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Interview: Alice Winocour

Lucky me got to spend about twenty minutes with the breakthrough French writer-director Alice Winocour. Following a screenplay collaboration with Deniz Gamze Ergüven on the tremendous Mustang, Winocour directed her own enlightening script (written with Jean-Stéphane Bron) entitled Maryland (or Disorder here in the UK).  I was eager to speak to her, myself a genuinely big fan of both movies. 

Alice Winocour and Deniz Gamze Erguven following their Original Screenplay Cesar win for Mustang.

Robin Write: Bonjour.

Alice Winocour: Bonjour to you too.

RW: And enchanté. Thank you for speaking with me first of all.

AW: It’s okay.

RW: Congratulations on the recent success of Disorder and Mustang. Before I talk about those two terrific movies, I’ll quickly do some background. Which actors and actress and filmmakers did you admire as a child, and growing up?

AW: Of course there are many of them. I loved Psycho as a kid, and also Alice in the Cities, the [Wim] Wenders movie. The movie I remember also is The Leopard by [Luchino] Visconti. I think I saw it very young and at that time it was more a story of princess and prince and then when I saw it older I realized all the other political meanings. To me the film is a masterpiece. I grew up with the movie.

RW: Ah, I know that one. Of course. Did you always want to write and direct movies? Did you have a back up plan?

AW: I have always been fascinated by movies. I was writing stories when I was a kid. but then I studied law. I wanted to be a lawyer.

RW: Quite different from making movies.

AW: I was fascinated by movies, I was seeing one movie every day. I was obsessed by some movies. Sometimes I was seeing one movie all day long.

RW: I’d do that now if I could.

AW: Yes; I was not working my law very seriously. I had this habit from my childhood. It was a way to escape reality. With my little brother we were obsessed by Psycho. We were watching it two or three times a day. My parents were not saying anything. Now I think it’s strange, but at that time it seemed really normal.

RW: I remember seeing The Birds as a kid. Traumatized me. But liked it. So, you eventually went to French film school?

AW: Yes, La Fémis. The French cinema school. The school of Julia Ducounau and also Deniz Erguven.

RW: I guess that’s a good time to mention Deniz and Mustang. What a great little movie. How did you meet Deniz Gamze Ergüven? How did that collaboration happen?

AW: We met in Cannes, in L’Atelier, where we were looking for money for our films. We became very good friends. We were in the same school, but we didn’t know each other before, and she couldn’t find the funding for her film, so we decided to write another one together. And that was Mustang.

RW: Thank God for that. Can you relate to the lives of those girls? Was it the kind of story you were itching to tell?

AW: A story of liberation. I think Deniz and I both identify to the wild energy of those girls, and their desire of rebellion.

RW: Where you on set during shooting?

AW: No, I was in preparation for Maryland.

RW: Of course. Busy time.

Alice Winocour sandwiched between Diane Kruger and Matthias Schoenaerts, stars of the movie Maryland

RW: Let me ask you some quick questions about Disorder / Maryland. What a great execution of slow-burning suspense and depiction of PTSD without making it a huge thing.

AW: Thank you.

RW: Was the movie based on any personal experience? Did you have to do a lot of research for it?

AW: I did a lot of research on PTSD.

RW: It shows.

AW: I have met a lot of soldiers coming back from war. And wrote with one of them as a counselor, who became a close friend. I had experienced PTSD myself giving birth to my daughter, and almost dying from it. So I felt a strange connection with them.

RW: Wow.

AW: Of course it’s a genre film, but I wanted it to be really sensorial

RW: Oh it was. Matthias Schoenaerts nailed it. Diane Kruger was great too. That final moment of the film, when she wraps her arms around him was possibly my favorite closing moment of 2016. Are those moments you cherish as a writer and director?

AW: Yes, they were really connected to the movie. They really immersed themselves in the part.

RW: I am one of many pushing the awareness of female film-makers and stories about women to the masses. How is, say, the French film industry different from Hollywood in the way women writers, directors, cinematographers, are treated in the industry?

AW: In France we are really privileged in a way because many women are directors, writers, in the new generation. But I think we have to be thankful to the women who have struggled before us. I admire so many directors such as [Agnès] Varda, [Chantal] Ackerman, but also actresses like [Catherine] Deneuve. Their freedom has inspired us. I think women have to continue to express their voices – and fight for it.

* * * * *

Mustang is available on YouTube, Google Play, Netflix, itunes.


Disorder (Maryland) is available on Amazon, Netflix, itunes.


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