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Interview with Alexe Poukine, director of Palma

Wednesday 10 February 2021, by Abla Kandalaft, brasserieducourt.com

Can you explain your choice of title?

During the preparatory stages and the shooting of the film, the project was called Kiki, after the class mascot. The film was written as a tragi-comedy, but the project went through a transformation as time went on. At the end of editing, we realized that the original title didn’t really correspond anymore to the film, which ended up more dramatic than I had first imagined. We decided to call it Palma because that is the name of the town where the two heroines spend the weekend, but also because that evokes the image of the palm tree. It was a nod to the mother’s search to take the best photos possible of Kiki, to make her look like a wonderful mother.

Is there anything autobiographical about the film? What prompted you to tell the story of Jeanne and to explore the relationship between the mother and daughter on this trip?

This film is born from my desire to replay an episode that I had a few years ago with my daughter. I was in a very difficult place both emotionally and financially and I decided to leave for Mallorca on a whim because I couldn’t stand the thought of my daughter having to present a life that I didn’t like and that I was ashamed of in front of her entire class, with pictures to back it up. The idea was there. Then I just had to push the fiction sliders a little bit. It was first of all to make fun of me a little (in the style of “a fault confessed is half redressed”). And especially to talk about motherhood in another way. It was important to me to present this woman neither as an abusive mother nor as a brave mother, but simply as someone who does what she can, who wants to be up to the task and does not always succeed.

The film is very touching, and you can feel the sorrows and frustrations of the mother and the little girl. What did you want to communicate to your audience?

I believe that motherhood is one of the major topics that cinema (but also literature, song, etc.) should tackle. The (often male) gaze on mothers is sometimes quite stereotyped, I find. I wanted to show a normal woman with ordinary feelings – grief, frustration, but also tenderness. I do not recognize myself very much in the portraits of hysterical, abusive or sacrificial mothers. I wanted to try to film a mother who looked like the ones I know and not like an archetypal model.

Tell us about the casting.

The desire to make this film was born from the desire to film my daughter. Since she is very reserved, I thought it would be easier to play the role of her mother myself. Finally, after several attempts, we realized that it was very difficult for her to distinguish between our relationship and that of the characters in the film. And I think I wanted to see her act more than she really wanted to act. So we decided to find another little girl, and for reasons of budget and ease, I kept the role of Jeanne. We did casting tests with several little girls. Lua Michel is the daughter of a filmmaker friend. I went to her house, we were alone and we started playing. I knew right away that I had found Vanya’s character. Lua really likes to act and she is so precise and exact that it is hard to look bad when acting with her. I am very honoured that she accepted to act in my film. The other characters play their own role. The two Spanish landladies are the ladies I rented a room from at the time, for example. I contacted them again for the film. The young man I meet during my night wandering is a friend of Marta, the manager. We wanted to film a group of teenagers but we were so late that I preferred to cancel. At 2am or 3am, he arrived. I just asked him to buy me a beer. Nothing was written. None of the actors read the script. Besides, we shot several parts of the film almost like a documentary, with a very small team and using what reality offered us as surprises.

What would you like to explore next as a director? Would you like to work on other short films and tackle feature length films?

I’m starting to get too old to make short films, no one is going to want to produce me anymore ;)! I’m in the process of writing two feature-length fiction films and I’m working on a new documentary. These upcoming films are about female emancipation and motherhood once again.

What do you think the future holds for short films?

I have the impression that there will be more and more, and that they will be less and less standardized. More and more people film and edit, and make super free and unique films. The most difficult, I think, is sometimes to keep this freedom (of tone and shape) when moving to the feature-length format.

If we were to go back into lockdown, what cultural or artistic delights would you recommend to alleviate our boredom?

I hope we don’t!!!!… but if we do, I would recommend Sarah Gubbins’ I Love Dick series with Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn. It is a marvel, in my opinion. And Drunk by Thomas Vinterberg. I started reading comics during the first lockdown. I didn’t know anything about them. I loved comics by Alessandro Pignocchi for example.

Palma is being shown in National Competition F7

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