Festival de Cannes 2024

Emmanuelle Collinot talks about her choices for Sophie Fillières’s "This Life of Mine"

By Brigitte Barbier

[ English ] [ français ]

Sophie Fillières’ filming of Agnès Jaoui, who plays Barberie Bichette in Ma vie, ma gueule (This Life of Mine), tells the story of a woman in her mid-fifties. Her loyal collaborator, Emmanuelle Collinot, shot the director’s last film before she died just a few weeks after shooting ended. The pitch of the film "how to deal with oneself, with death, with life in short..." particularly resonates for Ma vie, ma gueule, which opens the 2024 Quinzaine des Cinéastes. (BB)

Barberie Bichette, known to her chagrin as Barbie, faces new challenges as she approaches 55. Her descends into darkness, violence and absurdity as she struggles with her identity.
Starring Agnès Jaoui, Edouard Sulpice, Philippe Katerine.

Agnès Jaoui appears on screen in all her nudity, that of appearance stripped of all artifice.

Emmanuelle Collinot :
Indeed, Agnès Jaoui appears unvarnished, with very little make-up, to best serve the character of Barbie. Sophie Fillières has always liked her actresses to be beautiful and well shot - for example, in her previous film La Belle et la belle.
In Ma vie, ma gueule, it’s a little different : the character of Barbie is on the edge, struggling with her fears and aspirations. Barbie appears to us in her intimate life, that is, as she is, but also alone with herself, in a space that’s supposed to be off-limits to everyone. We had to find the right distance for the camera, but also be very light on the make-up and, in a way, quite "raw". An overdone image didn’t suit the character.

Emmanuelle Collinot et Sophie Fillières
Emmanuelle Collinot et Sophie Fillières

Emmanuelle Collinot and Sophie Fillières

Filmed with a hand-held camera, the film invites us into a close relationship with the character. Is this really an artistic choice ?

EC : Yes, it’s a real choice ! First of all, it gives us a great deal of freedom to position and move around, to adapt to the actors’ movements, and it also saves a lot of time. But above all, for this film, it brings a slight floating quality that accompanies the character in the right way. For example, in the scene in the hospital room with Barbie and Dr. Boulin, they’re both seated, but you can feel a slight movement in the image that I didn’t want to tone down in post-production, because it seemed to me to be in phase with Barbie’s state at that moment... It’s like a mental image...
Until then, I’d never suggested to Sophie that she shoot handheld ; she was so precise with her framing, and liked very structured shots. But on this film, she wanted to do things differently. She’d seen a film I’d shot entirely on the shoulder (Un hiver en été, by Laetitia Masson) and had been seduced.
Sophie also wanted a light, mobile shoot with a small crew. This meant little lighting, one truck to share, one gaffer, one focus puller and one trainee.
On several occasions during the shoot, she told me how much she liked this way of shooting, and the time it gave back to directing ! But I’m sure she’d be happy and say : "... Hmm, that looks like a Sophie Fillières film !

Camille Bertin, assistant caméra, et Emmanuelle Collinot - Photo Benoît Seiller
Camille Bertin, assistant caméra, et Emmanuelle Collinot
Photo Benoît Seiller

The camera is almost always positioned directly in front of Agnès, so it’s really the unity of the film.

EC : Yes, this frontality is part of the desire not to be seductive, to have to face up to this new life, but also to face up to life itself, which comes up against it head-on.

The shot list is an important step in giving a film its identity, but the methods used vary greatly from one director to another.

EC : Sophie needs to get under the skin of the character to understand how to film him. On location, in the sets, she plays out all the text for the sequence and tests out actions : should she get up at this point or later ? It’s her way of giving the character credibility. It’s all expressed through the body. I take photos or film these different moments when she’s acting out the scene, via the Artemis app, and then we watch together and talk. For some scenes, the choices were obvious, for others we searched, tried different axes, or a sequence shot... After that I noted the focal length chosen, and with Benoît Seiller, Sophie’s assistant, we drew up a plan with the different axes for each sequence. It’s a real pre-edit that’s invaluable when it comes to shooting, but it can also change when it’s time to set up with the actors.
Sophie was very attached to dialogue, very precise about the words she wrote. And for her, dialogue is said in place. She didn’t really like doing talk to the actors when they’re walking ! Of course, there are exceptions !

To film an actress in every shot, without make-up and without the possibility of very sophisticated lighting, the choice of optics and camera is even more crucial.

EC : I like the look of Zeiss GO lenses, but for this film I was lacking a 40mm lens in the series. I’d also seen the film Nomadland, by Chloé Zhao, starring Frances McDormand, whose character has left everything behind to live in a caravan, and there too, the actress is unvarnished. I liked the image, with its soft rendering. I learned that the film had been shot with the Ultra Prime series, so I turned to it. Also, I didn’t want to use optics that were too "looky-feely", so as to have latitude when color-grading. I sometimes used a Classic Soft diffuser for Agnès’ close-ups, and there was a bit of make-up work during color grading, but it was very light !
I like Sony’s colors, so I chose Venice 1. I was also interested in double ISO.

Emmanuelle Collinot - Photo Benoît Seiller
Emmanuelle Collinot
Photo Benoît Seiller

How did you go about the film’s editing and post-production ?

EC : Sophie wanted her children, Agathe and Adam Bonitzer, to supervise the editing and post-production, along with editor François Quiqueré, producer Julie Salvador, mixer Jean-Pierre Laforce and myself. For the color-grading, I relied on what I knew of his tastes and specific desires for Ma vie, ma gueule.

(Interview directed by Brigitte Barbier for the AFC)