Lopez-Curval tells moving motherly tale


“Meres et Filles” (released in Japan as “Kakusareta Nikki)” is a film about women. But contrary to expectations, it’s not a celebration of womanhood. Director Julie Lopez-Curval (working from a script by Sophie Hiet) is more concerned with the telltale details of women’s lives: the momentary coldness in a mother’s glance, the way her daughter shuts her eyes at a disapproving remark.

“I was interested in tracing the process of change and freedom for women in the last 40 years or so,” says Lopez-Curval. “There are so many things young women of today take for granted, like having a child without the need to marry, or the freedom to travel. Women of a past generation didn’t have those options, so perhaps there’s friction there. At the same time, the older women often don’t realize that modern freedom can bring about a whole new set of complications.”

At 38 years old, Lopez-Curval is not France’s most prominent female director, but she’s famed for her writing and nuanced storytelling, as demonstrated in 2006’s “Toi et Moi,” starring Marion Cotillard. In France, her reputation is that of a female filmmaker who understands actresses — and it’s said that Catherine Deneuve agreed to appear in this film as soon as she read over the manuscript and learned who the director was.

“I was so thrilled when Catherine said yes, but at the same time I was terrified,” says Lopez-Curval. “But then I realized that to make the film work I had to dispel any fear, and to face her as one artist to another. It turned out that all my fears were unnecessary. From the beginning, Catherine was frank and open and very easy to work with. She has this incredible career behind her and yet she would come to me before each scene to listen to my suggestions. It was a wonderful, awe-inspiring experience for me.”

Lopez-Curval was in Tokyo earlier in the summer to promote “Meres et Filles,” and remarked that she was pleasantly surprised at the way Japanese women seemed to enjoy life to the full.

“In some ways, I feel that perhaps French society may be a bit more backward when it comes to women,” she laughed. Here are some other insights from this serene and perceptive filmmaker. Would you describe “Meres et Filles” as a political film? Oh no. I read up a lot on history and social politics to prepare myself, but I wouldn’t say the film is political. It deals with women’s issues, but I was more fascinated by how certain women react to certain situations.

The mother, played by Catherine Deneuve, is a successful career woman. She’s a doctor responsible for the lives of her patients, and in that way, she’s kind and giving. But faced with her daughter who returns to the family home after many years in Canada, the mother retreats behind a wall of disapproval. I wanted to find out why. In the story, there are a lot of flashbacks to the 1950s, a time when women in France and other nations lacked personal freedom but were able to enjoy prosperity and stability. What is your own opinion of the era?

I think it was a time when men and society tended to put women on a pedestal, to admire them and keep them from harm. To demonstrate this admiration, men gave their wives spacious, gorgeously equipped kitchens. And women complied by staying there, cooking and cleaning and managing the household. I won’t say it was an ideal existence but at the same time, many women have really happy memories of busy kitchens, myself included! There are a lot of stories about the friction between mother and daughter, especially when the mother is the repressed, stay-at-home type. But in this film, the mother is a brilliant, beautiful woman. Why is it that she’s so cold and distant with her daughter?

I think that parents — even the most enlightened of them — secretly hope that their children (will) turn out like themselves. When they don’t, it can get pretty irritating. The mother in this story is radically different from her daughter but on the other hand they share a common, unresolved pain. I tried to bring that out, and have the mother realize that she is just as much in need of understanding and support as her daughter. You never hurry the story along. No. When we finished shooting, I saw that the whole story lies in the process, and in the journey to self-awareness. It was an educational experience for me, too!

“Meres et Filles” opens Oct. 23 and is reviewed in next Friday’s Japan Times.