Go to Saint-Denis, near Paris, place of the shooting, in a bohemian apartment, colorful, furnished with vintage bric-a-brac. We settle in the kitchen. Noémie Merlant, in jeans and teddy jacket, looks us straight in the eyes, which she has deeply blue-gray-green, crossed by light: it crackles in the iris. Porcelain doll complexion, ebony hair, large forehead cleared. From it, emanates an unusual intensity. But the 34-year-old actress evolves neither in the register of the star nor in that of seduction, even less in that of the good girlfriend (the one who will tell you everything but, in the end, will not reveal anything). Rather of the direct kind, as well in doubt as in accuracy, she sometimes ignites in her words or, a contrario, seeks her words.
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One immediately thinks of Portrait of the Girl on Fire, the film by Céline Sciamma which, in 2019, revealed her to the general public and whose title suits her complexion so well. Graceful gestures, soft voice, altier bearing (witness of her young years of dance), she revealed herself as a romantic and volcanic painter. A sensitive and vibrant repertoire that she has embodied since her debut before we discovered, last year, her comic fiber in L'Innocent, by Louis Garrel. Funny, petulant, sparkling, here she is, since this unexpected role, little fiancée of French cinema. We find her in a comedy, A difficult year, by Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, two goldsmiths of French feel good cinema. In the duo's new societal parody, she plays Cactus, a caricatured environmental activist. Its partners? Jonathan Cohen and Pio Marmaï, irresistible as over-indebted losers who will end up fighting alongside him.
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Madame Figaro. – How did you get into this film of the so popular Toledano/Nakache?
Noémie Merlant. – Filming with them was part of my dreams as an actress! When I started this job, it was the time of The Untouchables. This film had upset me. And not just because I saw him with my father, who has also been in a wheelchair since his stroke, but because I remember both my laughter and the myriad emotions that ran through me. Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have this sense of Italian comedy that brings people together in the same momentum, and if they make fun of us, it is always with great tenderness, without ever falling into moralizing. When you see their films, you feel less alone.
In A Difficult Year, they offer you the role of an environmental activist. Do you feel connected to her?
I agree with Cactus, my character, on his generalized anxiety. I am an extremely anxious person, I spend my time asking myself questions about the meaning of life, about the absurdity of our behaviors, including mine... But I didn't really know about activist groups. I met some Extinction Rebellion activists at their HQ to prepare for the role. Some come from beautiful neighborhoods like Cactus, because not everyone has the luxury of asking questions and actively engage, right, left.
Noémie wears a silk bare back top, Louis Vuitton, Intimissimi panties and Blossom rings, in gold and diamonds, Louis Vuitton jewelry. Photo Luc Braquet
The film deals with both consumer crazy and ecological radicals. How do you fit in between?
Ecology obviously touches me, but I feel null, because I am too caught up in addiction to consumption, as if we had been drugged since birth and that, now, we had to get out of it. I see, for example, that we are surrounded by thousands of plastic water bottles... It's absurd. I focus more on other fights, but everything is connected.
Feminism. We should all be feminists, both men and women. And we should all have the same rights, the same opportunities, the same sweetness of life.
The gravity and violence of the time must be balanced by a shared laugh, Nakache and Toledano say of their film. What makes you lighter?
All these movements that are created through social networks to support women or the oppressed of all stripes give me hope. Another positive change is mutual aid and solidarity among women, what is now called sisterhood. We need it, we ran out, and that's changing. Finally, I would say that my friends make me happy. With them, I created a family, they are intelligent and humorous.
I spend my time asking myself questions about the meaning of life
Tell us about filming with Jonathan Cohen and Pio Marmaï...
We laughed a lot. With Eric and Olivier too, they are extremely funny. Often, directors set the tone on a shoot. They have this gift of creating links and they are always in a good mood and tenderness. This shared joy can be felt in their films. Jonathan Cohen, I find him extraordinary. I have no other words. I had a crush on the artist as well as the person. He touches everything: directing, writing, producing, and he is crying with laughter. Pio Marmaï also fascinates me. He is an actor of absolute intensity of play, between depth and lightness, as if he were on a thread permanently. He is reminiscent of Patrick Dewaere.
You're funny too. After L'Innocent, you exercise your comic fiber again, does humor come easily to you?
Frankly, I don't find myself funny at all, but I really admire those who know how to make people laugh, even if we know that they are often very anxious people. I never thought when I was younger that I was a comedian. I did not imagine that I would be expected on this register. But today, I'm a little less afraid to play this score, I love comic roles. By the way, the film I just directed is a comedy.
Noémie Merlant wears an embroidered long dress, Louis Vuitton, minicreoles and a Blossom ring, in rose gold and diamonds, on the right Ring Signet ring in yellow gold, white gold and onyx, Louis Vuitton Joaillerie. Angloma make-up with Charlotte Tilbury products. Hairdressing Étienne Sekola. Manicure Rachel Levy. Luc Braquet / Luc BraquetLuc Braquet
Can you say a few words about that?
I'm very bad at pitches, but I'll try without revealing the movie too much either. It's a horror comedy, a farce. The story of three friends who live together in the same apartment in Marseille, in the middle of a heat wave. Opposite, lives a handsome guy who lives there and he is a bit the object of all their fantasies and desires. One of the girls is secretly very much in love with him, until one day she crosses the street and meets him...
You find Céline Sciamma in the writing of this film, director who revealed you in Portrait of the girl on fire. What does it mean to you?
His film was like a rebirth. A new me was born during the shooting, I opened my eyes to the outside world, but also to what I was inside. I feel a lot of sweetness when I think back to this film, Celine, Adèle (Haenel, her partner in the film, editor's note), and all the others. I have the impression that we still live it, that we still have this very strong bond and that this dialogue established on the set around art and women continues today.
Noémie wears a cotton shirt and leather skirt, Louis Vuitton, an Intimissimi bra, Idylle Blossom earrings, minicreoles and a Blossom ring, in rose gold and diamonds, Louis Vuitton Joaillerie.
Charlotte Tilbury makeup: Glow Toner, Charlotte's Magic Serum Crystal Elixir, Charlotte's Magic Water Cream Eye Cream, Charlotte's Magic Hydrator Mist, Hollywood Flawless Filter, Beautiful Skin Radiant Concealer, Charlotte's Beautiful Skin Foundation, Airbrush Flawless Finish, Pillow Talk Beautifying Face Palette, Airbrush Flawless Setting Spray, The Feline Flick Panther, Pillow Talk Push Up Lashes ! Mascara, Legendary Brows, Brow Lift Dark Brown, Lip Cheat, Matte Revolution Pillow Talk. Photo Luc Braquet
Céline Sciamma's film was like a rebirth. A new self was born during filming
Have you also kept in touch with Adèle Haenel? What do you think of his angry cries?
Yes, I kept links. Adele is a real person, consistent with her thoughts. There are few like her, I find her admirable. We constantly contradict ourselves. She never betrays herself, and in doing so, she thinks of future generations, abused women and men. It is therefore the opposite of selfishness and egocentrism. It must be fully supported. What saddens me is that his stop from cinema is, in a way, forced. If we had listened to her more, if we had sent her more tenderness, she might have had other choices.
What made you want to make films?
It was my father who pushed me in this direction. He had seen me on screen during a Tara Jarmon show (she was a model, editor's note) and he knew that I liked to do shows, so he told me to try the Cours Florent. My mother was also very supportive. Initially, I didn't think about cinema at all, I saw myself studying in a business school. Then I started playing, and lo and behold, I knew that's it.
You also dreamed of being a singer... What made you deviate from that path?
I dreamed of being a Celine Dion singer. I was a soloist in the choir of the conservatory of Nantes, but as a teenager, I got scared and lost all my means. Even today, singing in public is an ordeal. When you sing, you get much more naked than when you play a character...
Even today, singing in public is an ordeal
You also had your modeling period...
I don't have good memories of it. At the time, it was hell. That has probably changed today. Admittedly, it allowed me to earn money, especially to pay for the Cours Florent, where I studied at the same time, to travel, to learn English. But when I get into this business, I'm 16 years old and I think this world is wonderful. First photo shoot, first assault by the photographer. No one was protecting the girls, I was told, "You just have to say no, don't make a fuss about it, no need to call your parents for that." Not to mention the measures (weights, etc.) that we take every day and that make you quickly become anorexic, bulimic ...
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Today, you are the face of Louis Vuitton. What is your relationship with fashion?
Meeting artists like Nicolas (Ghesquière, artistic director of LouisVuitton's women's collections, editor's note) reconciled me with this environment. He loves women and has a lot of respect for them. He is also interested in each talent he works with. And he always establishes a dialogue, because his goal is to make the other exist in his clothes, to give him confidence and power. I don't like fashion for fashion's sake, but as soon as it's driven by ideas, or helps reveal something about us, I'm interested. And that's what Nicolas does.
Noémie wears a knitted jumpsuit, louis Vuitton and earrings Idylle Blossom, minicreoles Blossom, in rose gold and diamonds, and ring b Blossom, in gold, onyx and diamonds, louis Vuitton jewelry.
Angloma make-up with Charlotte Tilbury products. Hairdressing Etienne Sekola. Manicure Rachel Levy. Photo Luc Braquet
You just shot opposite actresses like Cate Blanchett (Tár) and Kate Winslet (Lee, biopic on Lee Miller, out soon). What memories do you have of these prestigious partners?
Incredible! Two geniuses, two sacred monsters of cinema. Cate Blanchett, it was so moving to see her step into the skin of her character before my eyes and to do it with so much humor and sympathy for others. Working with someone you're a fan of and who's also cool is delicious. As for Kate Winslet, she is my absolute idol: I have a T-shirt with her image and a poster of Titanic in my dressing room. I still can't believe I worked with her. I've seen all his films. For me, this is the holy grail of actresses, she is so free, simple and intelligent. We found ourselves in a face-to-face scene, topless. I said to myself: "But it's not possible, I'm topless in front of Kate Winslet!" (Laughter.)
"With Emmanuelle, we will really talk about female desire"
Your next role takes you into the skin of Emmanuelle, remake of the sulphurous erotic film directed by Just Jaeckin in 1974...
I would never have accepted this role behind a man's camera. I had never seen the first movie, so I started watching it: there's a scene of supposedly consensual rape... Help! This new version is signed Audrey Diwan, and it will have nothing to do with the previous one. It even amuses me, because Audrey reverses the codes...
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2024, erotic year?
With Emmanuelle, we will really talk about female desire. I have the impression that before it was only anchored in male pleasure. There is so much to say, things we know, we don't know, can share, and so many territories to explore. It's pretty exciting, isn't it?
A difficult year, by Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. Released on October 18.