Director Carine Tardieu: How she grew ‘Dandelions’

Carine Tardieu, director of the acclaimed French film, Dandelions, is that rare adult who hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.

May 25, 2013 23:11
4 minute read.
Director Carine Tardieu (left) seen here with actress Agnes Jaoui on the set of ‘Dandelions.’

Carine Tardieu. (photo credit: Courtesy, PR)

Carine Tardieu, director of the acclaimed French film, Dandelions, is that rare adult who hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.

“When I read the graphic novel [on which the film is based] by Raphaele Moussafir, I thought: I could have written that. It’s unique but also universal.” Moussafir’s book was originally a stage play in which Moussafir, an actress, played all the parts. She then adapted it into a novel, which is geared to adults but can also be read and enjoyed by children. The book and movie tell the story of Rachel, a nine year- old girl in France in the early Eighties, the daughter of a Holocaust-survivor father and a hysterical mother who is a Tunisian-born Jew.

“There were so many things that resonated with me, like the girl and her friend acting out sexual scenarios with their Barbie dolls,” she says, laughing.

“I’m Jewish, my mother’s parents were from Germany and my father Moroccan, but I’m sure I would have loved the book even if I weren’t Jewish.”

But Tardieu did relate to “all the Shoah part. It was very painful for my mother to talk about it with me, she was born in 1939 in France and it wasn’t easy for her. The dynamic of one Ashkenazi parent and one from Morocco was very similar to the book.”

Although the graphic novel inspired her, Tardieu says, “The film is very different from the comic, although the main character [is] Rachel, and you have her parents.

The teacher was the same, too.”

The book was based around Rachel’s therapy sessions, so Tardieu and her coscreenwriter, Oliver Beer, knew they “needed to construct a more dramatic story. So we invented the character of Valerie, Rachel’s friend. In the book, Rachel has a friend but it’s not a big part of it.” The therapist, played by Isabella Rossellini, is an important character in the film.

One aspect of the film that sets it apart from so many other coming-of-age dramas is that Rachel’s parents often make her life difficult but are basically good people.

“They do all the best they can,” Tardieu acknowledges. “But even the best parents are missing things. The mother is always worried, a typical Jewish mother. The father shares things that he shouldn’t share with his daughter, about death. She is so young and can’t understand. They want to be good parents but because they are not happy with their own lives, they can’t.”

Tardieu is extremely grateful to established French leading lady Agnes Jaoui for agreeing to take the decidedly unglamorous role of the mother. Jaoui, an actress/screenwriter/director who has won numerous Cesar awards and shared the screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival for Look at Me (with her co-writer Jean- Pierre Bacri), “has been a very important person for me,” says Tardieu. “She gives everything. She agreed to wear clothes that are not very nice, and to look not so nice in the movie. In the movie, she looks like all of us do, at times. Every woman can identify with her.”

The actresses playing the two children are exceptionally appealing. Tardieu says she saw over 500 girls but “we knew in two minutes when we found them” – Juliette Gombert who plays Rachel and Anna Lemarchand who plays Valerie.

The two girls worked well together.

“When you make a friend like that, you recognize yourself in the other person. It’s like falling in love.”

In terms of some of the more adult scenes and dialogue in the film, Tardieu says, “The girls knew they could ask me some questions. But they didn’t always want to know too much. There’s a line in the screenplay in which a sexual position is mentioned and Juliette asked me about it, and I said, ‘Do you really want to know what it is?’ and she didn’t. Children know what they want to hear and what they don’t want to hear.”

But although the girls have won rave reviews, they aren’t sure they want to act as adults. “Juliette wants to be a veterinarian,” says the director. “It was a great experience for her to do the movie, but children growing up in cinema is not good for their health.”

Tardieu, who grew up seeing movies with her cinema-loving father, studied filmmaking and then worked her way up from a job as a gofer on movie sets, and starting writing short films several years ago.

Not surprisingly, given how beautifully she has worked with children in Dandelions, she cites E.T. as one of her favorite films. And anyone who sees Dandelions will note her affinity for the work of Francois Truffaut.

“I saw a lot of popular films, buddy movies, Westerns, science fiction. Now I’m seeing Ingmar Bergman and all the films I should have seen.”

Dandelions, which opened last year in France, has received both commercial success and critical acclaim. “A lot of people were touched. People told me, ‘I was a Rachel,’” says the director. “Both children and adults love it, which is not surprising since the adults in the film are a little like children. Children want to see it again and again. And everybody grows up in the film.”

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