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BERLINER, ALAIN

LIFE'S NO DRAG FOR BELGIAN DIRECTOR
Ma Vie En Rose won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film, so its omission from the 1998 Oscar nominations is nothing short of a shock: the film’s director, Alain Berliner, talks to Paul Fischer, on the eve of the film’s Australian release.

When first-time feature director Alain Berliner stepped up to receive his Golden Globe Award last month, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that his disarming comedy/drama would be a shoe-in for a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Nobody was more amazed than Berliner himself when the film was passed over by the Academy. "I was really surprised, because a lot of people told me that when you get a Golden Globe for Best Foreign picture, at least you'd get a NOMINATION for the Academy Award. So we don't really understand what happened. The only explanation I can come up with is that the subject matter, especially the portrayal of the mother towards the end, was too tough for some members of the Academy." He adds that he "remains surprised and deceived" by what had happened, especially in view of the film's glowing reviews and strong box office performance in the US. "For that reason the industry was as surprised as I was."

The film revolves around Pierre (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) and Hanna (Michele Laroque), who, along with their four children, have just moved into a nice house in a suburban Paris neighbourhood. Three of the kids are normal and well-adjusted, but the fourth, Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne), a seven year old boy, is showing "alarming" tendencies. His favourite toys are Barbie-like dolls, he expresses a desire to marry a male classmate when he "grows up and becomes a girl," and he shows up at a party dressed like a pink princess. His mother, convinced that this is a harmless phase, tries to be as supportive as possible, but when pressure from unsympathetic and narrow-minded neighbours mounts, she begins to turn on Ludovic. Meanwhile, Pierre doesn't know how best to cope with his son's tendencies, and Ludovic's sometimes-embarrassing displays of femininity threaten to derail his career.

"Maybe this is the story of all of us, that suddenly we're not exactly normal"

Ludovic can't understand what the fuss is about. After all, everything seems clear to him. When God was giving out chromosomes, his second "X" (of the "XX" pair that signifies a female) was lost in the trash and he somehow got stuck with a "Y" instead (for the male "XY" pair). As a result, he's a "girlboy," but, when he grows up, he's convinced that he'll be a woman. So why shouldn't he wear makeup and dresses, and play with dolls? And why is it wrong if he arranges a mock marriage with a boy in his class? When his parents and his schoolmates react angrily, he doesn't understand their surprise, discomfort, and rage. He just wants to do what feels right, yet everyone hates him for it.

The film is based on the real-life experiences of the film's female co-writer, Chris vander Stappen. "She's a woman who thinks she should be a man, since her first birthday. She wrote that story, reversing the situation," say Berliner. But Ma Vie en Rose is clearly more than a film about sexual confusion, though that theme is certainly prevalent. "I saw it as a movie about difference, about how a child feels normal from his point of view, suddenly discovered that he's NOT normal. Maybe this is the story of all of us, that suddenly we're not exactly normal, because our parents had certain expectations from us. I felt connected with that subject, even if I never ask myself, consciously, am I a boy or a girl. But I'm certain that at some point, subconsciously, I ask myself, and maybe I wanted to see the female side, particularly since society doesn't allow you to show it."

"As society turns on him... I wanted the colours to become more tarnished."

Ma Vie en Rose, as its title suggests, plays around with colour, beginning visually bright and then darkening out. It's an effective cinematic device that Berliner felt important to use. "At the beginning of the movie, Ludovic sees the world through rose coloured glasses, he's incredibly pure, believing very strongly that he's perfectly normal. But as society turns on him, and he's made to realise that, according to society, he's not normal, I wanted the colours to become more tarnished."

Berliner is genuinely surprised at the enormous reaction the film has received. "Obviously, when you're working on your first feature, you don't think about such things; I'm still amazed that it's performed so well. I can only assume that audiences recognise its universality."

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