Claire Fowler

Filmwaves

Interview with Lucille Hadzihalilovic. Hotel Lutetia (Sevres Babylon) 4pm 22nd May 2005.

Born in Lyon in 1961, Lucile studied filmmaking at Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques in Paris. She has worked as an editor of features and documentaries, and is long time collaborator with the director Gaspar Noe for whom she produced and edited the short Carne and co-edited the feature I Stand Alone. Innocence, released 2nd September, is her first feature film, following the shorter La Bouche de Jean Pierre, and Good Boys use Condoms. Innocence, based on a story by Frank Wedekind, is set in a girls' school situated deep in a forest, where new pupils arrive in coffins and live by a strict set of mysterious rules. The girls live in small groups, each age allotted a different coloured hair ribbon, and learn ballet, swimming and biology, but their utopian existence has a sinister undertone. I met Lucile in a faded, grand hotel in central Paris to talk about her entry into filmmaking, Innocence and her future plans.

"Innocence" is adapted from the Wedekind Story “The Corporal education of young girls”. What elements of the original story have influenced or been retained in the film?

It is very close to the original. The idea of organisation and structure in a girl’s boarding school set within a beautiful isolated park, the arrival of the girls in a box- which in Innocence became a coffin, it seemed appropriate to me that it should be a coffin. The rituals and rules, the underground passages, the train and the theatre where the little girls perform and yet cannot see the audience. It is a world separate from the outside. In Wedekind’s story he follows one single girl. We could not sustain that for feature length, and so chose to follow 3 individual girls of different ages. Like the story, I wanted to keep it all from the point of view of the child- and so it became three children, three sets of eyes. One of my characters (Alice) rebels. In Wedekind’s story, there is only acceptance…

The film follows three young girls throughout one school year in a surreal, timeless boarding school, starting with six year old Iris who arrives in a coffin, Alice who runs away, and ending with 12 year old Bianca who is about to enter the outside world. It is a film of mood, symbolism and the senses rather than a conventional narrative, yet it also contains a growing sense of anxiety that despite the ‘innocence’ of the pre adolescent girls, is inevitably sexual. There are unanswered questions that become more fraught for Bianca…

There is a sense of threat, or anxiety. The suspense suggested to some people who watched the film that at some point a group of men would burst in and rape these little girls, shatter this idyll. But nothing happens. For me the threat comes from within the girls- it is the threat of growing up, the fear of the outside world. The school is a contradiction, it is almost a utopian prison. But the references to punishment, to banishment or entrapment- it all comes from the girls, not from the adults. The arrival of Iris in the coffin, and her observations, suggests at first the threat will come from the school, but it does not, and we move on to Alice’s perspective and then Bianca’s. The story, like the suspense, is never resolved. There are no answers. If you try to find answers perhaps you have missed the point of the film. So many people ask me ‘ so why does Iris arrive in a coffin?’. Why not? It seemed right. It is from the point of view of children. There is both reality and fantasy

How did you plan the visual balance between that tension and the ‘innocence’ of the girls? It is a very fine line to tread…?

It was something I was aware of before we started shooting. I was aware of the difficulty of the film- nothing dramatic happens. It moves at a very slow pace- it has its own rhythm. It is peaceful and colourful, but also tense. I wanted to play with the suspense with the extremely long shots- which are both slow and anxious. The sound also plays with feeling of suspense and threat- very simple. I identified very much with the film so that in some ways it felt autobiographical. I was going back to my memories of childhood.

Working with such a young cast must have had its difficulties….. With the youth of the cast in mind, to what extent is the film improvised, and how does it diverge from the original script?

It was a nightmare! We shot for two months in summer, and 2 days in winter. The smallest girls were 6 years old. They were very natural, in many ways much more than the older girls- but everything was a game to them…but they tired quickly, and when one misbehaved they all did! They had difficulty with distinguishing between reality and the film sometimes. For example there is one scene where Eva (the teacher) asks Iris to stay behind after ballet class. One girl didn’t want to leave the room- she was jealous of Zoe Auclair with Marion Cotillard! The older girls were sometimes very stiff, very much more aware of themselves. They all loved the dance scenes, but none of them liked improvisation- they all wanted to be told what to do, what to say, where to stand. As a lot of the framing was tight and static this worked quite well, and the ‘stiffness’ of the girls- something I was very worried about in filming, gave the scene an old fashioned feel- something awkward that I liked. It was like pinning butterflies down! The original script did change according to the cast. Alice for example worked really well on film and so developed more importance than originally planned. The secret passage at the end- we only chose the clock as the entrance once on set and just before that scene...

Full article in Filmwaves, UK issue 28