The “tender, sexy, very French” OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN opens Friday at the Royal and Town Center.
“Deftly written, directed with a light hand and acted with honesty and heart, the picture captures moments of acute sadness without ever sinking into sentimentality.” ~ Wendy Ide, Guardian
Rebecca Zlotowski’s Director’s Statement: I began by adapting Romain Gary’s novel Your Ticket is No Longer Valid, a novel that confronts a man’s impotence head on. But something resisted. Not because I couldn’t project myself into this man who was unable to get hard, or who feared no longer being able to, but perhaps because I could identify too well. Gradually I recognized my own impotence, that of a 40-year-old woman without children, who wants one, and in part raises those of another woman. A stepmother without being a mother herself. As painfully commonplace as male impotence, this situation was nevertheless the starting point of a story worthy of being told, having hardly been told before.
It seemed to me that the bond which can link us to the child of another, a man we love, whose life and therefore family we share, not only has no name – we speak of motherhood, of fatherhood, not ‘step-motherhood’ or ‘step-fatherhood’ – but is also rarely depicted.
There was a kind of gap between comic book representations on one hand – the evil ‘Disney’ stepmother from a world in which women died in childbirth and were replaced by young women unwilling and ill-equipped to love children who weren’t their own, burdens that came with marriage, and on the other hand overwhelmed stepmothers in reconstituted families in unevenly successful romantic comedies.
Where was the woman who nurtured an intimate and precious connection with the child or children, she was raising for years without having any herself, while accepting the risk of being erased from the equation once her relationship with the father ended? What is to be done with this relationship when it weighs heavily on decisions of the heart? How can you still live in the same city with people you have been with, loved, cared for, but who are already sharing their lives with others?
I wanted to write this film about this secondary character using the tools of cinema. But a cinema of secondary characters, as opposed to the cinema of protagonists experiencing passion and excess in conflict. To have a new matrix of emotions prevail: friendship between men and women, tenderness between women, frustration rather than betrayal, the melancholy of missed rendez-vous with life but also the joy of successful encounters with desire, eroticism, the consolations of happiness. To focus on those transitory loves we experience between great romances… what the Americans call “on the rebound”. Rebound girl, rebound boy.
I imagined Other People’s Children in its literary and melodic dimension. Each fade out and in, every iris in and out, the skies that show the passing seasons, all should be read as chapters in a countdown in the life of a woman, of a couple and their desire.
I thought a lot about those studies of human nature from the early 1980s at which American cinema excelled: Alan Parker’s Shoot the Moon, Kramer vs. Kramer, An Unmarried Woman… definitive films about ordinary, collective experiences, with a sort of musical generosity and classical simplicity in their structures, a modesty in their depiction of these relationships that develop and disintegrate, that struggle and break apart.
Other People’s Children owes almost everything to its cast, which isn’t the case with every film. Roschdy Zem, my great ally since Savages, and Chiara Mastroianni, who agreed to join us for several scenes and who during the shoot agreed that we were breaking the rule that dictates that there is room for only one great female role in a film, not two. The film above all compensated for – I was going to say avenged! – my missed appointment over the years with Virginie Efira, who contributed with her “erotic brain,” to use the phrase coined by Anne Berest (who also acts in the film). The intelligence of her acting, her generosity, her dignity renders her the heir to the stars of those studies of human nature whose guiding spirit hovered over the film: Jill Clayburgh, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton… Women who touched me and in whom I recognized myself, for whom femininity is not a given, but something of their own making. Action, diction, reaction, seduction: there is nothing ‘in itself’ about Virginie’s femininity, but a fierce and stubborn will to be. To construct the person you want to be. And I loved her.
In a sort of ironic twist of fate, having no longer hoped for it, I discovered during prep that I was pregnant, and I shot the film while expecting a child who was born several days after we finished mixing. I felt that I was filming this love letter in solidarity with childless women – nulliparous, as the doctors say – while no longer belonging to their community without having yet joined the other.
With Other People’s Children, I wanted to simply make the film I needed to see. ~ Rebecca Zlotowski, Paris, June 8th, 2022.