Jacques Doillon, France, 1996


Ponette knows that her mother has died, but her dad wants to makes sure that she understands that she is really gone, and in doing so comes faces to face with his own helplessness and despair. In this scene, just as in the film, everything lies on the shoulders of the young actress who plays Ponette. We must believe in the emotions that she is experiencing, and for her to believe in it, she has to really feel the emotions. Jacques Doillon wanted to avoid fake psychology, putting adults’ words in kids’ mouth and using fake tears in this delicate face to face encounter between the dad and his daughter, which has to be absolutely truthful. To begin with, he sets the scene in the real world: the landscape and the light at the end of the day, each of great beauty, contribute to influence the spectator’s emotional response. Then, whilst talking about this very serious matter, the little girl performs a precise series of moves: she climbs on the car roof and slides down the windscreen several times. She is weighed down by a cast that annoys her, which the film-maker chose to make Ponette more real: seen in its whole, it is a game, a ceremony, a catharsis. Ponette’s peculiar gymnastics work in opposition to the seriousness of the scene and appear to be a deliberate act of avoidance on her part, giving great truthfulness to this scene: beyond the terrible words being said, the mechanical nature of the moves, their repetition enables the emotion to exist, and prevents the little actress being overwhelmed by the reality of the situation: Ponette cries, hiccups and spits for real to ward death off. This difficult sequence was filmed in two takes, and not meshed in with the story, standing alone in the narrative: situated at the very beginning of the film, it was filmed at the very beginning of the shooting and then again at the end, so that by the end of the shoot, the little girl had become an actress, putting her effects to the service of the character she embodies.