Eva Husson is a French director, actress and screenwriter. She completed a preparatory class in Modern Literature before opting for a Master’s degree in English Literature and a degree in Spanish. Husson then decided to spend a decade living and studying around the world and led an artist’s life. She went to Paris, London, Madrid, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico. Holder of a Master of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute in the field of filmmaking, she earned many awards and other scholarships. She was thus recognized by the Cultural Franco-American Fund as well as the Multicultural Motion Picture Association. At the same time, she took her first acting steps in 1993 and joined the cast of the film “The Romantics,” and five years later, starred in “The Sexual Revolution Did Not Happen”. In 2004, her short film “Hope to Die” received critical acclaim and was screened at international film festivals. This stage marked the beginning of her professional consecration in filmmaking. In 2013, she made the short film “Those for Whom it’s Always Complicated” before focusing on feature films. Three years later, her debut feature “Bang Gang” was a success and, in 2018, her next film “Girls of the Sun” premiered in Official Competition of the Cannes Film Festival.
Tara Karajica talks to Eva Husson about “Mothering Sunday,” her latest film that premiered once again at the Cannes Film Festival and that is screening now at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is a bold adaptation of Graham Swift’s eponymous novel, starring Colin Firth, Olivia Coleman, Josh O’Connor and Odessa Young.
What attracted you to Graham Swift’s novel?
Eva Husson: I was sent the novel and I read it, and was blown away by the emotion that it conveyed and it all just felt extremely personal and universal at the same time, so that was definitely something that I found quite wonderful.
It’s your first film in English. Can you talk about the experience of working with all these powerhouses in English acting such as Olivia Coleman and Colin Firth as well as Josh O’Connor and Odessa Young?
E.H.: I went to school in Los Angeles, so even though it’s technically my first film in English, it’s definitely not my first experience. I’ve done it there for years, so I was quite comfortable. As to working with artists like Colin [Firth], Olivia [Coleman], Josh [O’Connor] and Odessa [Young], it was obviously amazing! It was a very privileged experience and I always tried to keep a sense of wonder – there was nothing normal about it, and it’s quite extraordinary! There were moments on set where it just felt I was the luckiest girl alive even though there were days where it was very hard, but it was a joy to work with them!
Can you talk about the casting process? How did they get on board Mothering Sunday?
E.H.: I think the material spoke for itself, so it was really very easy. They read the script. Colin didn’t do another movie that year, it was the only one he felt connected to and just went for it. And with Olivia, it was the same; she got the script and she said yes and that was it.
Jane is very comfortable in her own skin, very comfortable with her sex sexuality and intimacy. She’s very confident, very empowered and unapologetic. She’s an orphan who’s become a very successful writer and she’s made a life for herself. Can you talk about her? How do you see her?
E.H.: It’s a fine dance between what the actor gives you, what you have inside yourself or the novel, and then the script. It’s like a sculpture made out of all of these elements. And so, it’s got a little bit of Graham [Swift], a little bit of Alice [Birch], a little bit of Odessa and a little bit of me. And, the end result is a woman who’s quite charismatic, very strong-willed and takes all the experiences of her life to realize that she’s had quite an extraordinary life and I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to realize. I think it can speak to a lot of us because of the losses that she gets or the losses that we all get by having loved ones die or get sick; mortality is the common ground for everybody. So, when a film or a story dives into this and explores this, it’s very easy to make it feel personal and I think that’s what Jane is; she’s like this prism, this character that we can all relate to, be it male or female.
The colors that define Jane are red and blue. Can you delve into these choices and working with costume designer Sandy Powell?
E.H.: I wanted things to be very primary because 1907 is when the first photograph in color was taken and it used the basics of red, green and blue. And, I wanted a lot of images to stem from that world because if you’re in the mid-1920s, your world has been based on the representations of the beginning of the century. And so, that was definitely something that transpired throughout my work with Helen Scott, the production designer, and Sandy Powell, the costume designer, and something that I wanted to reproduce throughout the film.
In your work, you refract character through intimacy, especially from a female perspective. There is also a lot of intimacy that is very intense and different from the one often depicted in the period films we are accustomed to. Can you expand on that?
E.H.: It’s something that’s quite dear to me. It sort of reflects more what reality is like than what we’ve seen in movies; it’s easy to get caught up in what has been done before. And, I’m not saying that it’s revolutionary at all, I’m just saying that within the grammar that we all have – camera, actors, close-ups – there is a way to talk about what is essential to me, which is the connection between two people and that mix just keeps you guided during shooting. It’s more about the narration and what you tell with every image than did it look good or is it sexy? It’s really a guide in the film and I think that it changes the way it feels at the end of the film.
The novel and subsequently the film are about grief, overcoming loss and the humanity that is in everyone. Can you talk about these themes?
E.H.: I absolutely adored the novel and the script because of that. I think that the story dives into a year when it’s just really hard to be a human being, and we suffer a lot in the journey, all of us. It doesn’t matter what class you’re from or what race you belong to, or what color your skin is. It’s about how hard it is to keep going and keep finding the beauty and the joy – not the resilience. I think resilience is a complex concept and sometimes it’s a bit oversimplistic, but both tragedy and greatness exist at the same time. And, you can’t really get one without getting the other. At the end of the day, having gone through so much grief doesn’t take away the incredible moments that you’ve had. And, it’s very easy to relate to that when you’re a member of the audience.
Can you talk about your choice of a sort of a stream of consciousness kind of editing?
E.H.: A lot of this happened in the script stage. We thought a lot about the adaptation. And then, what you will get in the edit is that some of it works, some of it doesn’t work and we just had to find our groove with the editor, where we found the right associations and just went from one thing to the other; it’s in the sound, it’s in the memories, it’s in the image, it’s in a touch… And, we dug into the material and found that one element that’s going to allow you to go from one moment to the next and, sometimes, it’s just a spark like a ray of light hitting the lens in one shot, and then hitting it in another shot.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?
E.H.: Well, I think I’ve made it clear! I certainly hope so! I really don’t understand women over twenty-one who are not feminists, who are dismissing the word. I say that being a feminist is basically thinking that everybody should be treated equally and have access to the same things equally, so of course I’m a feminist! I do think I try to not get stuck on an agenda. Every relationship between equals is about a human being and their relationship to the world. So, for me, for example, Jane walking through the house – I didn’t want people to get stuck on breasts moving around on camera when she was walking because I thought it would be distracting because it’s about her thought process at that moment. Yes, she’s naked – we know that by now – so it’s not about insisting on it and making her look sexy; it’s about her as a character having an incredibly powerful experience. For a person who is a maid, it’s not normal to be walking around naked in this house and anyone at that time, man or woman, will not be expected to be walking naked around the house, so it’s very empowering for her. So, I just try to get to the core of what it is to be a human being in general.
What is your take on the situation of women in film today? Do you see any difference between France and the US on that front?
E.H.: I think the U.S. are ten years ahead in this conversation. I think there’s so much work to be done in France. France is still a very sexist country. For example, I got offered a job in January and this person who didn’t know me called me honey the second time we talked, and I just froze. I was horrified, honestly! I thought it was just so wrong and so condescending and I don’t think it would happen in the United States. I do think that the whole conversation is absolutely vital and necessary. And, I do think it’s not a coincidence that the President of the Jury this year in Cannes was an African American man, and that the Palme d’Or was awarded to a woman. I’m quite certain it would’ve been almost impossible if the President of the Jury was French. It’s hard to make conjectures, but I think a lot of things are coming from the U.S. when it comes to this conversation at the moment. And, I think it’s necessary. For a lot of things, there is still so much work to be done, but things are definitely moving.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?
E.H.: I do have a profound admiration for two filmmakers and the one who allowed me to think it was all possible is Jane Campion. I saw The Piano when I was still shaping up as a filmmaker, and in my mind, it’s masterpiece. And then later on, I came across Andrea Arnold, who I think is a genius, and American Honey was nothing short of mesmerizing. I think these two women are just goddesses!
What are your next projects?
E.H.: I’m writing two projects that are very personal and ambitious.
Photo credits: Philippe Quaisse.
This interview was conducted virtually at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.