Suzanne Lindon is twenty years old. In 2015, she enrolled at the prestigious French high school Henri IV, and at the same time began writing her debut feature, “Spring Blossom.” Lindon graduated from high school with honors in 2018, and decided to take a one-year preparatory course in sketching before joining the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs of Paris. In 2019, she dove into the preparations to shoot “Spring Blossom” both as the film’s director and lead actress.
Tara Karajica talks to Suzanne Lindon about “Spring Blossom,” that received the 2020 Cannes label and later screened at the Toronto International Film Festival before moving on to the San Sebastián and Chicago International Film Festivals. The film follows sixteen-year-old Suzanne who is bored with people her age. Everyday, on her way to high school, she passes by a theater. There, she meets an older man and becomes obsessed with him. Despite their age difference, they find in each other an answer to their ennui and fall in love. But Suzanne is afraid she’s missing out on life, that life of a sixteen-year-old that she had struggled so much to enjoy in the same way as her peers.
Cinema has been a part of your life forever through your parents. Was it something you have always wanted to do?
Suzanne Lindon: My parents have always talked about it and I’ve always seen a lot of films because I’m a real cinephile and I’ve always been really interested in Cinema, so I understood very early on that this was my passion. But, as my parents are doing this, I was very shy to express that I wanted to do something linked to it and even more because I wanted to act and my parents are actors. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of saying it and even with the idea of thinking it, so I really needed to do a gesture to feel legitimate to do it and this is why I started to write a film I wanted to act in. I wanted to feel legitimate to do it, so I wrote myself a role and I felt more comfortable with the idea that I was going to do all of it because this was something I really needed to do.
You’ve written, you’ve directed and acted in your first feature and it’s the first film you have ever done and it’s been a success! How are you coping with that success? What is success for you, in terms of you having done all three at once?
S.L.: Well, first, I think that I am very happy because that was hard work and I did it by myself, but I was with my team on set and I loved them and I loved working with them, so when I heard that Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival and the San Sebastián International Film Festival liked my film, I was so thrilled to announce it to everyone and I was so happy to share it with everybody that worked with me. Of course, I think that this is a bit scary because this is too much for a first time – acting in it, directing and writing it as you said. But to feel legitimate and free, I really needed to do all that and I really wanted to do an artistic gesture more than just making a film. I needed to express myself as if I were screaming and as if I needed to be heard and I think that this film made me feel very free and it made me feel so happy. And today, the fact that people like it and are just able to see it, it’s more than an opportunity, it’s the biggest chance of my life because it’s so hard to make a film and it’s so hard to have a film that comes out in different countries. I’m just so thrilled about that. Of course, I’m scared because I think it’s too good to be true, but I also enjoy it because I think that when something as huge as that happens in life, we have to enjoy every little part of it.
You talk about legitimacy a lot. Does it have to do not only with your parents, I imagine, but your age as well? What have your parents thought about you making this film and you acting in it, from their point of view both as parents and actors?
S.L.: I tried not to talk about it too much with them, so I wrote it for me, for myself at the beginning. My parents never read the script, so that was settled. But when I started to find the money to make the film – and it was very hard to find money to make it – and I started to understand that it could be possible to make the film, I told my parents everything and they were very, very proud of me, but I tried not to involve them in this story because I really needed to do it on my own. Of course, being a “daughter of” sometimes helps and sometimes it doesn’t, but this is life and I was born with my parents and I’m OK with it, but I really needed to do it on my own so I could understand what I wanted and what I didn’t want, what felt good and what didn’t. This helped me a lot in my life in general because I think it was the period in which I learnt the most in my entire life because I was on my own in front of my biggest responsibility. I was very happy and scared, but I was too unconscious because I was dying to make this film, so I didn’t think about all this while doing it. It is only now that I realize that I did it. I did it on my own and I organized a screening for my parents and my family in Paris a month ago and I realized that this was the first time they were seeing the film. The film was edited and finished and I was proud of myself because I knew I did it on my own.
And you should be! Can you talk about writing this film and creating the character of Suzanne? How much of you is in her?
S.L.: Well, as I was writing the script when I was fifteen, so a year younger than the character I’m playing in the film. I was inspired by things that I was living at that time and especially the boredom aspect of the film because as I’ve said earlier, adolescence is a very complicated period, especially for a young girl, because I didn’t really know who I was and I didn’t really know what I wanted. But I felt that I needed to discover all of this and I wanted to live things; I wanted to fall in love; I wanted to meet someone; I wanted to feel a lot of different emotions. I wanted to laugh and cry and do all that and I think that writing this film helped me a lot to feel all of this. During that period, this was the way I found to live what I wanted to live. It deals with fantasy and the fact that she’s falling in love with that man is also the way to show that at that age you can be really obsessed with something because you don’t have anything else that you’re interested in. So, falling in love in this film was for me the way to show that being sixteen is also about having a lot of different fantasies. Of course, she’s not a seducer and she doesn’t want to seduce him. For me, she just wants to live something and she just needs that to finally go back to being sixteen and to her real life. This really is a parenthesis and I think that I really wanted to live all that at that age, so I was inspired by all the desires I had and I wrote about them and this became the film.
Have you actually lived any of those desires in the end? Or, was making the film one of those desires?
S.L.: I think that the thing I really wanted to do when I was fifteen was to make a film and to play in a film, so just writing the film was actually living my dream because I was writing something. And, of course, I didn’t know if it could happen and if it could exist one day or not, but I felt so lucky just to have the idea of writing it; that I was totally free to write whatever I wanted to write. But I imagined stuff while I was writing. I had never had a love affair with an older man, but that was interesting to me because she’s a misfit and she’s a lonely girl and she’s bored with people her age and I really wanted to show that a man and a young girl could be totally equal. For me, the film deals with equality between an older man and a young girl and she is not influenced by the fact that he is older and he’s not using any weird or uncomfortable power on her, so this was really important for me to show in the film. This was the point of view I had when I was fifteen, but also today: equality is the most important thing. To me, showing a young girl and an older man not being the same age – and the gap that exists between them – but are feeling exactly the same way and are at the same point in their lives, was important.
Your mother is very vocal about feminism; are you a feminist? And if you are, how has it informed this particular filmmaking experience?
S.L.: Well, of course, I’m a feminist and more than being feminist, I’m a humanist. I think that men and women must have the same rights and everybody should be equal and I think that women really, really have to be paid the same as men and have to be heard the same as men. Everyone is the same for me and I really, really trust in the fact that equality is the most important thing in life. I’ve always been a feminist because I’ve always been concerned with women and their condition, but at fifteen, when I was writing the script, I wasn’t aware of everything. I think I was thinking about feminism as something that was really, really important to me, but today it is vital to say that men and women must be equal, and in the film, this is what I am trying to do. Of course, there’s this age difference that exists, but I really wanted to show a love story in the purest and most respectful way and I think that it shows the vision I have of a love story. If a girl falls in love with a man and if a man falls in love with a girl, the most important for me is to know that they are thinking equally and are on the same wavelength and that nobody is a little more powerful and uses their power over the other.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?
S.L.: I have a lot, but I’ve always loved Sofia Coppola because I love the sharpness she has. I remember that I saw The Virgin Suicides when I was eleven or twelve and I was completely in love with the photography, the actresses, the actors and the way she’s just telling this story. It is a film described as a coming-of-age film, but it is deeper than that. The topic she’s dealing with is very, very serious and she’s really concerned with that.
I know times are uncertain now, but do you have something that you’re working on for future better times and what do you prefer, now that you’ve tried all, acting, directing, writing, or you want to do all three again?
S.L.: For now, I just need the film to come out in France and all over the world and I think that I can’t really be focused on another story. Of course, I’ve had a few ideas, but for now, I just can’t be focused on something else because this film takes up too much space in my mind. But, yes, I would love to write something else and I would love to direct something else and play in something else. I don’t want to have to choose. I want to do all of it and sometimes at the same time and sometimes separately. I really love acting, so I hope that I will act in some other project and I really love directing, so I hope I will direct the story I have in mind and if I can play it, I will, but if there’s no role for me, I’m going to direct it anyway. I just want to feel free, but I still want to keep doing what I do and keep living my life with my friends and my school. I continue to go to school and I continue to study and this is really important because I don’t know if I’m going to be doing this my whole life, so I need to do some other things, too.
This interview was conducted at the 2020 (virtual) Toronto International Film Festival.