Julie Delpy interview – Le Skylab 0
News reports about the UARS satellite falling to Earth came just a few days too late for the San Sebastián film festival world premiere of Julie Delpy’s fourth directing project. That was a shame – it’d have been quite the PR stunt for Le Skylab, her family comedy set around the falling of the titular space station in 1979, which won the special jury prize at the Spanish event on Sunday. The preoccupation with where it might land caused something of a media circus at the time – a San Francisco newspaper offered $10,000 for the first piece of the wreckage to be delivered to its offices – and it clearly played on the mind of the then 10-year-old Delpy.
“A lot of the lines in the film are literally out of my memory [of the time],” says Delpy, lounging on a sofa. “And some characters are based on people I knew. The main little girl in the film, Albertine, is basically me.”
Le Skylab charts the coming together of an extended family on a summer’s day in Brittany. Only one of the characters – Albertine’s mother, Anna, played by Delpy herself – seems at all worried about Skylab’s impending crash-landing. The rest concern themselves with traditional family preoccupations: sex, squabbling and politics.
“It’s a movie about people coming together to drink and eat lamb,” says Delpy. “I wanted it to feel like an idyllic afternoon with an undertone that something could happen, just like the Skylab is lurking to fall on to them. There’s also a bit of tension – you can sense that there are political differences between these people. As the day progresses, they get more drunk, more tired, and things start to come out.”
“Children’s sexuality is so taboo, and people are saying it’s so bad. I know I’m going to be killed for saying it, but I believe exploring sexuality is not something horrible for children.”The film is richly comic. Bright, summertime colours intersperse with the period swagger of the late 70s and the soundtrack buzzes with popular classics. But there are also plenty of darker moments. Delpy’s real-life father, Albert, plays the mentally ill Uncle Herbert, a character who is equal parts comic and tragic, particularly during a failed attempt to hang himself with a hosepipe.
“I like to mix serious subjects – like the uncle trying to kill himself and being saved by the children – with the humour,” says Delpy. “To me it’s important: life is made of dark and light moments going back and forth, and it just never stops. The typical family is a mix of light and dark.”
For Delpy’s avatar, Albertine (played by newcomer Lou Avarez), the trip to visit her aunts, uncles and cousins is as much about the start of her sexual awakening as it is about seeing the old folk. She falls for the teenage blond boy she meets on a nudist beach and fools around, playing doctors and nurses, with her pre-teen cousins.
“I definitely played doctors with my cousins,” laughs Delpy, covering her face with embarrassment. “Boys, girls, everyone mixed together. It was a big party. I had 25 cousins so, you know, every summer we had a lot of fun. We didn’t all play doctors together – some were older. It wasn’t an orgy, or anything. It stayed pretty cute.”
Falling for the boy on the beach is based on a real experience of Delpy’s, though unlike the “Blue Lagoon fantasy” boy of the film, he wasn’t blond. “I had my first crush when I was 11 or 12, and didn’t get the guy, obviously,” she laughs. “He was older and I was kind of chubby and with glasses. No one wanted me! I think he’s a pilot now.”
The film doesn’t shy away from depicting these first flushes of sexuality honestly – something Delpy knows may be controversial. “Children’s sexuality is so taboo, and people are saying it’s so bad,” she sighs. “I know I’m going to be killed for saying it, but I believe exploring sexuality is not something horrible for children. If no one’s forcing anyone and it’s pure experimenting, I believe it’s good for children. I explored sexuality when I played doctors with my cousins, and I don’t believe there was anything traumatic about those experiences at all.”
Delpy says she doesn’t worry about her two-year-old son, Leo, keeping these sorts of secrets from her as he grows up. “It’s his choice. But, even at two and a half, I see the way he looks at women – it’s really funny. I’m rarely naked in front of him, because I don’t run around naked that much, but if I am, he looks at me like you have no idea. You can already see his interest in women, but it’s very pure and cute. He wants to touch breasts, all the time!”
She bursts out laughing. “Well, not all the time, but every once in a while.”