17 Girls – An interview with the directors Muriel and Delphine Coulin
What was your path before this film?
Delphine: I studied literature and political science, and worked at ARTE, where I became responsible for documentary programs and published four novels. When we moved in together we started making short films.
M: We started making a short film called Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux during the strikes of autumn 1995. We submitted it to festivals and it won the first prize in the Los Angeles festival.
What is the founding film for your film desire?
M: We were taught to be curious, this is what saved us from Lorient! When I was a teenager I went to see many films; I loved Cocteau and the first film of Leos Carax, Boy Meets Girl. For 17 Girls we re-watched many films about growing up.
D: There are founding films and references, some of which are inaccessible, like David Lynch, and others are closer, Lucrecia Martel or Naomi Kawase for example: La Cienaga or Moe No Suzaku are films we can watch 20 times and still draw something from them.
A debut film, is it inevitably autobiographic?
D: The plot is based on a true story that took place in 1998 in the USA, in a town in Massachusetts the size of Lorient – our hometown. When we heard about it we identified with it immediately. The American town's character resembles that of Lorient, they are cities in decline, with the same commercial activities going bankrupt: a fishing port, a commercial port and a military port; and there is an aspect of a decadent atmosphere; Lorient lives in the past. It had two big moments: a period of control, of naval expeditions leaving its port in search of spices, a sort of an empire that collapsed; and the period of the Resistance during World War Two, which is still present in the town's tales and the children's games. Other than that, the town's commerce and industry are falling apart. It is boring, limited and insufferable for 15 year olds.
M: They made babies like others went across the world or jumped off a bridge, and we could understand them. There are a thousand of intimate reasons for this gesture and an unbelievable group effect, like that of a terrorist group.
D: David Lynch said that cinema is to create worlds and see if they function. It is a bit what these girls did: they created a world, but one that could not function. All our short films are stories of disillusion.
Did you have any surprises, good or bad, during the work on a first film?
What kind of filmmakers will you be ten years from now?
D: Neither do I; let's see first of all if we make a second film, it is not a piece of cake...
M: A film is a necessity, we can't plan ahead.