October 2014, arsenal cinema

Wild Child – Films with and by Isild Le Besco


In France, she's a star. Yet here in Germany, only very few people know Isild Le Besco (*1982). This is despite the fact that she's not just one of the most sought after young actors in contemporary French cinema, she's also one of its most radical filmmakers. None of her own films and very few of those in which she’s acted have received a regular cinema release in Germany, despite their having being shown at the Cannes, Venice, and Locarno festivals. Arsenal is now dedicating a program to the multi-talented Isild Le Besco and showing her three feature-length films alongside a selection of her works as an actor. We are very happy that the filmmaker, actress and screenwriter will be our guest at the opening.

"I like to go to the limits"- this statement by Isild Le Besco equally applies to her directorial works and her roles as an actress. She frequently plays rebellious, wayward, curious young women who don't fit in anywhere, seek to escape the boredom of their everyday lives, are fascinated by outsiders, and throw themselves into wild romances, reason be damned. Le Besco's performances always carry a breathtaking sense of presence and are nothing less than an event in themselves.
In her own films, Le Besco takes an unflinching look at childhood and youth and shows a similar interest in extreme situations: the activities of three children left to their own devices, the coming of age of an uptight adolescent, and the fatal ménage-à-trois of three young women. Herself still a child when she received her first film role and a 16-year-old when she wrote the script for her first film, shot four years later (with her brothers as the actor and cameraman respectively), Le Besco displayed stylistic assurance and directorial command from an early age. She shows solidarity for the roughness of her characters without judging them, equally risking unkindness in the process. This gives rise to a totally unique narrative and emotional fascination.

DEMI-TARIF(Half Price, Isild Le Besco, France 2004, 18.10., screening attended by Isild Le Besco & 23.10.) Three siblings – two girls and a boy (Kolia Litscher) aged seven, eight and nine – live on their own in a squalid Paris flat. Each child has a different father, with none of them ever actually having been there. The mother lives somewhere else and leaves them largely to their own devices. The children more or less cope with their situation and come to terms with their boundless freedom. An anarchic life without order and rules and full of games and tricks: the three of them steal small items, take the metro without a ticket, play outside until late into the night, sneak into cinemas and deliberately deceive their teacher, who has already grown mistrustful. The handheld camera (Jowan Le Besco) is their accomplice, while the voiceover, which can neither be attributed to the mother nor the children, extols the virtues of a childhood without authority.

BAS-FONDS (Dregs, Isild Le Besco, France 2010, 18.10., screening attended by Isild Le Besco & 24.10.) Three young women live together in a sparsely furnished apartment: Magali, who calls the shots in rough, unmistakable fashion and orders everyone around, her younger sister Marie-Steph and Magali's bed companion Barbara, who is consumed by her love for her. They lounge around, shout at one another, stay silent as if autistic and bellow like animals, hate and desire one other, organize drinking parties, throw food at one another, devastate the flat, while porn runs in the background on television. When their attempt to rob a bakery ends up with its owner dead, the balance of power shifts and nothing is the same as it was before. The film was shot with non-professional actors and depicts a wild ménage-à-trois that exists outside of the social order, a disturbing configuration of dependence, affection and submissiveness that possesses both a radical force and a certain tenderness.

CHARLY (Isild Le Besco, France 2007, 19. & 22.10.) 14-year-old Nicolas (Kolia Litscher), a teenager lacking in drive and having problems at school, lives with his geriatric foster parents in the French province. When he finds a postcard with the photo of a seaside resort on it, he takes to his heels and sets out in search of open spaces. On his way, he is picked up by occasional prostitute Charly (Marie-Julie Parmentier) who is only a bit older than he is and allows him to stay in her tiny caravan. There he must toe the line with respect to her strict rules and make himself useful in the household. The two of them gradually get closer, not least when they read lines from Frank Wedekind's play "Spring Awakening" together and thus find a shared language. Nicolas thus gets that little bit closer to becoming an adult, to the sea and to himself. A taciturn coming of age film with a small-scale plot of considerable impact.

SADE (Benoît Jacquot, France 2000, 20. & 26.10.) Together with another aristocrat waiting for the guillotine, the Marquis de Sade (Daniel Auteuil), author of libertine novels, is interred in a luxury prison in Paris in 1794. There he meets the very young Emilie de Lancris (Isild Le Besco), who is bored of her parents. Initially naive and innocent, she feels increasingly attracted to the notorious Sade and is determined to learn all she can from the aging libertine before it’s too late. His language becomes an instrument of enlightenment in a dual sense, as he carefully leads her to her own desire. This historical drama leaves no doubt as to who the actual sadists are: those who kill in the name of the Republic.

ROBERTO SUCCO (Cédric Kahn, France 2001, 21. & 30.10.) In the summer holidays, 16-year-old schoolgirl Léa (Isild Le Besco) meets Kurt (Stefano Cassetti) at a beach disco, a lively boaster with an Italian accent. The two of them fall in love. Kurt drives a different car at each of their meetings and not everything he says can be trusted either, yet Léa is fascinated by him. The young man's other life gradually impinges more and more on the love story, a life full of violence, with his relationship with Léa also developing in increasingly extreme fashion. Based on the real life case of Italian violent criminal and serial killer Roberto Succo in the 80s, the film concentrates on the moments between the acts of violence and paints this portrait of an outsider who remains outside social structures to the very end in chilly Cinemascope images and without psychological explanations.

PAS DOUCE (Parting Shot, Jeanne Waltz, France/Switzerland 2007, 23. & 28.10.) Frédérique (Isild Le Besco), who everyone calls Fred, works as a nurse in a small town in Jura, Switzerland. She is anything other than gentle – she carries a great anger within her and is wild, discontented, and unpredictable. No one is allowed to get too close to her. While hanging out in the woods with thoughts of suicide, she shoots a boy in the heat of the moment, who later becomes a patient on her ward. The 14-year-old is aggressive, thoughtless, and just as difficult as she is. The oblivious victim and the undetected perpetrator gradually find ways of getting closer to one another, with their meeting becoming a new start for both of them. By refusing to throw any light on her psychology, the film retains its protagonist’s sense of mystery, expressed not least by her wonderfully impenetrable face.

CAMPING SAUVAGE(Wild Camp, Christophe Ali, Nicolas Bonilauri, France 2005, 24. & 27.10.) The rebellious 17-year-old Camille (Isild Le Besco) is bored by the camping holiday she's on with her parents and their barman friend. In order to have a bit of fun, she provocatively puts her charms on show at the campsite and very much overeggs the pudding in the process: platform shoes, mini skirt, swinging hips, heavy pout. Yet what looks like late onset puberty is actually about escaping a dreary lower middle class future. When Blaise is hired as a sailing teacher, a misfit family father twice her age with money problems (Denis Lavant), sparks fly between the two of them and a passionate love affair begins under the watchful eyes of the permanent campers. A film with magical moments of total infatuation and shades of a Western, road movie, and Shakespearean love drama.

À TOUT DE SUITE (Right Now, Benoît Jacquot, France 2004, 25. & 31.10.) Paris 1975. An art student (Isild Le Besco) from an upper class background falls in love with a Moroccan, who is revealed to be a criminal. After a failed bank robbery, she is suddenly plunged into an adventurous flight across Europe with him and his accomplices. But her dream of love ends abruptly at Athens airport. It is there that he walks out on her, leaving her entirely by herself in the unfamiliar city. This gangster ballad shot in black and white avoids the youthful high spirits and promises of freedom in comparable Nouvelle Vague films in order to concentrate on the emotional landscape of its protagonist. The handheld camera shows close-ups of her face again and again in an attempt to discover its secret – a face that reveals no feelings and in which freedom cannot be read. (bik)

An event with the friendly support of the Institut français. Thanks to Christine Dollhofer (Crossing Europe, Linz).