Simon talks about making her new documentary, Premières Solitudes, tackling teenage frustrations, being truthful on camera, and the position of the adult filmmaker vis-a-vis her young subjects.
Claire Simon’s previous film, Le Concours, was an observational doc focused on the inner workings of the entry exam for La Femis, the famous Parisian film school which, to this day, continues to form a huge bulk of France’s cinematic talents. Although her latest film, Premières Solitudes, also focuses on film students, it strays far from the Wiseman-esque aesthetic of Le Concours. Instead, the documentary lets the feelings and emotions of its subjects take centre stage and crucially lets them speak for themselves, offering a much more humane portrait of teenagers as individuals.
Yet both films strike one as unflinchingly honest, almost brutally so. If Le Concours was sympathetic to the candidates and to their rose-tinted dreams, it did not smooth down the school’s hardcore selection process. While Premières Solitudes is also profoundly tender towards the students, it does not shy away from dark and difficult topics. From the students’ sincere conversations between one another, private details about their family life, their disappointments and their pain often come out, with disarming ease and simplicity.
The solitude of teenagers is as much a taboo as it is a truth universally acknowledged and experienced. By simply addressing it with the young people themselves, Simon allows for conversations which, although they might not necessarily help the students with their pain, do allows us to perceive them as people with their own valid feelings and emotions.
Back in Berlin, I talked to Simon about teenage frustrations, being truthful on camera, and the position of the adult filmmaker vis-a-vis her young subjects.
Seventh Row (7R): I was struck by how Le Concours and Premières Solitudes approached a similar milieu in diametrically opposed ways. In Le Concours, you’re concerned with the more administrative side of La Fémis. Whereas in Premières Solitudes, there is no attention paid to the teachers, the administration of the school, or even to what these cinema students think about cinema.
Claire Simon (CS): Le Concours is about the institutional, extremely violent and strong selection process which exists everywhere in the world. It’s a more observational cinema, where I only shot the exam. I never filmed the jury having lunch, the young people having a drink — I only filmed the machine.
But here, it’s completely different. I was commissioned to make a fiction short film with this class, which I was supposed to write. And to write it, I told them I needed to know them a little. So I first made a documentary with them composed of my conversations with each one of them. They told me some very personal things. I’d asked them to tell me about being alone, about solitude — do they like it, is it good or bad, etc… And they didn’t want everyone to see that.