October 23, 2012
'La vie au ranch' - Interview with Sophie Letourneur

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Released in her native France in 2010, La vie au ranch is the first feature-length film by 33-year-old Sophie Letourneur. Following a number of short and medium-length films that have garnered her awards from festivals across Europe, her debut feature continues her preoccupation with the theme of friendship among young women, frequently drawn from her own experiences.

In La vie au ranch, Letourneur turns her camera to a group of college girls living in a cramped apartment in Paris. A seemingly carefree and tight-knit life of parties and next-morning hangovers quickly reveals a deep-seated dissatisfaction in the protagonist Pam who, over the course of the film, grows increasingly detached from the friends she has had since high school, eventually escaping from Paris’ suffocating familiarity for the bohemian utopia of Berlin.

While the subject matter is hardly original, it is its treatment that makes La vie au ranch stand out. Demonstrating subtle tact and a keen sense of observation, Letourneur gradually constructs a compelling portrait of her characters through highly naturalistic dialogues and situations, which perfectly convey the characters’ emotional conflicts without resorting to sensationalism or ponderous sentimentality. Beyond successfully capturing a very defining transitional stage in a young person’s life, this deceptively simple film also addresses broader issues pertaining to the representation of femininity in cinema.

La vie au ranch is screening through Thursday, October 25 as part of BAMcinématek’s current series on the young French cinema group ACID. Although Letourneur was meant to be present for her film’s US premiere, the advanced stage of her pregnancy forced her to cancel her visit to New York. Fortunately, I was able to speak with her on the phone, learning about the extremely protracted and painstaking pre-production process that lent the script its striking authenticity and about the role gender politics play in her filmmaking.

Interview translated from French by author.

At the end of the credits you included the message “with nostalgic recollection of the group that we were.” To what extent is La vie au ranch based on your personal experiences?

The initial drive to tell this story is linked to events that really happened, that is, to my departure from a group of friends. As for the characters, they’re completely based on people from my life. I was living in a flatshare with my best friend, with whom I had a falling out; we all went on holiday, as they do in the film; and there’s even aspects of the film that I took directly from videos and recordings I had made at the time. The entire script was pretty much constructed around my memories, whether recalled or from these documents that I had made. I recorded a lot of things back then. There’s even whole sequences in the film that are reconstructions of dialogues that I had recorded.

So far you have always worked with highly personal material. Is this crucial for you or could you imagine working on stories that completely depart from your personal experience in the future?

Actually, I’ve just finished co-writing a script, which took me three years to complete, and though I feel very close to the material, it isn’t at all inspired by my own experiences. Ultimately, it is always related to me in some way, I can always somehow identify with my characters, but I think that’s the case for a lot of directors. I couldn’t write something that is too detached from my own personality, about a subject completely external to myself.

This is an excerpt of my interview published on BOMB magazine’s blog, BOMBlog. You can read the full interview here.