LFF The Final Word: Ursula Meier.
Four years after her successful feature film debut ‘Home’, I had an opportunity to talk with screenwriter and director Ursula Meier at this year’s LFF. She spoke to me a little about her new film Sister and her admiration for actresses Isabelle Huppert and Gillian Anderson, whilst confessing to a little white lie.
You have had the fortune to work with Isabelle Huppert on your first feature film, ‘Home’, and Gillian Anderson on ‘Sister.’ When you were writing these films, were you writing with Isabelle and Gillian in mind?
It’s true that for my first film it was amazing to work with Isabelle Huppert. I was thinking of her, but when you dream you say, “Okay, we will ask”, and so you are young, and she falls in love with the script, and says, “Okay.” So it’s amazing. For Gillian no, because before this I worked with a little boy: Kacey Mottet Klein, who played the son of Isabelle Huppert in ‘Home.’ I wrote my next film for him, and so I had no idea that I would work with Gillian until the casting began. After the success of ‘Home’ I now understand that when you write for a child you take different considerations into account, because a child can stop when he wants, he’s not a professional. It was not easy for the production because it was not a big name, and of course you have to work with him in every scene to help him. When you work with Isabelle she can only help you, because it made the film much easier. You had the house, the two children, the cars, and the highway; it was a very difficult first film. So, when I worked with Isabelle it was sometimes, ” Wow, she is so amazing.” Because she is so great you just give some indication and when you work with an actor, when you direct this kind of maestro, they are just so good, but with a child you have to do everything, because they know this one small detail, and so you take all the risk. It was amazing to work with Gillian, as she is a great actress, and it was like with Isabelle Huppert when I worked with her, she always knew what to say, and what to do, and she’d go directly to what was important. To work with Martin Compston and Gillian, they are so talented and professional it’s easier, because when you work with a child it’s forty-five days, “Phew.”
Both your films ‘Home’ and ‘Sister’ have domestic titles, and are invariably linked. Is this just a coincidence or is there a story behind the choice of the film’s title?
In French it’s L’Enfant d’en haut. So it’s not the same, it’s a different French title. It means The Child from Above, and when I asked for the international title, we didn’t like the translation of The Child from Above. In French it is the child from there, because it is an explanation of the character. He belongs from this world, he has a mother, he comes from here, so The Child from Above. At the time we spoke a lot about up and down, and so I liked this meaning. In the translation you don’t have this complexity, so we decided to change it completely, and ‘Sister’ is like home, and that’s why we chose it for the international title. It is a lie, but I like the different title’s points of view, and so it is not a problem for me, because the film is a question of… It is very schizophrenic in a way, because of the mother, the sister, up and down. The film is between up and down, between sister and mother, between the mother and brother, and so for this film I’m okay with the different titles, but I will not do it for everything.
Are you already considering your next project?
Now I’m with this film. We’ve been in Germany, England, Canada, Sweden and Spain, and I really want to follow the film to these different countries. I think it is very important to help the distributor to distribute the film. It is currently taking up all of my time, but I have a lot of ideas. Because I work with my instincts a lot and so I’m sure it is working. I think in January I will have time.