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CANNES 2022 Competition

Léonor Serraille • Director of Mother and Son

“What’s political in the film is that you have to impose these model characters, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect”

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- CANNES 2022: The French filmmaker unpicks her second feature, a film about the life of a family from Ivory Coast in France

Léonor Serraille  • Director of Mother and Son

Selected in Un Certain Regard in 2017 and the winner of the Caméra d’Or with Montparnasse Bienvenüe [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Léonor Serraille
film profile
]
, French filmmaker Léonor Serraille has now landed in the main competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival with her second feature-length effort, Mother and Son [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Léonor Serraille
film profile
]
.

Cineuropa: Why did you choose to explore the subject of family and, more specifically, a family from Ivory Coast?
Léonor Serraille:
It’s a story that really moved me because my partner was born elsewhere, and he is French. We’ve known each other for 18 years, and there have been some moments when I thought that society dismissed him as not really being French. That was my starting point, and I asked him if I could write about his life. He gave me his green light, but he made the point that the most interesting thing would be my take on it. First and foremost, straight away, I realised that it would just be a basic skeleton that would allow me to explore the themes I was interested in – that is, being a mother, because I had just had two children of my own in two years, why I was drifting further away from my own family, why people's opinion of parents changes, why love – and even long-distance love – is valid. I was asking myself various questions, and I had a frame of reference. But above all, it was a desire to be a member of the audience, because I needed these characters in a film, for me, from a selfish point of view.

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Once you had the subject matter figured out, how did you structure the chronological dimension of the story and strike a balance between the three main characters (the mother and her two sons)?
That came straight away. I had three characters who interested me, and I wanted to travel through time with them, so each one had their own section. In the first part, I thought it would be natural to adopt the point of view of the mother who is arriving in France, and to spend some time with her. For the eldest of the two brothers, I thought it would be good to catch him at a point when he is in an inner downward spiral, verging on depression. As for the younger brother, he’s there all the time; he gets built up little by little, and he is allowed to grow up, so we will see what becomes of this little boy who was initially quite reserved. That all happened in a very natural fashion, but I really liked this scholastic, dialectic setting, in three parts, which I liked a lot when I was in the sixth form: you can lay things out, and that drives things forward. I clung to that during the writing stage, even though I divided the third part into two.

Each character tries to determine their place, in relation to themselves, their family and even in society.
Each given character is not missing from the other parts, and so the outlook on each of them changes. A child looks at his mum in a certain way, and when he’s 18-20 years old, he still looks at her, but it’s not the same. How are you going to deal with that? How do we move from one perspective to the next? The mum, perhaps, looks at her child a little less. And why can’t she see that he’s ill? What’s happening? It was the three perspectives that I found intriguing. Then, you adapt the writing to the gestures that they recreate (or don’t recreate), to the energy and to the customs they have and which, curiously, they don’t pass on, even if the dancing, for example, is a motif that is passed down. Afterwards, the little brother falls back into a kind of melancholy that he can’t quite put his finger on, and because I couldn’t put my finger on it either, it was essential for me to understand it.

One scene involves racial profiling.
That’s because society is deceitful. It gives the impression that everything is straight as an arrow, but it’s not: there is profiling, those moments when society dismisses certain people as not being truly French. The question of the colour of one’s skin is not an issue for me. What’s not natural is the opposite. I live in a country that is what it is: I’m just filming my country. And when one makes a film, one still has to settle on a model of life. I don’t give a toss whether people are black or white: we’re just individuals. My partner, for example, is a father, a teacher, a friend, he has memories, he reads this or that book, and so on: that’s his identity. What’s political in the film is that you have to impose these model characters, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect, because in order for them to stay genuine, they must also have flaws.

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(Translated from French)

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