Interview with Berangere McNeese (Director of Matriochkas)

Hi Berangere thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask where the inspiration for Matriochkas came from?

I wanted to talk about a fragile mother/daughter relationship. The mother had her daughter when she was very young, and the daughter is now 16. The title of the film, “Matriochkas”, is a Russian word for “Russian Dolls”, and I felt like it represented perfectly the subject: a mother, within a mother, within a mother. And I want to tell a story about a young girl who wants to break that cycle.

To what extent do you think the media’s representation of female sexuality is limited?

I think things are slowly changing, because the people doing all the talking are changing.  If all the people in the media are men, their outlook is going to be limited to their experience. It’s the same thing with panels and selection committees for film festivals: there is no objectivity in art, and therefore every choice you make is directed by your experiences. What touches you, what makes you think, will depend on how you’ve lived your life so far, which itself very much depends on being a man, a woman, black, white, and so on. So to answer your question, I feel like women have been able to share their experiences more and more, and talk about subjects that have been taboo for decades. Things have been changing in specific types of media, and it now needs to be shifted to all media.

Your film deftly explores how complex mother – daughter relationships are; do you think that your representation of them is one that hasn’t been as explored in media as it could be?

The mother-daughter relationship and motherhood in general often seems to be treated as a symbol, and something natural and instinctive. And therefore, for any woman entering motherhood with her own experience, her frustrations, her anger or her fear, it’s almost like she’s not able, not good enough. I’ve seen many friends become mothers in the recent years and I’ve only seen the same women taking on a new responsibility, but not necessarily in a completely transformative way. They’re still themselves, and they’re sometimes quite lost, and that’s OK. The mother-daughter I wanted to talk about in Matriochkas is one that is very, very loving. Yet, the mother has her own fantasies and wishes, and she’s still quite young. She projects her own needs on her daughter, and although she really wants the best for her, she fails at listening to what her daughter needs herself.

How well do you think films in general represent single mothers? 

I think single motherhood is either seen as a failure, or as heroism. And there are so many stories, so many single parents that have their own story, whether it was a choice or not, or how they handle it. But single parenthood is more and more common, and therefore I feel like we need to normalize it, and picture them not only as people who are just defined by that.

How do you think coronavirus will impact the film industry?

Things are very different here in Europe. In France and Belgium, where I live, we can still shoot, under very strict sanitary conditions. But films are still being made. However movie theaters have been closed for months now, with films queuing to come out as soon as they reopen. So that’s problematic and it casts a shadow on the coming years.

What was the casting process for the film like?

I knew I wanted to work with Guillaume Duhesme – whom I had already worked with previously, and Victoire du Bois, as I had seen her work and found her perfect for the part – although it was very different from the part I was offering her. As for the main part of Anna, I auditioned a number of teenagers across France and Belgium, and when I met Heloise, although it was her first audition, it was obvious I wanted to work with her. Everything about her was just sincere, and she was very mature at just 14 years old. I feel so lucky to have met her, as we learned so much on set together.

How does this project compare to other films you’ve worked on? 

My two previous short films were self-produced, so the experience was completely different. Punchline in France and Helicotronc in Belgium producing to film has therefore let me completely focus on the creative aspect, which was new to me, not having to juggle with more organisational aspects. And the film has had more visibility as well. I think it’s allowed me to imagine how it will be working on a feature, it seems a lot more accessible now.

What has the reception to the film been like?

It’s been absolutely amazing. The film came out almost two years ago, and spent the first year touring Europe. But this past year, it travelled to the US, gaining visibility there as it won many awards (Best Director at Rhode Island, Best film at Palm Springs, Best Foreign Film at LA Shorts,…) and although it’s great to see your film travel and being seen by people all over the world, it’s even more precious to realize that the subjects that it tackles are conversations we seem globally ready to have.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

I hope the audience won’t judge the characters. I wanted to tell the story of two women: a mother who loves her daughter but can’t seem to listen. I feel like in these times, that’s about the best we can do: listen. And I hope the audience will do the same with the characters.

What future projects have you got planned?

I work as an actor and 2020 has been a weirdly very busy year for me. I’ve just completed shooting a series for Netflix, among other projects, series and features films here in France. I’ve also directed a short documentary film for Canal+ about young girls in Northern France who compete in stock car racing. And I’m writing my first feature!

With thanks to Berangere. 

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