Cannes Film Fest 2023: Mona Achache’s Little Girl Blue, Starring Oscar Winner Marion Cotillard

Mona Achache’s Little Girl Blue, which is based on the French filmmaker’s own mother, world premiered at Cannes Special Screenings

Marion Cotillard
Courtesy of Andreas Rentz/Getty Images Entertainment

The director insisted that lead actor Marion Cotillard stay in character even on her tea break. “I don’t see a director and an actor as being in relationships of manipulation. It’s more a collaboration,” says the Oscar winner. “It happened to me only once where I felt that I was being manipulated by a director, and I really didn’t like that.”

Marion Cotillard and Mona Achache, director of “Little Girl Blue,” at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cottilard draws a distinction between what could be described as “manipulation” and an “experience of surrender,” in her words, that an actor has to go through in order to embody a character. “

“Surrender is something that you really need to go through when you’re an actor,” she explains. “You surrender to the character, you surrender to the story, and you surrender to the creator, the director. But it needs to have, for me, a harmony that I don’t think you can find in manipulation.”

At the start of “Little Girl Blue,” we see Mona Achache initiate the process by which Cotillard metamorphizes into the director’s mother, photographer and writer Carole Achache.

The actor strips to her underwear and then the filmmaker hands Cotillard her mother’s clothes, jewelry and glasses, and gives her contact lenses to change her eyes to the correct color and wig to complete the transformation. She even asks the actor to spray herself with her mother’s perfume.

Marion Cotillard as Carole Achache in Mona Achache’s “Little Girl Blue.”

The process is an attempt by Mona to understand why her mother committed suicide, at the age of 63, and find out who she really was as  person.

When Carole died on March 1, 2016, she left no note, but she had stored 25 crates with thousands of letters and photos, audio recordings, notebooks, and annotated diaries.

Using these, and by employing Cotillard to play her mother, the filmmaker attempts to retrace her mother’s journey through life.

She scrutinizes Carole’s relationship with her own mother, novelist and screenwriter Monique Lange, whom Carole had written about in her 2011 book titled “Fille De” (“Daughter Of”), trying to understand their pathological relationship.

She is piecing together fragments of memories, written contemplation about decisions and behavior, and the examination of recorded conversations and photographs, placed alongside the filmed conversations between Cotillard, playing Carole, with friends of her mother’s about past events.

Some of these incidents were traumatic, describing the manipulation of young women by morally corrupt men and the mothers who failed to protect their daughters from abuse.

Marion Cotillard as photographer and writer Carole Achache in “Little Girl Blue.”

Cotillard notes: “There was something very deep and touching about this lineage of women, and Mona’s quest to understand her mother through bringing her back to life. I thought that was very touching and very interesting, and I was just very deeply moved by the character of Carole.”

Talking about the relationship between daughters and mothers, and the past and the present, Cotillard says: “If a pathology has been in a family for a long time, and you don’t put your energy into cleaning it up, to look at the trauma and the fear in the eyes in order to say: ‘Stop! I don’t want this to happen anymore,’ it will reproduce itself.”

“Carole did that with her mother by writing a book about her, because she wanted to put an end to something that is not a curse but that goes on and on because it’s not taken care of.”

The film addresses the “very complex and twisted relationship that this lineage of women has with men, either very powerful men, and in a way harmful, or, on the other side, very weak men overwhelmed by the power of these women. And it’s beautiful the way Mona is trying, as her mother did too, to face things, and try to understand them; to face the trauma and the fear to put an end to it. Carole wrote a book and Mona is making a film, and I think it’s a beautiful process of reconciliation and hopefully healing.”

However, she adds: “I would see things in Carole that Mona had difficulty seeing because of this very special relationship between a mother and a daughter. I would see a lot of love being shown by Carole to her kids, when Mona had a hard time seeing her mom giving her love when she was a kid.

“It was really interesting for Mona to have this person she didn’t really know taking on her mother’s personality, and having another vision, another understanding of who this person was.”

A pivotal scene in the film is when Carole has sex with the owner of a restaurant in New York, and then takes $20 from him. She realizes that a line has been crossed, morally, and that her self-respect has been compromised by this transaction.

“When nobody teaches you respect, and, first of all, the respect for yourself, and when you’re raised by a mother who will push you into the arms of older men when you are 11, 13, the respect and the self-respect is totally disrupted, twisted. It’s really hard for a person to build a personality and reach the respect of oneself when the relationship is perverted.

“Carole’s mother loved her, she wanted the best for her, but she had her own issues. She didn’t see that what she did to her, to her own daughter, was really, really wrong. In a way she offered her daughter to this famous writer [Jean Genet] and his lover, and it destroyed Carole.

“But what was very ambiguous is that it was explained to her [by her mother] that it was a chance for her to be in this environment of great artists and great thinkers, and Carole came to believe it. She believed that Jean Genet built her personality, but at the same time he destroyed her. So how can you respect yourself when there was a lack of respect from your mother, while [the relationship] is presented in the shape of love. It’s really hard to build yourself and evolve with that twisted double message: This is a chance for you to be there [with these intellectual icons], and at the same time, this is where you’re going to be destroyed, and nobody tells you that is wrong. And especially your mother who should be the one to protect you, but instead puts you in that position where you lose something that is essential for your self-esteem, and your sexual journey in life.”

Mona contrives a meeting between her and her mother, where she quizzes her about her own childhood trauma. “Mona was molested, and Carole was not there to protect her, which is heavy guilt that she has,” Cotillard explains.

The silence that surrounds an abuse is also found in many other social groups, whether it is a family, a community or friends, she says. “But you don’t want to talk about it because it will destroy a family and other people. It will shake to destruction relationships that are constructed around the fact that you’re not saying anything about just one person being destroyed by sexual assault. Unfortunately, it’s a very common process.”