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Filming Natalie Portman’s thriller

French director Rebecca Zlotowski speaks to Yael Brender about working with Natalie Portman, the excitement of the Venice Film Festival and her future film projects.

Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp star in 'Planetarium'.
Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp star in 'Planetarium'.

French director Rebecca Zlotowski has been in Australia promoting her latest film, Planetarium. She speaks to Yael Brender about working with Natalie Portman, the excitement of the Venice Film Festival and her future film projects.

FRENCH filmmaker Rebecca Zlotowski has been spending her time in Sydney marvelling at Australian icons such as the Sydney Opera House that she’s only seen in her favourite Aussie films.

She was Down Under as a guest of the Alliance Française French Film Festival for its gala openings in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this month, where her latest film, Planetarium starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp, screened. 

In Planetarium, Portman and Depp play sisters living in prewar Europe who believe that they have the power to communicate with the dead, and are drawn into a disturbing private séance with a studio head making a ghost film.

Planetarium was a difficult film to make, because there is a real secret past connected to every story,” Zlotowski told The AJN.

“I feel that the rise of anti-Semitism in France at the time I was writing the film contaminated my story. We were experiencing very dark moments.”

The making of the film was bookended by two horrific real-life events – the Hypercacher kosher supermarket siege and the Bataclan theatre massacre, which occurred during the film’s wrap party and caused the cast and crew to go into involuntary lockdown. 

“It was a real, dark echo of the subject of the film,” said Zlotowski.

Portman has wanted to star in a French film for some time, being connected to France by her marriage to choreographer Benjamin Millepied and her interest in working with emerging female European filmmakers.

“I was lucky that Natalie and I were already friends, and that she knew my earlier work,” said Zlotowski. “It became clear early on for me that I was writing the part for her. 

“I met Lily-Rose Depp when she was 15. Natalie sent me a picture of her and tipped me off to her talent. I liked the fact that Natalie chose her own sister. There was a visible connection between the two of them that I loved filming.”

Rebecca Zlotowski.

Zlotowski has an intimate relationship with film critics, saying that she feels film criticism shapes cinematic knowledge in much the same way that filmmakers do.

“Filmmaking is sometimes very lonely, so when I feel comprehension and appreciation from critics it helps me to feel understood and supported,” she said. “If critics hadn’t liked my first film, Belle Épine, I don’t think I would have been able to make a second film.”

Belle Épine won the Louis Delluc Prize for Best First Film in 2010 and was nominated for the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Zlotowski’s second film, Grand Central, won the François Chalais Prize at Cannes two years later, as well as the Cabourg Film Festival’s grand prize and the special jury award at the Lumières Awards.

Planetarium opened at the Venice Film Festival last September to critical acclaim.

“I loved Venice,” Zlotowski enthused. “It was my first time there, and it was nothing like Cannes. In Venice you just go for the films. There’s a very ’60s and ’70s vibe with the celebrities. It’s definitely a festival for stars and it was such a pleasure for me to bring two such beautiful and talented Hollywood actresses to Venice.”

After Venice, the film opened to an equally warm reception in France. In Toronto, however, it garnered mixed reviews but when it premiered in New York, Zlotowski said the response was “amazing”.

“I think that after Trump, the American audience received the film very differently,” Zlotowski half-joked. “I think people understand it better in these political circumstances.”

With three successful dramatic films under her belt, Zlotowski has very different plans for her fourth. 

“My next film will be lighter and more hopeful, in the style of a graphic comic book,” she says.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival takes place in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Parramatta and Casula.

Planetarium screens at the Alliance Française French Film Festival in Sydney until March 30. Bookings: www.affrenchfilmfestival.org.

YAEL BRENDER

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