French director Maïwenn on Mon Roi and the challenges of being a female filmmaker



Though you may recognise Maïwenn for her performances in the likes of Leon and The Fifth Element, the French artist has since established herself as a force behind the camera, helming the the indelible production Polisse back in 2011. She’s now back with her relationship drama Mon Roi, starring Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot – and we had the pleasure of catching up with in Paris, to discuss this remarkable piece of contemporary cinema.

So this was intended to be your first feature but you’ve been quoted as saying you didn’t feel experienced enough to make it – so why did it now feel like the right time?

As years go by my perception in regards to my skill as a director have changed. 10 years ago I was speaking to my assistant and I said, there is no way I will ever make movies about war, and we’re in 2016 and I’m in the process of preparing two movies about that very subject. Never say never.

I was fascinated by the structure of the movie, because it begins after the relationship ends, so you’re instantly telling the viewer that their relationship doesn’t have a happy ending. What was behind that decision?

You think that from the beginning you can understand there’s not a happy ending?

We meet her when she’s overcoming some emotional distress, which gives us the impression their relationship does not survive.

The reason why I wanted to show her like this, in the first shot, was because I wanted us to somewhat understand that she gone through something very harsh and that she wasn’t doing very well, but everything is far from being revealed then. I wanted to instil a human type of suspense. It was always a way for me create that empathy for her.

What’s your method? Do you allow your actors room to improvise?

I don’t feel like there is anything secret my method, if I even have one in particular, I don’t feel like my own method is special at all. The thing is, I don’t spend a day shooting on script. I’m not glued to it, I always say to the actors to listen to each other. If you stick to the script you won’t spend the energy of listening to your partner and the naturalistic style of my movies comes from the actors listening to each other. They know that if they don’t, I’m gonna make them do it again, and again, and again and again.

mon-roiDid you ever contemplate playing the lead role yourself?

It would have been absolutely impossible for me to be the head of a 35 strong, male crew who were all very pissed off that they were being headed by a woman because let’s face it, it’s a very misogynistic industry. To head that team and at the same time take on the role of a woman who is being abandoned and is a victim, those two energy’s run contrary to one another. Acting and directing at the same time are completely compatible, but it depends on what you’re supposed to act.

I’m interested in your comment about the industry being misogynistic…

I don’t even want to get in to that debate because it’s a stupid debate. Enough is enough. You have to trust people who choose the movies that play at Cannes. Even before I was selected for Cannes that would have been my trail of thought. You have to trust the people who choose the movies. Can you imagine Cannes where the films were selected on the basis of meeting quotas? That would make absolutely no sense whatsoever. My first two movies were presented in Cannes and both were rejected. In fact recently I even read an article about the fact now they’re choosing films starring women, but they are pretty, beautiful women, so what’s next? What’s the next criteria when you move towards that way of thinking? The next thing they’ll do is select films because there aren’t enough blonde women, or black women, or short women. It’s a never-ending story when you start going in to this profession. There is nothing more insulting for a woman than being chosen because she’s a woman. I was told once, for example, that I was more likely to be in Cannes because politically speaking they need women there. I was told that once.

Have you noticed a difference in the reaction to the film from male and female audience members?

I don’t argue with people, but it’s definitely something that has happened, yes. It means that it’s stirring debate and prompting responses from people.

Is that on purpose? To provoke?

I make movies just to make movies, I’m not sitting there wondering how I can make a film that will make people argue. First of all, I love both of my characters, I’m not judging. I want them to be as real as possible, of course, but always I wanted the viewer to never be prompted in one direction in particular, because perception will depend on the eye of the beholder.

Vincent Cassel is brilliant in the film – he’s able to play such nasty characters that you can’t help but feel drawn to.

You hate him due to his actions, but love him for who he is, but that’s because of his charisma. The way he instils a sense of humour into everything he does, he’s very good when it comes to making a tense situation not tense.

Mon Roi is released on May 27th, you can read our five star review of the movie here.