It’s not about porn, it’s all about art

by Kaori Shoji

Lucile Hadzihalilovic strides into a room and the mood immediately becomes dense with awe. It’s not just her striking looks or her height (over 1.85 meters in stockings), but the way she seems to mute these things behind a natural quietness and engaging shyness, as if she’s whispering: “Please don’t look at me.”

Very softly spoken and sincere in the way she always takes a minute to ponder the question before launching into an answer, Hadzihalilovic hardly fits the image of partner/collaborator to Gasper Noe, aka France’s “master of horror.” Yet for the past 15 years, she has worked as his trusted editor and co-writer, while doing solo projects like the controversial “Mimi” (the modern-day version of “Little Red Riding Hood”). Clad in a thin “schoolgirl dress” by agnes b. and her long dark hair tied back, she has a fragility that complements her newest film “Innocence.” This tale of very young girls in a secluded school was panned by some European critics as downright pornographic. Her reaction to that, the source of her ideas and other comments are in this interview.

What is your definition of pornography?

I suppose it’s a very straightforward definition, nothing very skewed or philosophical. My definition of pornography is the gratuitous depiction of sexual intercourse, nothing more or less.

So you disagree with the critics who accused “Innocence” of having pornographic intent?

Of course. My intention was to show a very special world, the world of girlhood. And I loved the novel on which this film is based, called “Mine-Haha, [The Corporal Education of Young Girls]” by the German novelist Frank Medekind. It was published in the late 19th century, but I felt that the material was timeless.

What was it like, working with such a young and inexperienced but ultimately brilliant cast?

In a word, it was very difficult. After much trial and error, we decided not to have the camera too close to the girls because then they would start acting, and that wouldn’t work at all. The whole procedure was very delicate, because we were trying to create a particular world that had no basis in reality.

Are your ideas about women and girls reflected in the story? Not just with the girls, but the teachers, who were very attractive?

Yes, the teachers were tricky to portray, because I didn’t want to do anything obvious. I wanted to show their authority, but at the same time their vulnerability. Which is why one of them walks with a limp and the other is very insecure and unstable. I wanted the girls to respect them as figures of beauty and authority, but the power shouldn’t be all on their side, you know?

And yet the teachers tell their pupils that obedience is the key to happiness.

That’s true, but what I wanted to show was the message that goes beyond those words. The teachers also explain about growing older, about menstruation. The girls must obey the rules, but at the same time there’s always an inherent knowledge that this is a temporary situation, and that one day they will no longer be girls and therefore will leave the school. Obedience is different from ignorance, in that respect. They will obey and be content, but only up to a certain point.

What is it about girlhood that fascinates you so?

Its abrupt termination. It ends, and all too soon — in fact. I think for many women it ends just as we are getting the hang of being little girls. It’s a very precarious and beautiful state, full of mystery.

Read the film review
“Innocence”
Young, cute and smart