Charlène Favier is a self-taught filmmaker. After spending her childhood in Val d’Isère and several years abroad, notably in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, she founded her company, Charlie Bus Production at the age of 24 to give impetus to projects that are close to her heart. Curious and conscious of the rigor of her profession, she developed her acting skills at the Jacques Le Coq School in London, her directing skills at the Astoria Studio in New York and her writing skills at the FEMIS script workshop from which she graduated in 2015. At the same time, she wrote, directed and produced several short films and documentaries, all broadcast on France Télevision, including “Free Fall,” “Omessa” that garnered twenty-three awards and played at eighty film festivals, and “Odol Gorri,” that was featured in the 2020 César box-set.
Tara Karajica talks to Charlène Favier about feminism and film and her first feature film, “Slalom,” an unflinching portrait of abuse and obsession where a teenage competitive skier is drawn into the orbit of her domineering coach, that received the 2020 Cannes Label is now playing in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Charlène Favier: I grew up in Val d’Isère where I shot the film; it’s a little ski resort. I did a lot of sports and I was also really interested in theater when I was a kids. My mother was a painter, so I was quite keen on going in that artistic direction or into sports. Those were really my two directions. I tried to be an actress first. I went to the Jacques Le Coq School in London. I was eighteen years old and that was one year of horrible training. You didn’t talk because it was all about the mind. You worked a lot with your body and masks. I was the only French girl. We were fourteen people there and I was the youngest. Actually, I learnt a lot at this school, but it was too hard to enter the theater world to be an actress this way. But I learnt how to direct. In fact, because at this school, you had to make a centerpiece every week, you had to work with your imagination a lot, and that was really helpful in terms of working with the body as well. After this experience, because I was too young, and I had stopped doing theater, I went travelling for several years. I went to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the U.S. But I had accumulated so many experiences while travelling that I just told myself I had to make a film so that I could tell the story of the people who want to save the world in this hippie community in Australia. When I came back to France, nobody wanted to believe my story, so I needed to make a film about that, and that’s how I made my first documentary film, Is Everything Possible, Darling? I follow the people living in a van, trying to save the world, meditating, taking drugs, trying to share skills… It was really like an utopia. This experience really changed my life and I realized in Australia that filmmaking could be a mission for me. That’s how it started.
How did Slalom come about? I understand you were a skier in your childhood.
C.F.: When I came back to France after travelling the world with this documentary, I founded my own production company called Charlie Bus Production and I made short films in order to learn about filmmaking as I didn’t know anything about cinema because I didn’t go to film school. After several short films, I understood that I had to do a writing workshop to improve my skills if I wanted to make a first feature film, so I got into La Fémis, where I would be writing a feature film during a year, with seven other people. I enjoyed his workshop. I didn’t have any idea what I was writing and Slalom came to me because I was really looking deep into my childhood. I was a skier. I grew up in Val d’Isère where I shot the film. I had this relationship with the ski instructor and I realized that that was a really powerful base for a narrative drama, almost a psychological thriller. Actually, the subject came to me and I didn’t really understand what happened to me when I was fifteen years old. I realized everything while writing the film. So, I didn’t know what I was writing, but the more I wrote, the more I was in the process of understanding what I felt.
You show the grey zone between passionately committed teaching and abuse. Can you talk about that? What films and stories were your references?
C.F.: Of course, I was thinking of The Piano by Jane Campion. It’s one of my favorite films. The scenes where she is talking about the grades and the trouble of desire between the two characters. I was also thinking of Whiplash because you have this relationship between the young musician and his mentor. But I’m not really working with a lot of references because this is a really personal theme. I had all the material inside of me actually, so I didn’t have to work with a lot of references. Everything comes from my imagination and my own material. I’m working with references later, but more in terms of the aesthetic of the film for example.
How did you avoid clichés when you were making the film as those are very present in sports films, especially coming-of-age stories, and abuse?
C.F.: It was really important for me that the relationship between Fred and Lyz be really subtle because in life, it’s not like that. I was remembering myself at fifteen if I looked at myself in the mirror without avoiding anything. Sometimes, I could feel I was in love with him; sometimes, I didn’t realize what had happened and I wanted to go with him and be with him. Also, it was really important to not portray Fred as a predator or a sexual abuser. He is also a nice guy, a cool guy, a bit like a brother, a bit like a father and she doesn’t that because he didn’t realize it either; that’s also the first time for him, and I really wanted to show the complexity of the emotional and physical balance between those two characters and in most of the film, it’s not the reality. It’s much more difficult to see because people are sometimes dark, sometimes white, sometimes grey and sometimes red, but they are not white all the time or dark all the time. That’s not true. That’s why it is so hard to talk about this grip, the phenomenon of the grip because the grip is a mix of so many emotional contradictions and reactions and I really wanted to illustrate that. So, for example, after the car scene, she doesn’t realize that she feels something is weird, but she doesn’t know; she’s fifteen years old, nobody talks to her about that. She said: “Okay, maybe that’s normal.” And, the sequence just after that, when she’s at the restaurant with him and she says: “Don’t leave me, stay with me,” that’s something she’s not running away from because she doesn’t understand it. I really wanted to show that if we don’t talk to kids about this problem, they won’t know what to do, how to react. Of course, Fred is the bad guy because he’s the adult.
Lyz has skills and energy, but also this dark side with self-destructive tendencies that feeds into submission and self-abasement. She is lonely and in need of a parental figure. How do you see her?
C.F.: She’s a bit like me when I was a teenager and when you enter a sport program, it’s not that you’re in auto-destruction mode, but it’s just that you don’t know what’s good for you or isn’t, but you know what you have to do to win the game. That’s the only reason and the only target that you have in mind, so if she has to eat protein like that, she will do it; if she has to put electrodes on her body to gain more muscle because Fred told her to do so, she will do it. She doesn’t know if it’s good or bad for her because she’s a teenager and she doesn’t have a sense of limit. She’s mixing everything; like for instance, after the car scene she realized it was something weird, but she didn’t know that this is really bad. What she wants is to stay with him because he’s looking at her, not as an object of desire, but has someone and she needs attention because her parents are not there and he can probably make her a big champion. So, she’s like: “Okay, it doesn’t matter if it hurts a little bit, that’s what I signed up for and sports are hurting your body and your mind sometimes.” So, she’s really in this process of going forwards, going towards the main goal.
The film is filtered through the eyes of Lyz. We are always with her, whatever she’s doing. Can you talk about this choice of subjective gaze and narrative?
C.F.: Yes, it was really important for me to make all the film from Lyz’s point of view, to talk from the sensations, the emotions, the feelings and not from an intellectual point of view. I really wanted to make this film from the center of the body; the heart and the belly and the skiing – the muscle. That was really important for me. And, I really wanted us to feel what Lyz is feeling in all this process, because I think that is the better option to talk about the grip and the situation, because when you talk about feelings, the discussion can really be wide open and really interesting. I didn’t want to talk from a judging place for example. I didn’t want to give the audience a lesson in sexual violence in sports. I wanted to start the discussion about feelings and I think it’s really interesting to start a discussion from that point.
This film is extremely relevant today. What kind of impact do you think it will have in the post #metoo era?
C.F.: Actually, in France, the impact is incredible. The Sports Minister is using the film in sports clubs, training schools to talk about the issue of sexual abuse in sports. They are using the film as a tool, so it’s really important. I know that in Sweden, the film will be shown in every school.
What subjects interest you and that you tackle in your work? What would you like audiences to come away with after watching your film?
C.F.: Sexuality and pollution. Female behavior, male behavior as well because when you are talking about men as well as women, you’re talking about humans in general, so humanity in general. I like to explore dark places, to see where we can bring some light.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?
C.F.: Actually I never considered my myself a feminist, but now I think I am one. I never considered myself a feminist because I don’t like to educate. I don’t want to enter a cause. I want to stay free. But it’s true that women’s rights are really important for me even if I am not saying I am a feminist. I am one because all my films are telling stories about the feminine condition.
There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past two and a half years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in France?
C.F.: I think the world is changing. We have more and more women making films everywhere. This year, the Oscar winner was Chloe Zhao. I love her work as well. It is incredible. She’s thirty-nine years old and she just one the Oscar. Julia Ducournau just won the Palme d’Or. She’s French and she’s thirty-seven years old. There are a lot of really powerful women coming into the cinema world, and I see now that it’s not possible for women in film to be forgotten anymore.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
C.F.: My favorite female filmmaker is Jane Campion. I know it’s not really original, but I feel close to her work probably because in her work, I find a lot of subjects and themes I want to explore or that I have already explored.
What are you working on next?
C.F.: I’m working on a film called Oxana, about Oxana Shachko, one of the founders of the feminist movement and who committed suicide in 2018 in Paris. She was a refugee. Again, it will be a portrait of a really courageous woman looking for freedom and for justice.
Photo credits: Sylvie Castioni.
This interview was conducted in partnership with: