Interview: Suzanne Lindon talks Spring Blossom
Matthew Turner | On 25, Apr 2021
A 16-year-old bored with the company of her peers takes an interest in an older man in Spring Blossom, the debut feature of Suzanne Lindon (read our review here). The fact that Lindon – the daughter of Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain – wrote, directed and starred in it when she was 20 only makes the charming romance even more impressive.
With the film out now online, we sat down with her to talk about making something so personal, debuting a film during a global pandemic and binge-watching Friends.
You started writing Spring Blossom at 15. What was the process of getting the film made after that?
I started to write the film when I was 15 because I wanted to act. Because I’m from a family of actors, I felt very suited to it. And the way I found to feel comfortable was to give myself and write myself a role, but also directing the film, so very soon I wanted to direct the film and also, the producers knew that I wanted to do everything at the same time and it was part of the adventure. And after, it became a little complicated to find money to do the film because it was a very weird script. Because it was written as if it was a diary or something, so it was not very dialogued or anything, it was just written like a short story or a novel. And we found money with people we didn’t know, who were not actually used to producing films, but they really wanted to help us, so it was a very great adventure because we got a lot of people together and it was actually the first time for everyone, except for the producer, because it was not her first movie. But it was a very spontaneous adventure and the first step was to write the film and I did this very secretly – not even the producer knew that I was writing. And when the script was finished, the producer read it and then after that we wanted to see other people to have money and then we shot the film in like three weeks. And everything was very speedy, but it was actually a great adventure to do things like that.
At what point did you know you would direct it yourself?
Very, very soon. When I was writing, I was writing the film to act in it, but also to direct it. I said it very early on to the producers. We didn’t actually think about making the film with anyone else other than me – it was always the case that I would be the director and we never even thought about asking someone else to do it.
How personal was the script? Did you make any changes as you got older?
Well, the script is very personal, because of course I’ve been inspired by my own story, by my age also. And I decided to write about adolescence and teenage years and I found very interesting the fact that I was a teenager talking about my teenage years without a retrospective aspect. Sometimes when we see films about young people, they have been written or directed by people who are actually older now, who are adults, and they just remember how they felt. So that wasn’t the case for me and this is what I was interested in, but also it was very personal and I didn’t change the script that much. In the first version the dance scenes were not there and I added them in the second version, because I needed to create something more sensual between the two characters, but that’s the only addition.
“I wanted the love story to be platonic and very pure”
Where did those ideas come from?
It came very naturally to me and to the producer because we talked about it together. The first time I read the script with just an eye to all the images that I wanted to create, I realised that something was missing between this young girl and this older man, because I wanted the love story to be platonic and very pure, but I also wanted this feeling between them to grow and to really exist and to be powerful and strong, so the thing that made me write these sequences was that I needed to create for them a form of sensuality, a form of sexuality even, without making them kiss or make love to each other. So I needed to find something that would enable me to suggest that love without showing love too much. So because I’ve always danced in my life and because I took dance lessons when I was younger and because when I have a huge emotion or a powerful feeling, I dance, and so I used this in the film and I decided to add this in my story. And it became very natural for me.
Did your parents offer any useful advice, either solicited or unsolicited?
No. I didn’t want to talk about the film with my parents. I just invited them to see the film when the film was finished and everything was done. I really needed to do my thing and to create my way, so I kept them very far from the movie I was doing.
Do you watch your parents’ films?
No (laughs). I love my parents because they are my parents and I’m very proud of them and I’m very proud of what they do when they act or when they just live in general – I think they’re great human beings and great actors. Sometimes I watch their films but I don’t need to watch their films to be proud of them. I’m proud of them constantly, I don’t really like to see them being someone else instead of who they are, because I know them too well.
I was just going to say I really loved La Moustache…
Oh yeah! No, I’ve seen some movies with them, but it’s not my priority – when one of their movies comes out in France, I’m not the first one to go to the movie theatres to see it, even though I’m really proud of what they do and I really admire what they do. We have a very natural and healthy position together concerning movies and stuff.
What was the hardest thing to get right in the whole process of making Spring Blossom?
I think it was the fact that I was very young and I was the youngest person on set, so sometimes when I wanted to do something very precisely and when I had to ask something, I was scared to be seen as the capricious little girl, even though I wasn’t, of course, and I had the most wonderful team ever. But because I was the youngest, I was sometimes scared about that and I really wanted to be taken seriously and I’ve been very lucky because everyone was very respectful to me and they trusted me and they wanted to follow me and follow my ideas and I felt very, very at ease thanks to the people that I had on set with me. But sometimes to find money and to enable the movie to actually exist, it was very complicated, because I was very young, I’d just passed my exams like two months before shooting, it was sometimes weird to be very sure of myself. But because I really wanted what I wanted to do and because I knew what I wanted to do, actually people trusted me, so it was kind of okay. I’ve been very lucky.
“I’m a huge fan of Eric Rohmer’s films”
You’ve talked elsewhere about other movies about adolescence that you love, such as A Nos Amours – which you have the poster of in the film – and Bonjour Tristesse. Were any other films a particular influence on this?
Yeah, I think I’ve been influenced by movies that I’ve always loved and I think that my influences were subconscious. I wasn’t thinking about a movie in particular when I was writing mine, but of course, I’ve been watching a lot of movies ever since I was a kid, so the movies I really loved, I have them in me and in my heart and in my head, and of course I’ve been inspired unconsciously by them. And there are movies that are not on adolescence, but maybe sometimes on family bonds and on love stories. Running on Empty, by Sidney Lumet, has been one of my favourite movies since I was 11 and I’m pretty sure that to write the scenes between me, my dad, my family and stuff, I’ve been inspired by that. Also by Eric Rohmer’s films – I’m a huge fan of those – and a lot of stuff like that, but more than being influenced or inspired by movies, I think I’ve been inspired by characters in movies, such as Antoine Doinel with Francois Truffaut or the character of Charlotte Gainsbourg in L’Effrontée. And a lot of things like that that made me write my character in the film.
The hand movements in the dance scene at the cafe reminded me of Chaplin in The Gold Rush
Yes, that was an influence. I think because I’ve always loved his work and I’ve always been touched by what he does, to me it’s like poetry. He’s one of the most intelligent men on Earth. Every idea he had to show something, explain something, everything – I love everything he does, so of course, maybe I’ve been inspired subconsciously by him and I’m quite sure, because I’m also a huge fan of dance and ballet and I remember that when I was six, I was really struck by two people: Pina Bausch, the German choreographer and also James Thiérrée, who is Charlie Chaplin’s grandson. And I remember very, very well, seeing him playing the violin while roller-skating. And this became the most important image in my head when I was a kid and when I was writing the dancing scenes, I remember that I thought about this image precisely.
Do you have a favourite scene or moment in the film?
That’s very complicated. I know that I have a favourite character – not a favourite character, but I know that I really like the scenes with my father in the film, because it’s very personal and it’s something that really happened. There are moments that move me, like the very beginning of the film when I’m at the cafe with my friends, or when I’m dancing a slow dance with Arnaud to La Dolce Vita by Christophe, and when I’m dancing a slow dance with my mum too. But when I think about the film, I think about two scenes: one, which is the poster in France, I’m just in front of a football installation and I’m reading my book in the middle of other people and there’s just the music playing and I’m just somewhere else, and I think the dance scene at the cafe with Arnaud when we are just doing the same movements, which to me, is the climax of the love story.
Seeing as it’s all one take, how long did that scene take to shoot?
Actually, we shot it on a day when I was not very happy about what I did. We were completely okay on the choreography – Arnaud is a fantastic dancer, so he was perfect, but I wasn’t happy with my mise en scene. And so we shot it and when I came back home, I couldn’t sleep and I was very, very, very scared and everything and I decided to redo it the week after. And then we did three takes and the three takes were perfectly good to me, I was happy, and I know that the third one was the one, because while we were dancing, we felt together that we had it. And so I knew that I had something – I didn’t know what I was doing really, but I was happy with what I had.
Arnaud Valois is terrific in the film. The role could very easily have looked sleazy or whatever because of the age gap. How closely did you work on that?
Actually, I’ve been very lucky, because this was the most important thing to me, to show the relationship in a very pure way and without any allusion to #MeToo or anything, because it the movie doesn’t deal with that. It deals with two people who are kind of lost with their age, with their friends, with their lives and they’re on the same level at the same time, even if they’re not the same age. And this is to me what a love is about, and it’s about timing and it’s about sharing the same feeling at the same time. And actually with Arnaud it was kind of the same because we met each other, we didn’t know each other, I asked him if he wanted to be in the movie, he said yes an hour after I asked him, so I was super happy. And we met and we became very very good friends very very quickly. So I was very comfortable with him and very comfortable with asking him everything I really wanted and we also worked on the dance scenes, so we became very, very close very quickly, also, because of that. So it was actually very simple to communicate with him and to show him what I wanted to tell.
“I organised a party and made my friends go on the walk of my building… that was my red carpet”
It must have been devastating to have the pandemic take your Cannes debut away. How are you feeling about that now?
Actually, it’s very weird. 2020 was the worst year ever because of the pandemic, but if I have to be selfish, it was the best year of my life! So even though Cannes did not really happen, it kind of happened to me, because the news was so huge, it was like I was on drugs and I didn’t see the reality around me, I was just so high because the movie was selected for Cannes, so actually I’m pretty okay.
Did you have a red carpet in your head?
Yeah, you know, with my friends, I organised a party when I learned that the movie was selected for Cannes and I made them go on the walk of my building and I was on top of the steps and I was like, “Hi” and they were all dressed up and everything, so that was my red carpet.
Do you see yourself writing, directing and acting again, simultaneously, or do you think you’ll alternate?
Well, for now I have acting projects in France and I’m very happy, because I really love to act – it’s my very first passion, and I think it will always be. But I can’t stop writing and I can’t stop directing. For now, I’m not doing anything – I need the movie to be released in France and England and all over the world in order to be totally free to think about something different. But I know that I will always need to express myself more than just acting, by writing and directing and doing everything at the same time or sometimes just separating things. I think that writing and directing will always be together, but I’m pretty sure that sometimes I will write a movie that I won’t act in. I don’t know.
The film is only 73 minutes – was there any pressure to make it a more traditional length?
No, actually, I wanted to feel free and I really think that you have to take the time you need to tell your story and it will always be your story if you take your time. And my own time was that time and I didn’t feel any pressure and nobody was pressuring me with what I had to do or what should be best for the film. Because I think that the best running time for the film is actually the time I need. It was very natural for me to make a short story, because I wanted to make the people understand that this is a short, but very intense moment in this young girl’s life. So this was the time I needed to talk about it.
There are no social media references in the film, which makes it more timeless – was that a deliberate decision?
Yes. Actually, timeless is the word that I had in mind when I was writing, because, as I was talking about a universal topic like teenage years, how to accept yourself, how to discover yourself and how to fall in love, I really wanted to make universal images, so I wanted every generation to be able to identify themselves in the movie and in the characters, and for that I didn’t want to put in timing markers, because I wanted people to imagine the period they wanted to imagine in the film. Even though for me, it’s today, if my grandmother wanted to imagine that it was in 1983, then she could.
1983 doesn’t seem like that long ago for me…
(Laughs) You know, it’s a time I’ve never known. But I think I’m a little nostalgic for a time I’ve never known, so it’s also something that we can see in the movie, that I’ve always wanted to live in another period than mine, so maybe this was a way for me also to live my teenage years a little differently, in a little different world than the world I’ve grown up in.
In terms of casting, did you get your first choices for each role?
Yes, I’ve been very lucky. Actually, when I was writing, I had in mind only one actor, Frederic Pierrot, who plays my father in the film. And very quickly I thought about the family, so I had in mind my sister, my mum and my dad. The mystery was about who’s going to play the man of my dreams, because it was the man of my dreams, so I was scared I wouldn’t find him. And it was inspired by someone I really knew and I think that to be very free to talk about this story, I needed to find someone that was slightly different from the man who inspired the character of Raphael. And I remembered that I’d seen BPM and I was amazed by Arnaud, and I started to think about whether it could work, him and me in the film, if the dance scenes and the love story could work and be realistic, and so I called him and I asked him if he wanted to do the film with me and he said yes.
There’s a Bambi poster on the wall in your film. Why?
It’s not my favourite film, but I needed to – adolescence is a very weird period because it’s between childhood and the moment when you’re going to be an adult and, to me, Bambi is like a childhood icon and he’s a child in the movie, he’s losing his mum and he’s with his best friend, the rabbit, I don’t remember his name –
Yeah, Thumper! (Laughs) And it’s also the cartoon which is a little sad, and when I was a child, my mum always said, ‘Oh no, don’t watch Bambi because it’s too sad’, so I had to be a little bigger to watch it. So it’s the first cartoon that really moved me, and so this is why I decided to put the Bambi poster on the wall.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the streaming landscape?
I’m not going to lie, I’m not very good at this, because I don’t really watch – I watch Netflix sometimes and stuff, but really to binge-watch Friends or stuff like that. I’m a little old-fashioned, so when I watch a movie, it’s always in movie theatres or sometimes because I have DVDs and stuff. So I’m not very on point about Netflix and streaming and everything, but I think if these platforms are okay to produce beautiful films, then it’s good. But I just hope that it will not cancel movie theatres and the experience that we have when we go see a movie in the cinema, because it’s very unique. And I think that after this pandemic, during which everyone was just sat at home with their computers and stuff, I think that we’re going to need to find movie theatres and stuff, but I’m very sure that it’s very very good that both of those ways of watching films exist, it’s very important that both exist.
Spring Blossom is out now on Curzon Home Cinema.