Jeanne Damas likes to remind us: Rouje is about women. Paths intertwined, inspiring encounters, ideas that linger. Throughout these portraits, she gives a voice to some feminine figures whose stories resonate with her. Today she meets with filmmaker Frankie Wallach whose first film “Trop d’Amour” tells the story of her family and particularly of her grandmother Julia Wallch.
I stumbled upon content about your film « Trop d’amour » featuring yourself and your grandmother. Then I spent an evening discovering your paths, very moved. I already wanted to watch the movie and absolutely loved it when it came out. How did you come up with this idea? It looks like you’ve always been filming your grandmother.
It’s the case and she’s a natural. It began with a short film then I started to film my father... And then she turned 94 and it dawned on me: I had to immortalize her through a film. I thought it would be a family short that I would keep to myself and when the comedian Agnès Hurstel came onboard and agreed to co write with me, it all began to take shape. I wrote my father’s part for someone else but he actually went through the 5 castings - he really wanted to get the part!
Your grandmother wanted to play herself but was it ever a possibility that she would get played by someone else?
She always tags along without asking questions, whether I’m making a movie or signing a book. I’m sort of her agent (laughs).
That’s very true! The format is interesting because it mixes documentary and fiction. You didn’t want to choose one or the other?
As a spectator, I like believing in movies. That’s why Maïwenn’s films like “Pardonnez-moi” really resonate with me. From Pialat to Kechiche, I love this kind of film. I added elements of fiction because I was scared of the reality TV dimension, to protect me and have more flexibility. I wanted iPhone shots to bring realness and intimacy. And we no longer use VHS camera’s like Maïwenn’s today! The iPhone also allowed me to soothe my control freak side because there were at all times several people filming so nothing would get lost. This was also very helpful to capture improvisations.
How did you convince the team to be part of such a personal project? Were you able to convey your vision as clearly as you wanted?
Agnès got it from the start. Typically we were writing the beginning and the end of a sequence with some creative freedom in between. Sometimes we were refocusing, other times we got miracles.
You must have had hundreds of hours of rushes…
My editor, Thibaut Damade, hated me (laughs): we had to hire more people for the editing and make tough decisions because we couldn’t keep everything. To come back to your question, the casting and hiring of the technical team lasted for a long time because we only wanted to work with people who got the energy of the film. We didn’t want makeup, lights or “lights, camera, action” that could have blocked the non-professional actors. My grandmother didn’t know when we were shooting or not. It wasn’t an easy process but once everybody was on the same page it went really fast and it was a real team effort.
We can feel it in the film. One of the main topic is the heritage of the Holocaust. We can sense love, life but also the survivor journey of your grandmother which is also part of your family’s history: how did you develop your identity within this context?
When you grow up as a son or daughter of Holocaust survivor like my father, you are completely immersed in it. My grandmother can talk about it very casually. For some, it can be taboo and it actually took her thirty years to be able to talk about it. But then she couldn’t stop, so I grew up with this narrative in the background. It ends being a part of you without you even noticing. That’s why I don’t recall talking about it a lot at school.
Do your sisters feel the same way?
No, we all grasped it differently, I came to this realization while making the film. I felt the need to explore this point of our family history, whereas this wasn’t really the case for my sisters. There’s also the fact that I remind my grandmother of herself that unites us. And I love her strength, I’d like to be like her when I’m older! My therapist tells me that whatever my family has been through is in me also.
People often say that these events can be experienced indirectly.
Yes but I tell myself I’m not legitimate since this is not my experience per se.
How did you approach this film?
I was a comedian, I knew how shooting worked so I wasn’t starting from scratch. But today I’m working on a new film and I still don’t realize how I made the first one! I think there was a sense of urgency between my grandmother’s age and Agnès who was pregnant at the time. She gave birth 3 weeks after we were done shooting. I did a crowdfunding and 250 people participated, so it gave me enough strength and energy to go ahead without second guessing myself! Then I was on set and it all became obvious.
And were you happy with the results when watching the film?
Absolutely not! It’s my baby of course but I’ve changed and improved a lot of things. The first version was put aside, I stored everything away, theaters were closed because of lockdown. When I watched it again, I hated it. I was frustrated by the fact that I didn’t go through with my idea. My friends advised me to take a step back, rewatch the rushes and go back to editing which saved me. It was for the best in retrospect.
How was the film welcomed once finalized?
Good! I was able to show it to my family. Everybody was cool with it even though it was a very personal take on our history, not necessarily the truth. My grandmother didn’t really get it at first, she couldn’t find all the scenes, then she came to a realization during a screening at a festival. People were standing, clapping and it dawned on her. She was super moved and the audience and press loved it as well. It was a challenge without any headliners! We weren’t able to show it in theatres because it wouldn’t have been possible before March 2022 and for my grandmother it was too far away. Suddenly I was picturing myself doing the promotion without her - it would have been a nightmare, the film could only exist if she was alive and by my side to support it. Then Canal +, the TV channel, agreed to broadcast it!
I’m sure it was great in terms of visibility. In any case, I really urge everybody to watch it. It's really an invaluable and radiant film. I can’t wait for your second! What do you have in store for us?
I want to pursue my acting career and I’m currently writing my 2nd long form… The pressure is on!
Visit Frankie's Instagram account @frankiedoubleyu
‘Trop d’Amour’ is available on Canal+ until Dec 13
‘Dieu était en vacances’, by Julia Wallach, is published by Grasset
Photos by Jeanne Damas
Video by Nicole Lily Rose