Three trouble-free teenagers fall under the thumb of a young pimp. The TV movie “Comme des reines” tackles this risky subject with intelligence, without evading the raw reality. The filmmaker Marion Vernoux evokes its genesis and its shooting.
What led Samia, Louise and Jess, three teenagers with no visible problems or apparent injuries, to prostitute themselves and fall under the control of Nico, a pimp barely older than them? If not the illusion of being able to live “like queens”, as the title of the very good TV movie broadcast on France 2 suggests. He deliberately chooses to leave the question open, assuming, at the same time, to face the harsh reality of their daily life – the passes, the customers, the dispossession of oneself, the headlong rush…
A fiction on the wire, rightly rewarded with several prizes during the 2021 edition of the Luchon Television Festival, and which owes a lot to its screenwriters, Sandrine Gregor and Mélina Jochum. To their important documentation work, to the finesse of their writing in the service of this perilous subject, intelligently staged by the filmmaker Marion Vernoux (Nobody loves me, Les Beaux Jours…). Which revives, after Nothing in the pockets (2008), with television. And gives us his memories of an intense shoot.
You are often the screenwriter or co-screenwriter of your films, which is not the case here. What led you to make “Comme des reines”?
In the winter of 2020, I was offered this script, which I read very quickly. Falling on a scenario so well constructed and dialogued is very rare. He was realistic, not at all Manichean, and I could see that the two screenwriters had worked a lot upstream, that I could trust them.
I immediately said yes to the producer, Joëy Faré. And then the Covid arrived… Was the project going to be done or not? No one had visibility. Then, in May, we received the green light, and we had to move quickly: the preparation in July, the search for actors in August. And in September, we shot for twenty-one days. I like to work in energy. But there, it took a lot, a lot of energy!
How did you choose your actors, and especially the youngest among them?
The three young girls were not professional actresses. It was an additional pressure, in addition to having to shoot so quickly, wearing masks between each take… We had launched an appeal on social networks asking interested young people to send us videos.
Sarah Isabella, the interpreter of Samia, who turned 16 the summer of filming, had for example sent us a TikTok video in which she was impressive. She established herself very quickly.
Idir Azougli was the most experienced, he had notably filmed in Scheherazade [de Jean-Bernard Marlin, 2018, ndlr]. I absolutely wanted him to play the pimp, and I fought for him to have the role. The channel found that he did not correspond to the character described in the script – a handsome boy whom no one is suspicious of. He shouldn’t have been strange, but Idir certainly is: quite feminine and frightening at the same time.
There is another role that I had a hard time casting, for which I shouldn’t have screwed up: that of Rayanne, big guy and real bad guy, who intervenes in a difficult and decisive scene. I called Rabah Nait Oufella (Ibrahim, Arthur Rambo), who came to shoot one day.
How did you work with young non-professional actors?
We did a lot of reading, so that they appropriated the text, without transforming it too much either – they added ” are you serious ? » all the way! Before filming, I brought in a coach, actor Djanis Bouzyani, with whom I had worked on Fellow.
He comes from the world of cabaret [il a notamment collaboré avec le chorégraphe Philippe Decouflé au spectacle du Crazy Horse, ndlr], and I asked her to work with the actresses before the scenes where they had to involve their bodies. He helped them to clarify their attitudes, to position themselves. For me it was a condition sine qua non.
Did you encounter any other difficulties during filming?
The hardest part, given the means and the short time we had and the constraints linked to the Covid, were the party scenes. It turns out that I’ve shot a lot of them in my life, I’m a bit of a specialist! In general, when it’s “sex, drugs & rock’n’roll”, they come to get me.
There, it was nightclub scenes, sequences on a barge, a party that turns into drama in a house. I still had the damn petoches. We had to succeed in creating an atmosphere when the second in front of everyone on the set was wearing a mask… These are the extras, in particular the extras, including many strippers who were walking around half naked, hyper comfortable, which helped to relax the atmosphere!
When dealing with a subject like this, the question of point of view is fundamental. How do you know where to look?
It’s a TV movie broadcast at prime time on a public service channel: even if it’s not in my nature to show too much, you shouldn’t risk a ban on those under 18. At the same time, it was not necessary to hide behind his little finger, and to show the reality of what these teenagers do, of what happens to them, while keeping any voyeurism at bay. My obsession was to avoid at all costs that spectators could be excited by what they were watching.
r like queens, Wednesday June 22 at 9:20 p.m., on France 2.