“I will always talk about women”

Film focus and interview-exchange with Marie-Elsa Sgualdo.

By Anne Oswald

By Anne Oswald

Marie-Elsa Sgualdo presented her four short film at Watershed: Vas-y je t’aime, Bam Tchak (2010), On the beach (2012), Man kann nicht Alles auf einmal tun, aber Mann kann Alles auf einmal lassen (2012). Encounters’ second “Filmmaker focus” gave the audience the opportunity to watch her shorts in sequence, and ask questions about the work she has done so far, and her future projects. Encounters has been honoured that Marcel Müller, from SwissFilms, attended the festival for the Swiss Focus. He personally introduced this emerging talent. Marie-Elsa graduated from the Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design de Genève, a school she deliberately chose for being in contact with various kinds of artistic expressions. She also appreciated the openness of this school which always supports new ways of filming. To achieve her education in script writing, she attended the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle in Brussels.

What does it mean to be young today? A recurring and unspoken question for Marie-Elsa Sgualdo, who is particularly interested in the process of growing old. “Kids are spontaneous and authentic; they don’t care about their image”. Like raw diamonds, they embody innocence and they carry a fascinating potential. “I like to see what they become, says Marie Elsa, “this is why it is so exciting to direct them”. Challenging as well. An instinctive woman she always found her actors on the street, so don’t be surprised if one day, wandering around Geneva or Lausanne, a charming director invites you for an audition!

“I will always talk about women”, asserts Marie-Elsa, and there is not a shadow of a doubt about it. Focusing on a feminine point of view, her work raises the question of what it is to be a woman today. As a woman, she experiences it in all the small struggles of her daily life. Is it hard to be a female director? “Of course the way people perceive you, of course you need to gain the respect of your peers, but it is not much of a problem”.  She definitely likes breaking stereotypes.

Using her shoulder camera as magnifying glass, Marie-Elsa literally lets the viewer inside the picture. Emotions on the edge (“à fleur de peau”  as a French speaker would say), you get close enough to feel the texture of skins: oblique light, goose bumps, tears, but also spots and small imperfections due to teenage. “I want to show imperfections. We have to cross this line to see the people’s beauty. Every age has its own beauty”.

Yet beautiful, all her characters hide a weak side, a crack that makes them walk the tightrope.  “In some ways, we are all wounded; we are all magicians of our own lives. We rewrite the story of our lives in order to make it bearable, no matter if you have to lie. I’ve always been amazed by how people find the strength and resources to bounce back”.

by Jon Craig

by Jon Craig

Man kann nicht Alles auf einmal tun, aber Mann kann Alles auf einmal lassen is her latest short, which is in competition at Encounters this year.  A patchwork of archived extracts from the Swiss radio and television, Marie-Elsa recalls her mother’s story, poetically narrated by Julia Perazzini. At first, she tried to film it in a classic way, but quickly realised it would be impossible to make it work out. “I needed the right distance that only the use of already existing pictures  allowed”. When she started writing, she already had a database of images awaiting in her memory, so it actually didn’t take too much time to stitch it up. Smiling, she confesses that her grandmother looked like Brigitte Bardot, so she knew exactly where to go.Easily transferable to life today, her story stresses the fact that it is pretty hard to be a couple, and even harder to make it last.

Currently working on a biopic, Marie-Elsa Sgualdo will leave aside the short format for some time. Then, Marcel Müller asks the question on everybody’s lips: is she flipping a page, or will she ever again direct a short? Humbly, the director answers that she first would like to trial herself on a long feature. As an open ending, she declares that “short films are such a convenient way to experiment with new things”.

by Julie B