Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore in the volatile “May December,” the latest film from Todd Haynes

Even if it’s not systematic, many of your feature films, like ”Loin du Paradis” or ”Carol,” borrow from melodrama. The style you play on “May December”…

Since my first film, “Superstar,” dedicated to singer Karen Carpenter, melodrama has influenced many of my films… but not “May December.” I avoid using the word casually. Contrary to the “Sirkian” tradition (a reference to Douglas Sirk who was the master of the genre, editor’s note), the two female characters do not suffer and have considerable power of action. They are active drivers of this story and follow their will unlike men. This difference from traditional melodrama fascinates me.

How would you define this plot? A love story? Drama?

The plot is complex, and when I read the script, I was intrigued by its interpretation. We first wonder who this actress is, Elizabeth, who will meet Gracie, a woman who has been the subject of scandals and whom she must play on screen. We initially think that Gracie is antagonistic, but as the film progresses, we develop sympathy for her. This constantly shifts the moral framework, thereby placing the viewer in a state of pleasant discomfort. My role was to reinforce this impression on screen.

To get this result, you had to get rid of your own morality?

It was important for me to maintain integrity in the acting, while making sure they didn’t go too far. A concrete example: During my initial discussion with Natalie Portman, she told me that the distress she experienced while reading triggered her. Together, we worked to make story elements more unpredictable. This helped establish a tonal balance in the film’s style and performance.

Do you want to work with your film on the close relationship that cinema can maintain with reality and the dangers this poses?

This situation adds another layer of ambiguity to the film. There is no simple answer to this complex question. On the one hand, Gracie, when she was thirty, began a relationship with a thirteen-year-old boy. So he probably wasn’t capable of living that kind of life. This is why we have laws to protect children. However, once found out, they are arrested, Gracie is imprisoned, time passes, and finally, they get married! Twenty years later they are still together. Through this story, I try to provoke a reflection on how we, as a society, perceive such situations.

So do you decide that this relationship is part of a certain normalcy?

One may wonder how one can prove, even if they have made a mistake, that they were sincerely loved and committed to their partner. There is also a desire to understand why a woman is considered different from a man when she starts a relationship with a very young person. By exploring this topic, we realize that it raises conflicting questions…

Music plays a role and contributes to this destabilizing effect. At some point, to make us believe that the film is turning into a thriller…

At the beginning of the film, we see butterflies, plants… and music clearly contrasted with this pastoral scene that takes place under the sun in Georgia. My desire was to create an atmosphere of mystery, a latent threat. It is a cautionary tale and although the film does not feature any crime scenes, Gracie’s criminal past resurfaces. The audience is captivated and the butterfly metaphor turns out to be more complex than it seems. It is not only a question of symbolizing the freedom found in leaving its cage, but also its transformation process where the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis before reaching its final form. It bothers…

May December


To prepare for her new role, a famous actress (Natalie Portman) visits Gracie (Julianne Moore), whom she will play on screen, whose love life ignited the tabloid press and excited the nation 20 years ago.

Our opinion

Todd Haynes is a master of melodrama… but not only that. Proof of this is the committed “Dark Waters” or this “May December”, an unclassifiable film, at the crossroads of different genres, unfairly left empty-handed from the Cannes Festival. Confusing, this diversity of incredible psychological and formal expertise is disturbing. It also has the merit of raising numerous questions about cinema as well as human nature through its depiction of the abyss. The film is also marked by the meeting of two great actresses. Namely, Natalie Portman, who plays an actress willing to do (almost) anything to blend into the skin of a mysterious woman played by Julianne Moore. The man had attracted attention years earlier for his affair with a teenage girl… with whom she started a family. A hot topic that allows us to approach the issue of consent in a new way. From scene to scene, the director of “Loin du Paradis” and “Carol” breaks down the certainties in the bourgeois framework that he quickly bends. It also adds a bit of an exciting side, supported by a subtle game of doubles that neither Alfred Hitchcock nor his disciple Brian De Palma would have rejected.

> By Todd Haynes (United States). With Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton. drama. Duration: 1h30.

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