Oyster #99: Film Director Mia Hansen-Løve
"I re-invent, I re-imagine it again, using the feelings of the present."
In the century since the birth of cinema, some of the most visceral and innovative voices have been female. It was arguably a woman who kicked off the industry as we know it: when unsung French pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché swapped her secretarial job for a camera in 1896, she became the first person to shoot a fictional story, as others simply filmed the street life around them. One hundred and four years later, Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first female to collect the Oscar for Best Director, suggesting the male-dominated landscape is showing signs of change. We spoke to three rising young filmmakers who are blazing a trail of their own — first up was Ry Russo-Young, and now here's our interview with Mia Hansen-Løve.
Mia Hansen-Løve conjures ghosts. Her bewitching films capture intense emotions and the smudges they leave behind in her characters' souls. "I start with a strong feeling. In French we call it élan," says the delicately pretty Parisian, settled in an armchair that virtually engulfs her tiny frame. "It's like being drawn to something, when you want to grasp a presence, a feeling about life, a light." Behind her, high windows open out across the rooftops of Kensington — the 31-year-old is in London to unveil her third and most personal feature to date, Goodbye First Love, a painterly meditation on destiny and the melancholy of growing up. Along with a wave of young female directors from France (including Rebecca Zlotowski, Katell Quillévéré and Isild Le Besco) she is defiantly self-taught, with a natural instinct, strong vision, and wisdom that belies her years.
Hansen-Løve cut her teeth as an actress, after an open casting aged 18 landed her a role in Fin août, début septembre by Olivier Assayas (she's now married to the 57-year-old director). Following a stint as a critic for legendary film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, she stepped behind the camera herself with Tout est pardonné, the story of a drug-addicted father's reunion with his daughter. Her second (and Cannes-winning) feature, The Father of My Children, was based on the suicide of her real-life mentor, charismatic arthouse producer Humbert Balsan, whose death threw his family (and film company) into chaos.
The director's latest is her most ambitious, stretching over a ten-year timeframe and flitting between snowy Parisian streets and the mellow twilights of the Ardèche countryside. It follows teenager Camille (played by rising French starlet Lola Créton) from a fiery first passion, through a painful break-up, and into her twenties, when a relationship with an older man brings a kind of peace — until her first flame suddenly reappears. The facts, but not the details, are intimately personal to Hansen-Løve (the older man, presumably, is Assayas) and the film is steeped in that raw, teenage longing that has filled adolescent diaries for centuries. "I have a lot of diaries, letters, from that time, and they probably look very similar to the ones in the film," she nods. "But I re-invent, I re-imagine it again, using the feelings of the present. It was strange and intense to shoot, because the locations I used were places I grew up… I don't think I would do that again," she smiles.
The extent of Camille's passion tips into obsession, something Hansen-Løve looked for in her lead. "Lola is very pretty, very feminine, but she has a kind of craziness I wanted for Camille. It gives her a mystery, an audacity — because Camille almost destroys her life for an obsession." The director's next move sounds like a change of direction: Lost in Music will trace the explosion of the electronic music scene in Paris, from the nineties to present day. But underneath the strobe lighting and Daft Punk soundtrack, she's continuing to explore similar themes. "All my films have to do with childhood — with not wanting to leave childhood behind, but also about desiring maturity."
Words: Hannah Lack
Photography: Amina Nolan