims all the time. I think you can have a very sexual behaviour as a teenage girl and I think it's not the end of the world. I think it's important to portray that. Even a lot of adult women are like that and it's fine, but we just don't talk about it. Because it's inappropriate. I'm not showing her as an example, I'm just saying it happens in reality.
AKT: You also have Laetitia and her very free use of what she calls virginity, that she just never loses.
EH (laughs): I love that. A lot of girls do this. They are like "I'm a virgin" and they convince themselves because it's such a stake when you're a girl to be a virgin or not. Even if you're carefree like Laetitia is, you're like "I will not admit to anyone that I'm not a virgin." The bottom line is that it doesn't matter at all.
AKT: She makes the statement twice and the second time very interestingly reflects on what we thought we knew about her first time, which was filmed by Alex. The audience has to question what we actually saw and believed. I liked your placement of the Schubert song.
EH: You know, I circled a lot with that moment in the film musically. I tried ten different things. I was on music overload and all of a sudden I was like - classical!
AKT: Now we went from the hamster to Schubert…
EH: That's a good title - from Schubert to hamster.
Bang Gang (Une Histoire D'Amour Moderne) poster
AKT: I noticed your last name a few times in the credits.
EH: My brother [Manuel Husson] is an actor, he plays Gabriel's dad in the film, the father who is in the wheelchair. And my mother [Yolande Carsin] plays the Spanish teacher because she was a Spanish teacher, she was a fantastic Spanish teacher.
AKT: She is teaching Cervantes - which made me think about the two girls in the film. You don't make one the hero and one the sidekick.
EH: Because it switches. In real life it's actually quite rare when you have a real sidekick. And I think a lot of teenagers have a problem with dealing with reality the way it is. Growing up is probably learning how to relate to the reality of things versus what you wish reality was. I really like Quixote It's a very beautiful contemplation on life and it's oftentimes very funny.
AKT: Did your mother choose that?
EH: No, I gave it to her but she was quite delighted. She had just retired so she was very happy to just have the class again. She was very cute with the kids, the extras.
Public screenings for Bang Gang (Une Histoire D'Amour Moderne): Friday, March 4, 9:15pm - Sunday, March 6, 1:00pm (Q&As with Eva Husson following both screenings)
The uniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center's 21st Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, runs through March 13. Screenings and filmmaker appearances will take place at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.