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"I Think I Was Born a Storyteller": An Interview with Diane Kurys

On the occasion of the US release of her latest film, Pour une femme (For A Woman), acclaimed French filmmaker Diane Kurys is touring the country for a series of screenings, masterclasses and lectures. She arrived in New York just a few days before the theatrical release of For A Woman. Florence Almozini and Romain Rancurel, respectively Program Officer and Assistant Program Officer for Cinema at the French Embassy, spoke with Diane Kurys at the headquarters of Film Movement, the film’s US Distributor.

A must-read exclusive interview !

Florence Almozini : Thank you so much for meeting us and congratulations on your latest film’s success! Could you start by telling us a little more about you, your career and your cinematographic work ?

Well, I didn’t find my way immediately. As an actress, I was miserable all the time. It didn’t fulfill me quite enough. All the pain and the stress I had accumulated in my youth and my teenage years made me unhappy. I had this impression that all the minor woes I had known as a young woman, I lived them only to tell them. I think that I was born a storyteller. When I had the chance to direct my first feature film, I decided that I would put all my frustration into it.

As a director, I don’t want to create a buzz or a fuss. I’ve always kept a low profile and went on my merry way. Being a woman director, people often ask me questions about gender equality in cinema and if I wished to be known as a 'female director'. I have never wanted to be considered a 'female director'. What does it even mean? I don’t want to be put in a box and I hate limiting categories. I’ve been able to direct twelve feature films and still do it my way.


Romain Rancurel : Your films always include elements from your own life story. Where does that passion for the past come from?

When I told my son that I was going to direct another movie taking place in the late 40’s, he sighed heavily. But, him being a writer, he also writes about his life, brings me into his books and therefore understands how one could use past experience

It is not an obsession for me to give testimony, to bear witness of the terrible crimes of the Nazis. But when you plunge into history, it is hard to emerge from it afterwards. I love making movies and I love telling stories. It so happens that the stories that move me the most are those kind of stories, the ones that allow us to peek through and see rare glimpses of someone’s life. The stories need some truth in them in order to move people. My stories are as autobiographical as they are fictional. When I write a movie, it comes from my most basic and honest inspiration. Cinema is often made of collaborations but I write alone, therefore my own experiences invade the screen. In my opinion, being a film director is simply the best job in the world – even though I don’t consider it to be a job!

At the end of the day, I am not making films to heal from a painful past but to convey emotions. People can relate to that other people’s family story. It is an honor for me to hear people telling me how moved, how touched they were after seeing the film. A lot of the time, people come up to me and say “I have a father/mother/aunt that went through the same thing” or “I wish I could make my dad talk about the war and the camps before he passes away. How can I do that?” The only thing I can say is YES, please try to make them talk, record that conversation, film it if you can. These are precious testimonies and they need to be passed on to the next generation, otherwise we will forget the lessons from the past.


F.A. : Benoît Magimel is extremely talented and the entire cast in For A Woman has such great chemistry! Do you usually pick the actors yourself or do you work with a casting director?

I do have a casting director but I do it the “French way”, i.e. I work on the casting myself as well. I have worked with Gérard Moulevrier on all my films because we know each other extremely well and he is so great. But most of the times I choose the actors myself. In For A Woman, for instance, we definitively made the right choice with Benoît Magimel and Nicolas Duvauchelle because they are both wonderful actors, extremely generous on set. They immediately developed a brotherly relationship and it shows on screen. Same thing for Sylvie Testud and Julie Ferrier: they are great as sisters! For the two little girls, it went extremely well considering that, on the first day of shooting, we hadn't even chosen our child actors yet. It is very hard to direct children. Most of the time, you don’t really direct adult actors on the set, so imagine directing children! The little girls we chose are actually the only ones we interviewed. They came in on the first day of casting in Lyon and, as soon as we saw them, we knew they were going to be perfect.


R.R. : One last question, Melanie Thierry once admitted that she was at first a bit intimidated to take over the role of your mother, previously played beautifully by Isabelle Huppert ? Bringing back your parents on screen must be a daunting task indeed. Would you say it is a challenge?

There is something truly poignant about bringing your parents back. As I said before, my inspiration comes from personal experiences and for my latest movie I dug deep and started with the story of my parents escaping the camps.

My mother has always been present in my films. People remember Isabelle Huppert in Coup de Foudre but many actresses have played that role - Nathalie Baye in La Baule-les-Pins, Anouk Ferjac in Diabolo Menthe, Claudia Cardinal in Un homme amoureux (even though no one knows her character, Julia Steiner, is inspired by my mother)…

At first, Melanie Thierry was intimidated by that. But eventually, one must realize that every role is utterly different. A character is a character and my films do not tell the same story. Melanie Thierry is amazing: first, she is a great actor and, most of all, she has this amazing chemistry between her skin and the camera. She has this little je-ne-sais-quoi that very few actresses have. She simply glows, it is wonderful to film! Off the top of my head, only Meryl Streep has a similar brightness on screen.