In her fourth movie, An Easy Girl, available on Netflix in the United States since August 13, Rebecca Zlotowski directs French-Algerian actress, designer, and model Zahia Dehar, who was in the media spotlight for her role in an underage prostitution scandal involving French soccer players. Ten years after the fact, the filmmaker turns her camera to the beautiful Dehar, examining her exacerbated eroticism and her desire for freedom. She plays the seductive Sofia, who spends a summer in Cannes visiting her young cousin Naïma, teaching her about luxury, sensuality, and how to climb the social ladder while learning its codes and disillusions.
France-Amérique: Can you tell us about Zahia Dehar, the actress who inspired the name of the movie (An Easy Girl) and who is sometimes compared to Brigitte Bardot?
Rebecca Zlotowski: Zahia was caught up in a sex scandal in France ten years ago. The movie plays around with this subtext, although it keeps its distance with the background of prostitution. The woman who inspired me was no longer a 15-year-old prostitute, but rather a young actress who has a manner of speaking, moving, and dressing that is both provocative and liberated. For a cinephile like myself, she reminded me of the aesthetic of Italian cinema and Eric Rohmer’s movies from the 1960s. She portrayed her character driven by all these layers of inspiration.
Since #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the discussion about women’s place in cinema, the expression “the female gaze,” meaning a feminine perspective behind the camera, has been on everyone’s lips. How would you define it?
This is a complex concept that is currently hard to define. It is still constructing its own body of work. I find that it is an interesting tool, but the female gaze cannot be everything that the male gaze does not encompass. Personally, I am far more interested in understanding a director’s vision, regardless of their gender or sex. I am a female filmmaker, but I am not sure if I can represent the female gaze. That being said, I am certain that I have my own unique perspective.
In the movie, Sofia’s body is filmed from every angle. Is this sexualization of the physical form problematic?
I think that this sexualization is neither problematic nor virtuous, but rather a part of the narrative. In the fragmentation of this desire, there is a certain objectification of the female body but without reducing it solely to its erotic nature. It is about seeing that a body can also change how someone is represented and influence relationships between people. Sofia uses this body as a social weapon. And why shouldn’t she reap the benefits? Her body is just as powerful a tool as a yacht or money for a man. I am not offering a moral vision, but an eroticized, aesthetic vision of existence.
Questions of freedom and emancipation are very present throughout. The movie opens with a quote from Pascal: “The most important thing in life is choosing a profession. Chance holds the key.” What made you choose this reference?
I absolutely wanted to avoid making a coming-of-age movie about sexuality. I wanted to show how teenagers are confronted with their own destinies, with material transaction through sexuality from Sofia, and Naïma as she prepares to choose a profession.
You paint a picture of interdependent social classes that never mix. Did this side of your movie inspire you to film it in Cannes?
During the summer in Cannes, there is a certain indecency among those who enjoy showing off on their yachts in front of the middle classes. I don’t think the girl in a transparent dress is the exhibitionist in the movie. The real exhibitionists are the billionaires playing bossa nova guitar in front of the commoners on the public beach. However, the two worlds do sometimes collide. There are unexpected places where, just for the summer, inter-class connections are made, forming a sort of bubble of coexistence with people who would never normally have met.