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A world of firsts: IFA guest of honor Céline Sciamma (ENG)

Renske Diks

Céline Sciamma (1978), the guest of honor of IFA 2024, is without a doubt one of the most prominent filmmakers of the moment. In her films, Sciamma creates a world of firsts. The first time falling in love, the first time feeling you belong to something. The moments that shape your life.

In 2007, Sciamma made her debut with Naissance des Pieuvres, the first part of what she would later call a trilogy, together with Tomboy and Girlhood. The film came to life without any directing experience. Sciamma had already written short films, but it was the first time she took place in the director’s seat. In the film, the timid and brash Marie is captivated by the beauty of Floriane, the captain of the synchronized swimming team. But synchronized swimmers date water polo boys, that much is clear. Although they don’t have much in common at first glance, Floriane takes Marie under her wing and sparks fly between the two of them. With her first film, the then 27-year-old Sciamma showed us that she could still remember vividly how you experience summer as a fifteen-year-old: as a gaping hole, full of time to kill, vague plans to make, unfulfilled desires, hormonal insecurities, and big life questions.

In Tomboy from 2011, Sciamma also focused on ‘the youth’. Just like in her debut, a group of children lose their innocence during a long summer. For ten-year-old Laure there is no doubt about it: he is a boy born in a girl’s body. When he moves from one city to another with his parents during the summer holidays, he seizes his opportunity: at home he is Laure, a tomboy, but outside on the streets with his new friends, he is Michaël. For the first time, he really belongs somewhere. Sciamma endlessly observes her main character, how he reacts to the group around him and the expectations of how you should behave as a boy. Tomboy is a film about looking and being looked at: how can you tell who someone is? Who someone really is?

In Girlhood from 2014, we are taken into the world of Marieme, a sixteen-year-old girl from the outskirts of Paris. She worries about her social options and the future that lies ahead, and after being kicked out of school, a gang of tough girls take care of her. Marieme joins them, is renamed to Vic, and participates in parties, shoplifting and fights. For the first time in her life, she breaks free and fights for the freedom to make her own choices, even if they have major consequences.

In interviews, Sciamma said that Girlhood would be her last coming-of-age film. It would take another several years before she made a new film, but in the meantime she wrote screenplays for other directors such as André Techiné, a filmmaker whom Sciamma had long admired. Together, they wrote the screenplay for Quand on a 17 ans (2016), with which Sciamma actually made another coming-of-age film. That same year, she wrote the screenplay for the animated film Ma vie de Courgette by director Claude Barras.

In 2019, Portrait de la jeune fille en feu was released, with which Sciamma indeed left the world of youngsters behind: a costume drama about a first, overwhelming, great love. Universal and timeless, even though the story is set in the eighteenth century. On a remote island near Brittany, an artist is commissioned to paint a woman’s wedding portrait. But the woman isn’t eager to get married, so she resists every painter who has ever tried to make a portrait of her. So, the artist must do it without her knowledge. During long walks, she observes her model in detail: her movements, her gaze, her face, a rare smile. And then comes the moment when the artist really sees her model for the first time. “When you’re ashamed, you bite your lips,” says one. “If you feel uncomfortable, you breathe with your mouth open,” says the other. Portrait de la jeune fille en feu is also a film about looking and being looked at, in which Sciamma asks the question of how desire arises.

With Petite Maman from 2021, Sciamma returned to themes of youth and coming-of-age. Perhaps it’s Sciamma’s most personal film, in which she asks questions about her own childhood and the relationship with her grandparents. In the film, we follow eight-year-old Nelly, who, after the death of her grandmother, explores the house and area where her mother grew up. In the forest, she meets another young girl, who helps her understand who her mother really is. Petite Maman is above all a film about sisterhood and solidarity, in which Sciamma brings out her ‘female gaze’.

The female gaze is a way of interacting with makers, characters, and also the audience, as a counterpart to the ‘male gaze’, which emphasizes how we often see films and filmmaking through the eyes of men. An important starting point for Sciamma, who sees herself as a feminist. She expresses this not only in her films, but also outside of them. She was one of the first to join the 5050 by 2020 movement, which is committed to gender equality in the (French) film industry. In 2018, Sciamma was one of the organizers of a protest during the Cannes Film Festival. 82 female filmmakers and actresses locked arms on the red carpet and made their voices heard for equal rights. 82, the number of female-made films screened in Cannes in the history of the festival, compared to the over 1.600 male-made films. It is also Sciamma’s tireless commitment to equal rights in the film industry why she, as a maker and as a woman, has an ineffaceable influence on film history. This makes her, without a doubt, the ideal guest of honor for IFA 2024.

Céline Sciamma will be present for a Director's Talk on Friday the 8th of March at 7:15 PM, together with writer and filmmaker Renske Diks. The next day, Saturday March 9th, Céline Sciamma will personally introduce the screening of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu at 2 PM.

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