Giulia Carbonaro: Can you please briefly describe what your film is about for those who have yet to watch it?
Camille Pernin: My film tells the story of Dominique, a reserved and unpopular 12-year-old girl. Dominique has a big acrobatic gymnastics competition on the weekend, but that’s the same morning she gets her period. Still, no one around her seems ready to help or understand her.
GC: Menstruation is a surprisingly resilient taboo in our society. Why did you choose it to be a key theme in your film?
CP: I wanted to examine this rite of passage in the life of a young woman about which we talk relatively little and yet concerns more than half of the world’s population. It’s not a little thing! It’s a key moment in one’s life that arrives unexpectedly, that surprises you, that disorients you and that, in a fraction of a second, turns you from a girl into a woman. In a second. And then what?
Nothing crazy, nothing incredible. But something strangely transforms inside you and new questions appear: what does it mean to be a woman? How do others do it? What to do with blood that’s suddenly flooding out of you and must be hidden?
When a woman has her period, she is generally conditioned not to let anything show. I wanted to question this conditioning by going beyond it through the character of Dominique, who at the end uses her period to create something of a war painting.
GC: Your protagonist, Dominique, is a teenage girl who begrudgingly deals with her period while being mistreated by her schoolmates, which reminded me of Brian de Palma’s Carrie. But unlike Carrie, Dominique doesn’t become murderous - she dances. What did you want her story to tell the audience?
CP: Dominique is rejected and pushed aside throughout the film. A dull anger grows within her and while dancing in front of the audience, her face covered with blood, she finally claims her space, the one that’s never given to her by others. She decides to embrace her singularity and her femininity, although it does not meet expectations.
I wanted Dominique to shout to the world that she exists, that she is suffering and that she is now ready to emancipate herself, to face the gaze of others. This strong, absurd gesture constitutes the premises of a future revolt and a desire to break away from the diktats imposed by society.
GC: Adolescence can be difficult for everyone - but Dominique is having an especially bad time with her puzzle-obsessed dad. How are we to take his figure, unable to be there for his daughter?
CP: Dominique’s father is clumsy and in denial. He loves his daughter but he’s not able to help her or really listen to her. In a state of deep depression, he’s still suffering from his wife’s leaving and still hopes for her return. Unable to accept reality, he spends his days in pyjamas, playing puzzles or on his computer, wearing a superficial smile.
His whimsical and childish behaviour is the opposite of Dominique’s, who takes on the role of the adult of the house. It is also Dominique who manages to bring him out of his denial by confronting him with reality. Thanks to her, he understands that it is time to move on, that his wife is gone and that his daughter has grown up.
GC: The cinematography in the film is absolutely stunning. Where did you find the location, and how did you make it look so aesthetic?
CP: We focused a lot on the look of the film with the cinematographer and the production designer. Nothing was left to chance and we did extensive scouting before finding this colourful gym and Dominique’s atypical house.
A lot of work was done on the sets and in particular on the colours - the colours of the walls, the costumes, the calibration choices. We wanted to work with turquoise blue throughout the film. In addition to being my favourite colour, it goes very well with the red of blood. We also wanted to use old film lenses and fairly short focal lengths to slightly distort the perspectives and give the image a unique tone.
GC: How did you cast Amélia Lacquemant - who is simply incredible - in your film?
CP: It took me a long time to find Amélia because I was initially looking for a younger actress. But I immediately fell in love with her when she applied. The meetings and tests immediately confirmed my first intuition about her.
Amélia really gets the craft and has a very fine understanding of things. She immediately grasped the essence of the situation. I was amazed by her awareness of the frame, the placement and the acting. I am convinced that she is a great actress and it was a great pleasure to work with her.
GC: Why does the film situate Dominique in a sport/dance setting as opposed to a classroom setting?
CP: Growing up, I played a lot of competitive volleyball. So I know this locker room atmosphere well, where both rivalries and friendships play out, where we compare ourselves physically.... And I found that sitting on the bench was an interesting way to reflect Dominique’s loneliness. Placing my film in this environment felt like a good way to talk about both being a teenager and a society focused on appearances.
In a sport like acrobatic gymnastics (which I reinvented a bit for the film), girls have to appear impeccable, smile, shine. By making Mirabelle vomit on her teammates or by letting Dominique dance with blood on her face, I had fun breaking the rules.
GC: Do/did you ever think about the life of the character beyond where the film ends?
CP: For me, the end of the film is an act of emancipation. If I imagine Dominique after the film, I see her with her shoulders straightened, ready to face and show herself for who she is. Finally revealed, I imagine that we no longer make fun of her. And, why not that she becomes an example of freedom for other girls in search of their own identities?
GC: Do you have a next project in mind or in the works?
CP: I am currently writing a feature film, which follows the journey of a teenager who lives in a dysfunctional family (again!) and where taboos reign (again!). But this time the tone and context are completely different. The story takes place in 1972 in the Pyrénées, in an austere and religious environment, confronted with the arrival of anarchist libertarians.
Dominique Personne was the winner of the Silver Frame and Audience Award at Short Focus Film Festival 2023.