Nathan Ambrosioni, the Young Prodigy of French Cinema

At 19 years old, French director Nathan Ambrosioni already has heads turning. His feature-length film, Paper Flags (Les drapeaux de papier), paints an emotional picture of a man released from prison who reconnects with his sister after a 12-year absence. The movie has been praised by critics and audiences alike. The young director has already been compared to Ken Loach and the Dardenne brothers, while the daily newspaper in his native region has nicknamed him the “young Mozart of cinema.”

The young filmmaker born in Peymeinade, near Grasse in Southeastern France, is currently touring the United States to promote his movie. Paper Flags has been screened in Austin and San Francisco, and will be part of the Focus on French Cinema festival in Greenwich, Connecticut, on April 27.

France-Amérique: You began writing the screenplay for your movie at the age of 17. How do you become a director at your age?

Nathan Ambrosioni: It’s a job like any other. I never put filmmaking on a pedestal by telling myself it was something incredible. And I didn’t start my career after watching a movie by Godard. It’s just a passion. I also love eating; I could have just as easily become a chef.

What inspired you to start making movies?

American horror films inspired me to make movies. I was 12 years old and I wanted to scare people. I found it amazing that a film could transmit such powerful emotions. I then discovered more personal dramas at the age of 16 with Xavier Dolan’s movies, which made me realize I wanted to direct more than horror films.

Did your age hold you back while filming Paper Flags?

I was still a minor when Sensito Films agreed to produce my movie. My parents had to sign the contract for me! Other than that, my age has never held me back or stopped me doing anything. I haven’t approached production companies or actors as an 18-year-old director, but simply as a director who wants to make his first film.


The actors Noémie Merlant (left) and Guillaume Gouix in Nathan Ambrosioni’s Paper Flags. © Sensito Films

How did you learn the ropes of filmmaking?

I’m self-taught. I learned by watching movies — I love independent U.S. cinema, films by Gus Van Sant and Terrence Malick, but also by Jacques Audiard, the Dardenne brothers, Hayao Miyazaki, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Wong Kar-wai, and Lee Chang-dong. I continued my education by writing my own stories and filming my friends. I even learned how to edit footage thanks to a YouTube tutorial! I would have loved to study at a film school such as La Fémis in Paris, but I was refused by everywhere I applied to. My first film has taken off [it was recently acquired by the K-Films Amérique distribution company and will be released in Canada on June 28] and the second is in the financing phase. If I stopped now to go back to school, I think I would find it too long.

How was your first movie received in the United States?

Very well. American audiences appreciated the movie in the same way as the French; they laughed at the same moments and were moved by the same scenes. U.S. culture is of course different to French culture, but we both experience cinema in the same ways. I am pleased to see there are very few borders for movies, and that we can share the same emotions all over the world.

Paper Flags

Screening on April 27 at 12.30 p.m.
Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas
2 Railroad Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830