Swiss director Maxime Rappaz isn’t sure if there is more space for stories about more mature women these days. But he is certainly willing to give it a try.
“I am fascinated by that phase in someone’s life,” he tells Variety, opening up about his fiftysomething protagonist played byJeanne Balibar.
“I want as many people as possible to see it, that’s for sure. But also women who think it’s already too late for them to change things. If this film can trigger something in them, it would make me so happy.”
In his feature debut “Let Me Go,” the opening film of Cannes’ ACID sidebar, Claudine keeps dedicating herself to her differently abled, Princess Diana-obsessed son.
But every once in a while, she puts on the same white dress and heads to the same hotel in the mountains, where she meets and romances men. The shorter their stay, the better – Claudine doesn’t look for commitment. That is, until she meets Michael (Germany’s Thomas Sarbacher).
“She is a seamstress, so that’s an interesting detail. She probably designed that white dress herself. It symbolizes a ritual. She needs it to become this other woman she’s not, and she knows it. It’s what she is wearing whenever she goes to this hotel,” states Rappaz.
“Claudine is torn between her son and her desire. I actually wanted to show that desire without any censorship or filter, because the sexual pleasure she derives from all these random encounters is real. I tried to be very delicate about it, however.”
Produced by Gabriela Bussman and Yan Decoppet for Golden Egg Production, “Let Me Go” is co-produced by Camille Genaud for Paraiso Production (France) and Fox the Fox Productions (Belgium). M-Appeal handles international sales.
Rappaz had Douglas Sirk on his mind when developing the story, he says.
“It can remind you of all these old melodramas. I have always been very moved by tales about women who have to make a choice between going away or staying. Between their own freedom and their duty to their family.”
Inspired by personal experiences, he also wanted to show a complicated relationship between a mother and her son. Again.
“I do it in all my movies! Here, I wanted to highlight this codependency. At first, you think it’s the son who depends on the mother. But in fact, after a while, you are starting to realize that she loses herself in it. That’s how she forgets she doesn’t have other relationships in her life.”
Although the role required nudity, Balibar “wasn’t afraid,” she admits. The actor, known for “Barbara,” which earned her a César, and recently spotted in Olivier Assayas’ “Irma Vep” miniseries, was also thinking about Sirk. Especially Jane Wyman, so memorable in his iconic melodrama “All That Heaven Allows.”
“I deliberately played all the scenes in the mountains in a very different manner [compared to] the ones in the valley. It shows that Claudine’s personality can’t express itself fully in just one place: she needs both of them. The valley is all about motherhood and her paying attention to others. The mountain – about her own body and the sense of freedom.”
“I thought of Jeanne even earlier, when I was working on a short film that ultimately never materialized,” admits the director.
“There is this mystery about her, about the way she talks. There is a certain musicality to it, I thought, and I like to pay attention to dialogues when I am working. I think I tend to focus a bit less on the psychology of the characters – I like to listen to how they deliver their lines. I wanted to break away from naturalism and make sure these conversations sound slower. And, again, delicate.”
Although she is already used to her well-oiled routine, at one point Claudine will have to make some difficult choices.
“It may feel like not that much happens in the film, but I am describing someone who has created her own world. She sets up perfect conditions for this ‘double life’,” says Rappaz.
“I was wondering if Claudine’s amorous encounter with this German man triggers her desire for change, or is it the other way around? Does she meet him precisely because she already wants it? Either way, I think she is looking for some form of freedom.”