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Docu-fiction at London Film Festival: Little Girl Blue and Ramona

Docu-fiction at London Film Festival: Little Girl Blue and Ramona

Acting is becoming someone else and inhabiting them convincingly. Rarely do we see that process in such close-up, unfiltered detail as in Little Girl Blue.

Director Mona Achache lost her mother Carole – a respected French writer –  to suicide in 2016. Needing to process her feelings, and to investigate what led her to that desperate place, she hires Oscar-winning actor Marion Cotillard to bring her back to life. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Mona sits across from Marion and hands her a clutch of her mother’s items: a sweater, necklace, rings, glasses, perfume. She gives her contact lenses, to change her blue eyes to Carole’s brown. One by one, slowly and emotionlessly, we watch Marion don the belongings, transforming before our eyes. When the process is complete, it appears the actress has disappeared completely.

Throughout the rest of the film, Marion is our fascia for Carole; we watch her lip synch to the many tapes Mona has of her mother’s voice, and vivify her numerous writings. We learn of the difficult relationship she had with her own mother, Monique, who loved her deeply and yet still introduced her to Jean Genet, who abused Carole as a child. We learn about the affect that abuse had on her relationships with other men, and on her own sense of self.

Whilst we’re always aware that we’re watching Marion Cotillard and not actually Carole Achache – sometimes we see Cotillard stumble over her words while she’s lip-synching, or walking in front of an obviously rear-projected background – she’s still able to bring this tormented woman to life in a way that seems almost otherworldly. Little Girl Blue is so deeply personal a project that sometimes it’s hard to get an emotional foothold, but even when that’s a struggle, watching Cotillard work her craft at such a high level in such an unconventional project remains a privilege.

Although not as intensely personal, Ramona, by Dominican director Victoria Linares Villegas, is also a work of docufiction. In her film, Camila (Camila Santana) is an actress rehearsing for the role of a pregnant 15-year-old. Feeling unsure how to approach the part, she undertakes a research mission in which she interviews a host of young Dominican women who had babies during their teens, asking them about their lives, childhoods, and regrets.

In the best parts of Ramona, Camila gets these young women to watch her acting, and give her direction, asserting the truth of their own lives so the actor can represent it more honestly. They act their own scenes too, expressing themselves, and exercising authority in a manner they’re often not able to do in their patriarchal society. Through both the acting exercises and the more conventional interviews, we learn of childhoods ended sometimes as young as eight, when some of these girls began taking on the housekeeping for their families; and men who regard all women as nothing more than maids and baby incubators.

It may paint a depressing portrait of what it means to be a woman in the Dominican Republic, but Ramona offers hope in the teen mums’ togetherness and community (despite everything, this is a film with a lot of laughs), and their evident resilience. Though they are very different projects, both Little Girl Blue and Linares Villegas’ movie use docufiction techniques to provide their female protagonists a way of achieving a real form of catharsis.

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