The beautiful tale of Coline Serreau
Since October 23, 2023, Coline Serreau has been on stage at the Théâtre Michel in Paris.
The story of a life filled with encounters, creations, joys, and emotions.
Daughter of the writer Geneviève Serreau and the director Jean-Marie Serreau, Coline Serreau first devoted herself to singing and music.
In her show, she recounts her first serialized work, paid twenty cents per page, the school where, as a child, she learned to climb trees, her trapeze act, hip hop dancers revolutionizing the Opéra Bastille, behind-the-scenes stories of “Three Men and a Baby,” and her upcoming film where she critiques eco-machos and the pitfalls of subsidized shows…
After seeing her show, which I loved and highly recommend as the holidays approach, I wanted to interview the great Coline Serreau, trapeze artist, director, screenwriter, writer, actress, stage director, composer, and choir conductor.
Returning from the Pessac Festival, where she presided the jury with this year’s theme being “Our Earth,” Coline Serreau graciously agreed to an interview with Movieintheair.
Interview with Coline Serreau
starring in the show “La Belle Histoire” at Théâtre Michel
Movieintheair: Hello Coline Serreau, after watching your show where all the arts are represented, I wondered what makes one transition from one art form to another?
COLINE SERREAU: We are so conditioned to be only one thing, but I was raised with great freedom.
And I think we, especially women, are entirely different. Inside our lives, there is also total biodiversity. We are multitaskers.
We know it because we’ve been confined to the private sphere with cleaning, cooking, children, and so we know how to do fifty thousand things at once.
And I always had all the arts within me; I loved them, practiced them without constraints, without saying, “I am this or that.” I was multitasking, multi-interest, multi-everything.
Movieintheair: What were your sources of inspiration for transitioning from one art to another?
COLINE SERREAU: The main source of inspiration is the meaning.
It’s like a musician. A musician doesn’t always compose for a symphony orchestra. A musician writes suddenly because he has that inspiration. He might choose a piano concerto, a lyre, or a singer…
It depends on what one wants to convey. I wanted to express things through photography, painting, and there was an expression in the body and dance that conveyed vitality, theater too. And I tried to excel in everything, that is to work.
Each art could express different things, and I wanted to express things with these arts.
“Our inner biodiversity”
Movieintheair: Was it challenging to establish yourself as a female filmmaker?
COLINE SERREAU: Women have had, but increasingly less, the impostor syndrome.
They say, “No, no, I’m not legitimate, I’m not as strong as them” (referring to men), “I don’t know how to do that,” and so on, which is entirely false. We are entirely legitimate in everything we want to do, and we don’t have the same culture as men, and we don’t have the same things to say as men.
It’s different cultures, it’s biodiversity again. And it doesn’t negate their legitimacy, but in no way can it deny ours.
So, of course, it was difficult at the beginning, but I think it’s challenging for all filmmakers.
I think it was even more challenging because, in the 1970s, we filmed in silver.
So, we didn’t have this facility that anyone has today with their phone to make a beautiful 4K film. Also, there are editing software now. Back then, we needed editing tables. It was very expensive, so it was very difficult.
But I always felt legitimate, not out of arrogance, but because of what I had to say. I knew it was important. And that’s it.
Movieintheair: You were ahead of your time in all your films. How do you manage to sense what will emerge from the zeitgeist?
COLINE SERREAU: It takes a lot of work, a very strong culture of freedom, and an analysis of societies.
I’ve read a lot of all kinds of books that could give me keys to understanding the organization of the world, geopolitics, politics, psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism. Well, thinkers in philosophy and all the arts speak.
By digging, searching all the time, reading, you eventually gather information and extract what seems right to you.
At the same time, there is also a part of personal analysis.
But it’s not just a question of intuition; it’s a whole education and also the experience of freedom at the beginning of my life in this school (editor’s note: Marguerite Soubeyran opens Beauvallon School in Dieulefit in Drôme, a place of alternative learning for all children “wounded by life,” a school of freedom).
Because the tendency of this society is to dominate us, to dominate this one, to dominate that one. And I never accepted that. So, all systems of domination, I see them, feel them, and I also feel their fall.
Movieintheair: In your work, whether in films, theater, or opera direction, there is a lot of commitment, but there is also a lot of poetry. Where does it come from?
COLINE SERREAU: Art is poetic; otherwise, it becomes a tedious political documentary, right?
I am interested in beauty that accompanies a proposal. Poetry is the proposal in relation to the reality we can no longer bear. Poetry, humor, beauty are also political weapons.
The world can be beautiful; it is beautiful.
It’s funny in the show I presented “The Green Beautiful.” there was a lady who said to me, “Give me the address of that planet; I’m going there,” and I told her, “But you’re on it. It can be extremely beautiful, and open your eyes to beauty; it’s everywhere.” And horror too. But it’s up to us to make this beauty triumph… It’s there, this green planet.
Movieintheair: What would you say today to someone who wants to plunge into the arts?
COLINE SERREAU: Learn and learn in all fields.
It can be cultivating your body, going to acting classes, attending a film school… There are many things.
And if it’s closed, do it yourself, but keep learning, working, understand why and how beauty is. It’s more than a job; there’s instinct, and there’s also knowledge. Anyway, no one gives you a hand at the beginning.
You have to do it yourself.
Movieintheair: Were the 70s and 80s more conducive to art and creation than today?
COLINE SERREAU : No. All eras are conducive to art as long as you tackle it, want it, and are driven by such a necessity that you do it.
And all eras have been difficult; there were times in Italy when works were constantly commissioned, so it gave rise to incredible geniuses. But when you really want to be an artist, if there is a deep vital necessity, you go for it. That’s it; you don’t have a choice.
Movieintheair: For artists like Eddy de Pretto, the need for the stage comes before writing. Is it the same for you, or are the two interconnected?
COLINE SERREAU: Everything is connected. The stage was the starting point. I was very young on stage, and it was a place where I felt at home. And I am a daughter of people from the stage, from the theater. I always lived in or near theaters.
But cinema was also a passion because in cinema, you have everything, and I loved writing stories. It was also a whole thing. I never left the stage, and I never left cinema or photography. And I don’t think you should give up anything. When one starts to tell you that you have to give up something, be careful. Besides, I wrote and I always wrote stories.
“A physical work”
Movieintheair: Everything you did was very physical. How did you manage to reconcile your personal life with your life as an artist? I heard in an interview you gave to France Musique that you did trapeze until sixty.
COLINE SERREAU: Yes, that’s true. It’s very complicated to reconcile your personal life with your life as an artist, especially for women.
I had three children that I raised with great care. It was necessary to juggle all the time.
That’s also why I had to be an athlete; otherwise, I would have collapsed. I was very helped by women.
You have to choose the right people to help you and know what you owe to the people who help you. They also become creators with you because without them, you can’t do anything.
Especially when my work became particularly hectic, shooting during the day and performing in the evening. There were years of filming, theater tours, then writing. I organized myself to be helped by fantastic people—my parents who had died a long time ago—were like an extended family, a tribe.
With my husband (editor’s note:Benno Besson, Swiss actor and theater director alongside Bertold Brecht), we were not a small couple closed in on itself. He was constantly traveling throughout Europe. We dragged the children a lot; they were educated in almost all European countries.
Later we also stayed five years in America, and they were educated there.
We were nomadic artists, and it greatly enriched the children.
” A family solidarity”
Movieintheair: So there was a feminine solidarity around your profession?
COLINE SERREAU: A family solidarity, and the people were part of my team, they were creative too.
But I was very there. Sometimes when I think about it, I wonder how I did it. The children all tell me that if they had to do it again, they would like to start over. So, that’s fine. Of course, it wasn’t always Disneyland. And I also provided them with musical education that took a lot of time. There were significant constraints.
Movieintheair: Regarding women, do you advise them to do sports to feel good?
COLINE SERREAU: Above all, they must feel legitimate in everything they do.
And if they want to stay at home and take care of the children, well, that’s just as legitimate. All human activities are beautiful as long as they are desired and not suffered for economic reasons. There are no rules; everyone is free.
You have to analyze your life. If you undergo things economically, it’s hard to live. But it’s the case for many women.
Movieintheair: Are there artists—living ones—that you admire?
COLINE SERREAU: I never answer that question because if I name people, I exclude others, and I don’t like to do that. Besides, I know making a film is difficult and I don’t like to put myself above others.
I always say that past films, present films, and future films are all great.
Movieintheair: Are there writers you particularly like, whose books are on your bedside table and sources of inspiration? I imagine you also like poetry a lot.
COLINE SERREAU: Yes, in poetry, there is Henri Michaux.
And then, I like the great 19th-century novelists. They inspired me a lot. Tales, mythology, and the Bible, especially the Old Testament, are sources of extraordinary stories, very violent, very beautiful scenarios.
Movieintheair: As you are always ten years ahead, what are your predictions for the planet?
COLINE SERREAU: There will always be people who find solutions at the moment, but it will be very difficult because there are situations of too great wealth gaps and no proper redistribution.
There has been a systematic exploitation of so many countries of all their resources. Not to mention the climatic situation because there will be more and more climate refugees.
So, we’re not heading towards funny days. People will find personal solutions, but there will have to be greater redistribution, hence a general impoverishment. It may involve episodes of very harsh civil war because there will be resistance.
But anyway, there will have to be a different distribution of wealth among humans, or they will disappear, which will not be a catastrophe.
Animals and plants will go “phew”; they will breathe a little, and it won’t be a bad thing.
Movieintheair: After “The Pessac Festival” where you were the President of the Jury, you continue the show “La Belle Histoire” at Théâtre Michel in Paris. What are the upcoming dates?
COLINE SERREAU: We resume with new dates on December 11 and 18.
Then, every Monday from January 15 to March 25, at 8:00 PM at Théâtre Michel. The show is a success!
Movieintheair: It’s a beautiful show. Thank you very much for this interview.
COLINE SERREAU: Thank you.
Exceptr show “La Belle Histoire”
Autobiography: Coline Serreau #COLINESERREAU aux Éditions Actes Sud.
Ten facts on Coline Serreau : Bio Coline Serreau
Her first film “Qu’est-ce qu’elles veulent” : Eight Women speak about their lives, their pain, their expectations and their hopes.