By Anna Weinstein.
Everyone thinks the teenage years are going to be so cool and wonderful, but it’s complicated… So I took this as an opportunity to write my film, and that helped me get through that time.”
Suzanne Lindon’s coming-of-age film Spring Blossom (2020) is an intimate story about sixteen-year-old “Suzanne,” who explores her romantic feelings for a man more than twice her age. First-time director Lindon wrote the script when she was fifteen and stars in the leading role. She is the daughter of French actors Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain.
Described by Screen Daily as “fresh, honest and engaging,” and by The Hollywood Reporter as “provocative and original,” Spring Blossom reads as an important debut film for a filmmaker with a promising career ahead of her. Beautifully serene and confident, the film premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and was an official selection at Cannes. Anna Weinstein spoke with Lindon (born in 2000) about her cinematic influences, her interests in exploring the complicated subject of romance between a teenage girl and older man, and her creative process.
I see a lot of Sofia Coppola in your film. Are you inspired by her work?
Oh yes, I’m a huge fan of her work. That is the best compliment. When I was thirteen, I discovered her films, first The Virgin Suicides and then Lost in Translation. She has a very artistic sense of light and images, and she films young girls in a way where she shows just how complicated it is. There’s a line in The Virgin Suicides, actually, the little sister is at the shrink and she says, “You don’t know what it’s like to be a thirteen-year-old girl.” I remember that really spoke to me – growing up and discovering who you are, it’s supposed to be great, but sometimes it’s much harder than you think. It’s very complicated.
You captured that complication beautifully, your character discovering herself. She’s sixteen in the film?
Yes, I was eighteen when we started shooting, but the character is sixteen. But when I was thinking about the images of my film, about what I wanted it to look like and the colors, I was inspired by Sofia Coppola. I wanted something very girly, very pink, very soft – something that made me think about springtime.
It’s interesting, this thematic construct of her blossoming into adulthood by spending time with an older man. Were you concerned at all about exploring this subject – a teenage girl and an older man?
No because my character, Suzanne, she is the one in control. I wanted to talk about the idea that she needs to escape her daily routine. So yes, she meets this guy who’s older than her, but they connect together – and even though they’re not the same age, they can understand each other. It was very important for me to talk about relationships this way because I wanted something pure in their connection, something with poetry and modesty. She’s sixteen and we’re following her and being with her in her intimacy, knowing her body. It’s almost like reading a diary that she might write.
But visual rather than in words. How would you describe what she might write in her diary?
That she’s bored. That is the truth. When I was in high school, I felt like a misfit because I was very at ease with my friends, I was happy with them, but I was also bored. And I was a dreamer. My friends, they really liked to be in the group, always together, but I was not part of the gang. I was very much lonely, and I sometimes wanted to be lonely. I needed to think about stuff on my own.
This idea of teenage boredom is fascinating, what teens turn to when they’re bored with their peers or their school.
Yes, because everyone thinks the teenage years are going to be so cool and wonderful, but it’s complicated. And it can be very hard. It’s a special time, you know? You’re not a child anymore, but you’re not a grown up yet. You don’t know who you will become, but you want to be someone you’ll be proud of. I think being bored allowed me to learn who I was. I discovered myself by being bored with people my age. So I took this as an opportunity to write my film, and that helped me get through that time.
Did you write the script with the goal of directing the film?
Initially, when I started to write, this was actually because I wanted to act in the film. I’ve always known that I wanted to act, my parents are actors. But slowly, I discovered that I really loved writing and directing too.
Did that feel like a big responsibility? To take on everything – writing, directing, and acting?
Weirdly, I felt reassured that I could control everything, that I was creating something that could really look like me. It was my way to make an artistic gesture, to express myself. It was always a movie in my head.
Had you ever acted before that?
No, never. That was the first time.
Since your parents are both actors, I’m curious how they responded when you first started this project.
Actually, I told him very late in the process. I met my producer, Caroline Bonmarchand, and very slowly we started to build something, and I think after I discovered that it might really happen, that’s when I talked to my parents. So they discovered the movie at the end of the process. When we heard that the film was selected to Cannes, I organized a showing for them.
Considering you were still a teenager while you were shooting, that was a mature choice not to engage your parents in the process. How do you explain that?
Well, I don’t really know, but this process, making the film, it was my way to break up with my parents in a way. It was very important to me to do this on my own. In France, my parents are quite famous because they’re always playing in movies. And the French culture associates people to people, and I didn’t want to be my parents’ daughter forever. I really wanted to be me, and this is why I decided to create my own movie. So I don’t know if it’s mature, but when you’re doing something artistic, like writing a book or a song or a movie, you need to be honest and sincere, otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. So for me, I think I had to create this by myself for it to be a sincere reflection of me. I love my parents, and I cared about the feeling they had for the film, but I had to do it on my own.
Did you grow up watching a lot of films? Any other films or filmmakers who influenced you?
My parents made me watch films when I was very little, and I’ve seen a lot of different movies, some that have nothing to do with mine, but still I know they influenced me. One of my favorite movies is Kramer vs Kramer. I saw it again recently with my brother and my dad, and I was just crying and crying. It really had an effect on me. I’ve been inspired by these kinds of nice and respectful relationships in films, the fact that people can be deeply touched by other people. I also love a movie titled Running on Empty by Sidney Lumet.
Sure, a movie literally about a teenager deciding to almost divorce himself from his parents.
Yes! And that complexity of being a teenage boy, because for River Phoenix, who played this teenage boy stuck between his dad and mom and his first love, he doesn’t know what to do. I’ve been always inspired by young characters in movies, by the fact that very young people can deliver a powerful message to the screen.
There are so few female directors. Was that something that concerned you, whether you would be taken seriously as a filmmaker?
Well, actually, I think I was worried not about being a female director but being a very young director. I was scared about my age because I wanted people to trust me and respect me. My producer, she trusted me and believed in the project, but when we started to ask for money, I was scared not to be taken seriously because I just finished high school. I understood that people could be a little worried to trust a young person to write and direct. So for me, it was more complicated to be young than to be a girl.
You mentioned that you were lonely as a teenager. Lonely but not sad? This comes through in the film, which I think is a really lovely distinction.
Yes, that was conscious, because when I was sixteen, most of the time I was alone, but I wasn’t sad or depressed. I was just by myself, and I was exploring life. I was observing people, and I was building myself as a young woman. I think everyone needs that time to discover who they are. So, I wanted to write about this young woman who, yes she was lonely, but that was a time when she could grow into herself. You know, sometimes you’re not surrounded by people, and these are precious moments, even though you might not understand that they’re precious, you have to see that they can be a time for growth.
Most teenagers today, when they’re alone, they’re with their phones or social media. But you didn’t examine that piece of contemporary reality. She was actually alone.
My producer, when I was first talking to her about my ideas, she saw a huge opportunity that I could talk to my generation. Because I’m from a weird generation with the social media and the way we rely on that to communicate. I wanted to see what would happen, how this couple could communicate in real life, with no social media, no phones, no computers. My producer believed in that. I started to think about how the couple can have their own sensuality, the idea of making them dance together, maybe this wouldn’t happen if they could communicate through social media. And my producer was very supportive. It was great to work with her.
How did you meet her?
It was on holiday – we just ran into each other in the street and started talking. I discovered she was a producer, and she discovered I was writing the film. And so she read the script and liked it, and then we started to work together. It was interesting because she let me be totally free. She was there, just to check that everything was okay. She was very nice to me. She made me feel that my age was my strength more than anything else. I was sixteen when I met her. But this was rare, I think, because some adults would think I was too young to do something as huge as this, but she was the opposite. She was happy I was so young.
This would have been 2016 when you were developing the script, before the MeToo movement. Were you concerned at all with the publicity of the movement and the subject matter of your film?
I always say the film has nothing to do with the MeToo movement. It just doesn’t have anything to do with the mission movement. It’s very pure and platonic, and she’s the one who wants him. She decides, and she’s a little obsessed with him. Really, it’s a movie about two lost souls who are finding each other and discovering things about life. This romance, it ends up giving her hope and strength to go back to her life. I think it’s really important to see the movie this way. A lot of young people, they have a little crush on someone older. I think it’s normal, it’s part of the construction of someone, you know? So it’s very important to talk about things like this in films, these kinds of crushes and experiences, because it’s natural.
I love that you’re not wearing a lot of makeup or have your hair done. I like the simplicity of the way you present yourself on screen.
This is how I am in life – I don’t wear makeup, and my hair is like this. When I was sixteen, my friends were loving makeup and they were always taking about dresses. But I think it’s important to assert your personality. I wanted to do this in the film. I wanted her to be a character I’m proud of. She’s not influenced by anything, not by her friends or the guy she loves. This is important, because when you’re a teenager sometimes you’re influenced by a group of people, and this can be very dangerous. I’ve been lucky to remain myself. So this is why I have the very simple clothes and hair, no makeup. Officially this is like me.
What are you working on now?
I’m shooting two French films this summer, as an actress. I think I’m going to write something else very soon, but for now I’m just waiting for my movie to come out. It’s a weird period, the waiting. I feel like I’m still pregnant, and I have to carry my baby a little longer, and then I will have another one. When I can see the film in the movie theater, when it’s released everywhere, then I will be totally free to think about another story. But for now, I’m too obsessed by this one to think about something else.
Spring Blossom opens in select theaters May 21.
The Diva Directors interview series has appeared both online and in the print editions of Film International. To date, the series has included interviews with internationally acclaimed filmmakers Gillian Armstrong (Australia), Susanne Bier (Denmark), Isabel Coixet (Spain), Cristina Comencini (Italy), Anne Fontaine (France), Marleen Gorris (The Netherlands), Caroline Link (Germany), Claudia Llosa (Peru), Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (Pakistan), Bettina Oberli (Switzerland), Patricia Riggen (Mexico), Kirsten Sheridan (Ireland), and Susanna White (England).
Anna Weinstein is a screenwriter and frequent contributor to Film International. She teaches screen and television writing at Kennesaw State University.