Born in 1946, director Claire Denis has around thirty films to her credit and regularly collaborates with writers, including Marie NDiaye and Christine Angot. At her beginnings, she was the assistant of Jacques Rivette, Wim Wenders or Jim Jarmusch, before directing her first film, Chocolate, in 1988, an evocation of his childhood in the twilight of colonial Africa. She was then one of the few female directors in France. In 2022, two of his films, With love and determination and stars at noon, respectively won the Silver Bear in Berlin and the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
I wouldn’t have come here if…
…if I hadn’t grown up in Africa, particularly in Cameroon, in a house without running water or electricity. Before the birth of my two twin sisters and then a little brother, I lived seven years alone with my parents, which was both frightening and rewarding. I had the impression that I belonged only to them and to these landscapes, in a country where being white was a strangeness. We lived strong things, discovered other cultures, an infinite chance. When I came back to France in the summer, I thought the other children were unhappy, I felt sorry for them. Me, I had a life. I remember the colours, the flowers and the fruits, the smell of the earth during the rainy season… Sensations that mark the body forever and have made up the woman that I am.
Why did your parents go to Africa?
My father was a colonial administrator, serving in several countries. But beyond that, I don’t think he and my mother wanted to replicate their parents’ lives. My two grandfathers had come back battered from the 14-18 war. My mother’s father, a Brazilian painter who arrived in France to study Fine Arts, had been gassed. He fell in love with a nurse in the sanatorium where he was being treated.
My grandmother died shortly after my mother was born. For my grandfather, it was unthinkable to start a new life. My mother and him lived as a couple, close-knit. Later, he wrote to her every day on thin paper. He was eccentric, charming, lived in a housing estate in Plessis-Robinson. He made me dream. Based in Fontenay-aux-Roses, my father’s family was more bourgeois. After the war, my grandfather left for Bangkok, where my father was born, already cultivating the idea of the distant. He didn’t work, drank a lot. As a child, I felt that drinking so much meant wanting to end my life.
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