In Love and the Forests, adaptation of Éric Reinhardt’s novel, Valérie Donzelli exposes in the form of a psychological thriller the ravages of toxic masculinity in a seemingly perfect couple.

While in Éric Reinhardt’s novel, Love and the Forests (Gallimard, 2014), Bénédicte Ombredanne is doomed to a sad fate, in Valérie Donzelli’s version (War is declared), the future is announced immediately brighter for the renowned heroine Blanche Renard – the filmmaker finding the original name “horrible, not at all cinematic or romantic”.

“In life in general and when I make a film, I always need to move towards the light,” explains the director, met during her visit to the Cinemania French-speaking film festival earlier this month. It was important to me that the film was bright. Besides, when I read the book, I saw the potential from a psychological thriller point of view, but for me, it was obvious that she had to get through it and that she should not not suffer the same horrible fate. I wanted her to come out on her own and for it to be a path of emancipation. »

In addition to following a different trajectory, the female character described as a delicate, almost insignificant little brunette, transforms into a sunny and sensual blonde, played by Virginie Efira, for whom Valérie Donzelli wrote the film.

“From the start, I told Audrey Diwan, with whom I wrote the screenplay, that I wanted it to be the same actress who played the two sisters, but we couldn’t let that take us out of the film. I felt like I had two actresses on set. »

In the novel, the twin sisters are completely different and the second sister, Rose, only appears at the end and not at the beginning of the story, as in the film. Furthermore, the figure of the writer, to whom the heroine tells her story, has been replaced by a lawyer (Dominique Reymond).

“What I found interesting is that she is a reflection of herself, that Blanche is both Rose and Rose is both Blanche. The film is quite mental, I wanted us to be in the head of the victim. This story of sisters was in that direction. I also wanted to keep the idea of ​​speech being freed and listened to. With Audrey, we tried to keep the writer, but it was impossible because when she tells him her story, the story has already started. And we wanted to show how it’s made. She obviously had to tell it to someone else, and so we said to ourselves that she had to tell it to the courts. »

To play the husband, Grégoire Lamoureux, an unspeakable narcissistic pervert, the filmmaker set her sights on Melvil Poupaud, who had never revealed his dark side so much on screen. “He then played a somewhat similar character in the latest Woody Allen. I found it interesting because it’s not expected. When we see it, we are seduced, and little by little, we become afraid. We see the wickedness, the madness, whatever. »

In order to tell this story of influence, Valérie Donzelli opted for an elliptical and non-linear form. She also favored sequence shots: “When I edited the film, with Pauline Gaillard, I immediately understood that we had to work on the ellipse and tear out bits of the story and put them in other places. places to tell memories. »

Despite the pleasure experienced while filming Love and the Forests, which Éric Reinhardt adores, according to the filmmaker, Valérie Donzelli could not forget the increase in reported cases of domestic violence and feminicide, in France as everywhere else.

“One of the great struggles of the 21st century is to say loud and clear that toxic masculinity exists and that it must stop. The balance of power and domination exists because we are afraid of our own inferiority. Blanche is sunny, cultured, beautiful; she has everything going for her, except she doesn’t realize it. Grégoire loves her like a trophy and his fear is that she will escape him. When I think about it, it’s horrible! It’s trying, making a film like that. With Audrey, every time we read the script, we were exhausted. With Pauline, every time we watched the film, it was an ordeal. »