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Interview with Delphine and Muriel Coulin - Co-Directors/Writers of 17 Girls

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein and Kerensa Cadenas
September 20, 2012 9:53 AM
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17 Girls
17 Girls, directed and written by sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin, was inspired by the Massachusetts story about a group of teenage girls who all make a pact to get pregnant and raise their children together.  This is the French version.  It is the story of Camille (Louise Grinberg), who after becoming pregnant, urges her close friends to do the same. The film then follows Camille and her friends throughout their pregnancies spent in a teenage haze reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, with their lingering looks, and their prolonged staring at the ceiling in an attempt to encapsulate being a bored teenage girl in a small seaside town. With a heavy emphasis on the body and clique behavior, 17 Girls is an interesting look at the dynamics of female friendships both good and very bad and on emerging female sexuality.

It opens in New York on September 21st.

Delphine and Muriel Coulin answered some questions by email about the film.

Women and Hollywood: Why did this story inspire you to make the film?

Delphine and Muriel Coulin: When we first read about this in a French newspaper, we immediately thought it could become a movie: a story of girls who want to have babies altogether, in a kind of collective utopia. We felt at once it was a good source for drama which could raise questions about our contemporary society. Moreover, the short films we worked on before dealt with such topics as femininity and the body so we thought this subject would be a good start for our first feature.

WaH: This was based on an American story.  Why do you feel it translates well to French society?

DC&MC: This story of girls who are not satisfied with the future that is planned for them can happen anywhere. When you are a teenager you can be excessive and you are sure you will have a better, different life than your parents and you are ready to do everything for it.

We don’t believe girls think differently whether they are in Europe or America. When we say at the end “you can’t stop a girl from dreaming” this can apply everywhere.

WaH: What is it about these girls and their desire to have control over their bodies say about our cultures?

DC&MC: That’s what interested us in this story.  The girls realize that their bodies have power and that they can achieve something great by this means. For us, they are post-feminists: they decide to have babies when they want, like the 60s feminists.  The only difference is that they want it now (whereas their mothers, or grandmothers, wanted to make their professional life first, and have a baby afterwards), they want it all at once. It is a collective utopia taking place there through their bodies.

The body today is a real matter, it is overexposed in the magazines and society use it to merchandize everything from cars to beauty creams to even a political parties.

WaH: Female friendship at this age is so powerful and also so dangerous.  What is it about teenage girls and their worlds that make people go nuts?

DC&MC:  When we look at those girls instead of being fearful, we should ask ourselves why is the young generation so nervous about the future? What do we have to offer them?  How can we still offer hope and dreams to the next generation? These girls have only one thing, their bodies. They think having a baby will help them to access their dream: to be happy together.

WaH: Talk about going from shorts and documentaries to features.  What was the biggest difference?

DC&MC: Everything is different. People often tell you that going from short to feature is only a matter of time, but we found there is nothing to compare.  In France, most shorts are totally amateur, made with little money among friends. In a feature, you have to be not only a director, but the manager of a company.  You have a whole crew to lead, money to spend, time and settings to manage... As for documentary, it is there again a totally different job and approach: little team, great place for improvisation with more freedom in a way.

One of the biggest differences is the direction of the actors. We worked with 17 teenagers, and that was the hardest, though nicest part of it! We met 600 girls to find our 17 characters. Most of them were not professional. So it was a true work to make them play well together.

WaH: How do you work together?

DC&MC: Actually, we do not plan saying “you do this, I do that.” It’s more instinctive. People could think Delphine does the writing as she is also a novelist and I do the camera, as I’ve been a camerawoman, but we really share 50/50.

We talk a lot, we take time for a good preparation, and then we jump in the water together, like synchronized divers!

WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

DC&MC: Probably finding the short edge between a real story and a fairy tale. This also means giving the film a style, finding a solution between realistic shots and more contemporary ways of photographing the girls.

WaH: Do you have any advice you can offer other female filmmakers?

DC&MC: To think themselves as filmmakers first, there shouldn’t be any difference. (another utopia maybe!)

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