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BERLINALE 2020 Competition

Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond • Directors of My Little Sister

“We are always cleaning our friendship garden”

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- BERLINALE 2020: We talked to Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond, the directorial duo behind the main competition title My Little Sister

Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond  • Directors of My Little Sister

In My Little Sister [+see also:
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interview: Stéphanie Chuat and Véroniq…
film profile
]
, starring Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger as twins Lisa and Sven, forced to deal with a serious illness, Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond make a case for finding your soul mate, which is something they have already achieved themselves, as Cineuropa found out. The film has screened in competition at the 70th Berlin Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: How do you work together? Every time co-directors are asked that particular question, they share a different story. And you actually grew up together, too!
Véronique Reymond:
From the beginning, we shared a passion for theatre, ever since we were kids. We were staging these little shows, also in the streets, and then it became a profession. We started out as actresses, but we enjoyed being creative together, without ever deciding who would be doing what, as for us it’s always evolving – that’s the best way for such a relationship to stay fresh. We have our own, separate lives, but it’s a strong connection. When you are able to share your life with someone you can call your soul mate, it makes it more joyful, I think. I like sitting on a bus with her, looking at people and inventing stories about their lives. We can spend the whole afternoon doing just that.

Stéphanie Chuat: We can have pretty intense discussions sometimes. One of the things about this long-term partnership is that we have learnt to use each other’s strengths. We are very different; we excel at different things, and in this world, which can be so egotistical sometimes, it’s a real gift. I think we show it in all of our movies, this importance of sharing a bond like that between Lisa and Sven. We have known each other for more than 30 years, but we are always cleaning our “friendship garden”. It’s important to keep it pure.

It’s funny that Lisa starts to work on a play about Hansel and Gretel, and here they both are, with picture-perfect Switzerland standing in for dark woods from the tale.
SC:
In Switzerland, we have many boarding schools like the one in the film [run by Lisa’s husband], places that almost seem “sterile”. We were interested in talking about it because we live in this country, we see these kinds of people, and yet we never come into contact with them at all. So at least now we got to investigate a bit. We liked the contrast between that and Lisa’s inner conflict, and we wanted our camera to reflect her restlessness.

VR: You can get lost in the beauty, too. You could be much happier in some messy apartment, like the one belonging to Lisa’s mother. It’s a love story, but one between a brother and a sister, which means they can’t separate, they can’t divorce. The only thing that can stand between them is illness or death. But real separation also means that you have to grow up. That’s interesting for our characters.

Nina Hoss is very good at not showing too much and yet conveying an awful lot. Is that something you appreciated as well?
VR:
We saw her in Christian Petzold’s Barbara [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
and really loved her performance. It’s true, she is very subtle in the way she expresses everything. For her, less is always more, and we are the same way. Which is why we felt we could go on this journey with her.

You both come from the theatre, but when people want to express this passion in film, in many cases it just falls flat. Was it a challenge?
SC:
It was, because many people, producers or financiers, were very scared of it. But we are coming from the inside, following Sven – an actor who feels more alive on stage than at any other moment in his life. Michel Bouquet, who was in our first feature, The Little Room [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Véronique Reymond, Stéphan…
film profile
]
, was 83 years old at the time and said: “I want to act until I die; I want to die on stage.” It’s not a “film about theatre” – it’s just something that’s in Sven’s heart. And then it turns into a story about this family.

And about self-realisation? Virginia Woolf said that every woman needs “a room of her own”, but Lisa only has a wall, covered with Post-its.
VR:
Her brother got to live out his dream before he got sick. But she quit hers because of her family and to become this “first lady” of the boarding school, suddenly realising that she is in the wrong place. This is her journey back to her real self, even if it’s more risky, also financially. As women, we all know this feeling. Suddenly, you have children and a husband, and it begins to be a question of who is more successful, who is making more. It’s always about the money. Women are expected to step back, and then the career they always wanted never comes. We have friends like that, and they are really frustrated.

SC: Lisa is a mother, so she is in charge of her kids. When she chooses her own creativity, there is all this guilt that comes with it. In Switzerland, that’s what society tells you to do – a mother takes care of the children, full stop. She has this part to play, until she just can’t play it no more.

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