The New Woman: “Leïla Bekhti plays a woman in full possession of her power of seduction”

The New Woman: “Leïla Bekhti plays a woman in full possession of her power of seduction”

Léa Todorov is proud that the actress accepted a role that changes from her previous interpretations. And she is relieved that Jasmine Trinca has signed on to play her heroine.

In 1900, Lili d'Alengy, a famous Parisian courtesan, has a shameful secret – her daughter Tina, born with a disability. Unwilling to take care of a child who threatens her career, she decides to leave Paris for Rome. There she met Maria Montessori, a doctor who developed a revolutionary learning method for children who were then called “deficient”. But Maria also hides a secret: a child born out of wedlock. Together, the two women will help each other to gain their place in this man's world and write history.

If The New Woman is such a successful first film, it is thanks to his fine writingwhich intelligently handles several themes – education problems, the place of disabled children in our societies, the role of the mother, the impossibility of reconciling everything as a woman… -, but also by its casting. Jasmine Trinca And Leila Bekhti are both up to the exceptional roles offered to them by the screenwriter and director Lea Todorov.

The New Woman: a powerful first film, led with conviction by Jasmine Trinca and Leïla Bekhti (review)

Met at Salat festival, where she received the jury prizeand where her main actress was also honored, she tells us why she chose these two actresses in particular, and how they agreed to go beyond their usual roles to play the Italian Maria Montessori, a true teacher of the early 20th century , and the Frenchwoman Lili d'Alengy, a completely invented courtesan, but conceived as the perfect opposite of her “heroin”.

“I find that Jasmine Trinca seduces us so much that Maria Montessori perhaps becomes a little too much 'great' in turn, recognizes Léa Todorov straight away. Despite everything, I see her as a woman who, even in difficult times, has always been full of contradictions. She makes a strong choice at the end for all the children. But ultimately, is it really for them or is it also to serve their career, their ambition? I think we have to ask ourselves these questions and that there is no single simple answer. It seemed important to me to make a biopic, or at least a form of biopic, which would be capable of denting a too sacrosanct image of this woman. By showing her flaws, it makes her human.”

“There are many aspects of his life that are extremely complex, continues the director, who had already written a documentary in 2016 on education methods. I don't see Maria as a saint who has only done great things. But we cannot deny him either for having generalized the thought of taking into account the individuality of the child, the need for his autonomy, his formidable learning capacities and the immense respect that we must have for the child. We are indebted to Maria Montessori for that, so obviously, I took care that it was present in the film.”

“I tell myself that Maria would have encountered this difficulty of reconciling everything anyway, she explains about this character who is at the same time a mother, a wife, a teacher… Because I think that it is also ours still today to be a 'Super Mom'. It takes a lot of time, you devote a lot of energy to it. I don't know if you can be a great mom by being a great doctor? These are things that remain complicated to do, the 'all at the same time' which has become the norm.”

“Jasmine, she’s an actress that I’ve been following for a long time, she finally explains about this casting choice. The son's room, it's 20 years old already, and she was incredible in it. She had played in The Apollonides also, by Bertrand Bonello and Saint Laurent. Oh and she had impressed me in an Italian film which had worked well, Fortunata. I don't know why exactly, but I was fixated on her before filming, telling myself that I didn't see who else could do Maria Montessori in this film. I would have been in despair if she hadn’t!”

The New Woman: how do we design a “biopic fiction”?

“For the role of Leïla Bekhti, I really struggled to find which female character at the time could be strong enough to face her without being her carbon copy, Léa explains to us to justify the creation of this fictional character. She is a woman who draws her power from her ability to seduce men. Leïla, I found it interesting to offer her this role because it was quite far from what she had done before. And I thought it was great to give her a role as a very seductive and seductive woman, which is not something she does often. She plays a lot of today's characters, but somewhere she erases her beauty. Well, she can't really 'erase her beauty', but in any case, she does not put it in the foreground. As in I will always see your faces, For example. Or in The third war, where she played the role of a soldier with her baggy costumes. Or at Joaquim Lafosse? These are not roles in which she plays a woman in full possession of her power of seduction, whereas here, it was super fun to work on that with her.”

“I found that the shame that the character of Leïla feels, in truth, is a bit like the relationship that we always have with these children with disabilities, she continues about the ambiguous character of Lili. We know that they exist today, obviously, but everyone still looks away a little and is very happy to say that they live in their own place, their specialized place, well out of sight. I was really keen to enter the film with this character who cannot look at her child and who rejects her. By creating a parallel with our current societies, the idea was also to show how far we have come since the time of Montessori, but also what remains to be accomplished for all these children. This path is a path of sight. And for that, cinema is the perfect medium.”

Leïla Bekhti and Damien Bonnard: “We wrote the end of Les Intranquilles during filming!”

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