French actress-director Fanny Ardant, feted this week at the Transilvania Intl. Film Festival with lifetime achievement honors, said her latest role, portraying the free-spirited mother of a “square” son in “Ma Mere Est Folle,” presented her with a dilemma. “I have only daughters, not a son,” she told Variety, “so for me men are still a mystery.”
The production, directed by Diane Kurys and just wrapped following a shoot in Belgium and the Netherlands, is the story of a relationship between a mother with great imagination and “a very square boy.” The role gave the veteran actress a chance “to learn how to know your own soul,” Ardant says. Although her character shares much with Ardant’s life and work in stage and film, she explains that the only real way to grasp what raising a boy is like is to experience it.
Working with Kurys was a great experience, she said, expressing confidence that more such opportunities for women are opening up in Europe. Still, only 23% of films in France are directed by women, according to the 50/50 in 2020 gender parity organization – and films directed by women have on average budgets that are 36% lower than those directed by men.
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But low budgets need not be limiting, Ardant says, adding that she learned much about resourcefulness from working with the French Nouvelle Vague filmmakers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Francois Truffaut, with whom she fell in love and had her daughter Josephine. “I was always on the set and I was watching everything carefully – so I knew very well the code.” The films also formed a great school for production efficiency, Ardant says. “You can do a movie in five weeks, six weeks when you prepare it very well, when you don’t ask for a million extra dollars. I learned a lot.”
Still, she admits, finding the funds remains challenging on even indie-budget films, such as “Stalin’s Couch,” about an artist commissioned to memorialize the Soviet icon, which she directed in 2016. She has called Gerard Depardieu’s performance as Stalin brilliant, noting that the actor’s intense energy allows him to fully inhabit the role.
Having first moved into directing in 2009 for her wedding revenge story “Ashes and Blood,” co-produced between France, Portugal and Romania, Ardant’s affection for this part of Eastern Europe is clear. The film, called a “stunning” and “magnificent” debut in Liberation, was co-written by Ardant, Paulo Sorrentino and Ismail Kadare and produced by Paulo Branco and TIFF chief Tudor Giurgiu.
Asked whether she would like to have begun directing films earlier, when there were fewer opportunities for female helmers, she says it isn’t helpful “to put people into categories.” As Ardant puts it, “It’s not very interesting to speak about directing as a woman. Before being a woman, before being a man you are a human being. With your cleverness, your fragility, your defects. So to put nationality or sex first before speaking about someone is reducing.”
“It’s true that long ago there were fewer women directing French movies,” says Ardant. “But there are more and more done in France.” She adds she has never felt anyone “despising women” in directing roles.
As for whether she was kept out of the directing club prior to 2009, Ardant says, “Not at all. I was an actress and from the stage. So in this long afternoon before you act I was writing stories with more or less success. And after time, I succeeded in writing a story less bizarre, less weird, and that happened in Romania as my first film.”
France’s low score of professional parity in film does need to improve, the actress acknowledges, but at the same time, Ardant feels no barriers to the progress of women filmmakers.
As for perceptions of who can do the job, she adds, “This is changing.” And while her own work on three features and two shorts in the last nine years has surely contributed to that, the real challenge of finding the resources for non-mainstream filmmaking are in the business model.
The 69-year-old Ardant remains as spirited and determined as ever, though. “Sometimes life has more imagination than you. Not everything is planned. Sometimes it happens and you don’t know why it was in this moment.”