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
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
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
"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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