Serraille discusses her feature debut Jeune Femme, a portrait of a complicated, impulsive young woman and her process of self-reinvention.
Léonor Serraille’s feature debut, Jeune Femme, won over critics at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. In its unflinching depiction of a young woman in crisis, dealing with a difficult break-up in her own unique way, the film felt quietly revolutionary.
Paula (played by the phenomenal force of nature Laetitia Dosch) is messy and quirky, but never a manic pixie dream girl. An almost compulsive liar, she can sometimes be quite the opposite of charming. Yet her impulsiveness and her rare generosity towards others equip her with an incredible ability for cracking the shell of everyone she meets. An unwieldy and complicated person herself, she lets others exist in their full complexity — even if they would rather not have their true selves exposed in that way. Yet Paula is never haughty or judgmental towards those well-behaved people, whose lives, unlike hers, are in perfect order. Rather, these encounters are fundamental components of her new, independent, disenfranchised identity: little by little, she is reconstructing herself, devouring the world around her without fear.
Back in Paris in January, the director talked to me about the pleasures and dangers of writing a protagonist that is quite different from herself; depicting the harsh economic reality of Paris life; creating an ‘open portrait’; and the film’s connections to Inside Llewyn Davis and Frances Ha.
Seventh Row (7R): What was the genesis of the project?
Léonor Serraille (LS): It was my diploma screenplay at the Femis. I knew that it would be a year of writing, so I wanted to focus on the genre of the portrait film. I wanted to go through experiences I’d had in Paris, mostly work experiences: I’d looked after children, worked in stores, lots of different things. I thought there was something to be done with all that, though I didn’t really know what exactly.
Then, very quickly, I got the idea for a story of enfranchisement: a woman who, through bad times, manages to get better anyway. The story was very easy to figure out, but the character of Paula took a while. It took time to meet her and to find her in her dialogue.