This entry was posted on June 22nd, 2017

Photo: Yann Baranier

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

We approached French filmmaker Justine Triet on the latest French Election Day, something that coincided with the day in which Age of Panic (La bataille de Solférino, 2013), her first feature film was set. Her last film, Victoria (2016), her personal work on set, her influence as a documentary filmmaker and her view on the current political movements on the day, were some of the topics we dealt with in this personal conversation.

Desistfilm: Justine, there is something in common I found in your first two features: this idea of two female characters that are struggling between their personal life and their professional life. How did you develop this theme in your work?

Justine Triet: My experience in Victoria was very different than the one in Age of Panic. I wanted to tell the story about a woman who loses a friend, on one side, and on the other, the idea of that same woman who is unable to fall in love. The whole narrative beside that deals with how this woman tries to manage all this with her professional life. After a certain point, when I decided that the center of the film would be a trial, I found out that it would be more balanced, and at the same time more exciting, if there were TWO trials : the “personal trial” and the public one. So when these two stories finally clash, everything stops: the work and the inner life. They are both intimately related.

Desistfilm: The mise en scene of Age of Panic and Victoria are different from one another but also their stories are closely related: Did the amount of time and resources you had for your second film made a radical difference in its setting?

Justine Triet: It was really really different, because I only had twenty days to make Age of Panic, and I had 9 weeks to make Victoria. It was absolutely not the same for me! For Age of Panic we had basically no money; we had to “sell” the film with many arguments to a lot of people because nobody wanted to produce it, since I was a documentary filmmaker who was making her first feature fiction film. I wasn’t fully satisfied with the mise en scene of Age of Panic, because I would have liked to have a better control on the quality of the images I was putting out, I was a little frustrated about the process in the end. It was a different way of doing things with Victoria; I a lot more choices about everything. Everything worked fine with the actors in Age of Panic, I was very happy with them, but in Victoria I had to improvise less, I had more time with my cast, and I was able to develop all these choices in a better way.


Victoria (2016)

Desistfilm: How do you go about your casting process? Both Virginie Efira (Victoria) and Laetitia Dosch (Age of Panic) are wonderfully developed characters in your films.  Do you know who you want for your characters before you start writing them?

Justine Triet: It comes after the writing. It’s only when I finished the script that I thought about Virginie. You know, she was already really famous in France but in the field of comedy, so many people told me “why do you want to cast this woman? She’s not the proper actress to work in this film” She is a person who comes from a certain cinema, very popular, and with Age of panic I was seen as “art-house”, or even underground ! So some people were disturbed at first with that choice. But there are not many actresses in France who have the kind of wisdom and cleverness Virginie has in the way she acts. She has a perfect corporal and intellectual balance, and she has something quite rare: she’s precise and fast, she has rhythm, but can also be very moving. For me Virginie was the only person who was able to play this part the way I wanted it to be played. She didn’t play it with that over dramatic weight that is classic for so many actors. When I met her I instantly fell in love with her, her acting was exceptional. Plus, she’s not really French, she’s Belgian ! For a French actress, it’s a quality.

With Laetitia I had a completely different experience. Her performance was intense, and it was complicated to display humor in such a dramatic performance. When you work with actors, it’s like a band you know, the music is different when you change the members of the combo. Vincent Macaigne had a big sense of that “collective” way of working, and Virginie as well. Laetitia is an incredible soloist, and to confront her with Vincent and the others was a very exciting experience.

When you write a script you have music in your head, and when you give it to an actor, they perform the music in a very particular way. When I gave the music to Virginie I didn’t know if she was the right player for the dramatic part (there was drama inside the comedy of Victoria). So I, as a musical director, had to see if her performance was the right one on the set, in a way I had to mold her into this form of music I wanted to display. In Age of Panic, I had Laetitia and Vicent, who had this amazing electric energy; it was like a dynamite blast! So I had to control that a little bit and at the same time, not completely controlling it was part of the project.

Desistfilm: You come from a documentary setting, and now you’ve made a couple of drama/comedy films. Do you think your background as a documentary filmmaker helped you in the making of your following feature films?

Justine Triet: Yes. Maybe you can’t tell that when you see Victoria as much as in Age of Panic, but in my next film it will be more evident I think. My job is to write really precise things and after, when we shoot, my job transforms into this thing where I have to take everything I can inside the camera, and there’s always something new, unexpected, when you shoot, at least there should be ! When there’s nothing new I have the impression I’ve lost something. In Victoria (as well as in Age of Panic) I had to shoot animals and children in the middle of the scenes, characters I can’t completely control, so this part of my work is definitely very influenced by my experience in documentary, the ability to shoot the unexpected and the improvised, turbulent  things I had in my previous films.

Desistfilm: What do you feel had been your influences or inspirations in working in these two films?

Justine Triet: So many inspirations… I think for Victoria it was screwball comedy, many series or French old movies, actors like Sacha Guitry. Those things inspired me a lot. Allison Janney, the American actress was also an inspiration, especially her performance in the sitcom Mom. It’s different to pinpoint so many people, I had lots of inspiration! But specially Sacha Guitry, whose comedies I discovered five years ago, particularly Desiré (1937). I took many things from this movie, which shows this rich woman who hires a servant who has the habit of falling in love with his female bosses. She starts dreaming about him and ends up having erotic dreams with him. I thought about this when I wrote the relation between Vincent Lacoste and Virginie Effira and their different social places and backgrounds. It’s very important for me, when you’re making a comedy, to be very incisive with the social issues, with the social classes. It’s something I’ve found and was fascinated about in Guitry’s films as well as in Mom for example, but also in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment for example.

Desistfilm: Coincidentally, we’re talking in an Election Day, here in France (May 07, 2017), as it was as well in your film Age of Panic. What do you think about France and the things that had change in spirit between the last election portrayed in your film and this current election?

Justine Triet: It’s totally different for me. I think I couldn’t have done Age of Panic if I was setting it in this election, I wouldn’t have been able to find this place with so many people reunited to wait the results, because the terrorist attacks of the last years have dissipated this kind of meetings in a way. And also, I don’t think I would want to do the same thing now, because the electricity you felt in those days is now over.