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Mimi



Claire Simon F 2003 140'

Mimi, a 60-year-old woman who appears much younger, explores places where she once lived: Nice and the hilltop village of Saorge. She visits the grave of her father, who died in the war. Together with the director, she seeks out the sports ground, park, harbour, railway bridge and the area around the station because they rekindle memories of her childhood and lost loves. She has always preferred the company of women over that of men. It was only when she moved into the mountains and opened up a restaurant with two female friends that Mimi found her true self and could calmly turn down a neighbour's offer of marriage. Hers wasn't a spectacular life, but unique, as Claire Simon says; a life that in retrospect appeared perfect for the silver screen. “Mimi recalls her life … in moments and scenes that fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to describe the stages in the path of her life. This life follows her like a character in a novel. It was precisely this that interested me: the ability to bring scenes back to life on the basis of locations that tell Mimi's story like a screenplay, that enable her to live these location and thus relive her past without having to enact it. Mimi's life is like a fairytale, complete with misfortune, a tragic lot and wishes that eventually come true.”

"Mimi is not a star, she's someone. I wanted to make a film about her life. The life of someone. I wanted to stick as closely as possible to the singularity of her life, to find the story in a real life. Which I would discover as I filmed it. At her home in Nice, in the mountains, in the familiar and unfamiliar places where I filmed, I waited for her story, which I did not yet know, to come back to her. I waited for her to tell me the chapters that make up her own personal novel."
Claire Simon

Simon's way of doing that is to look for the tension between the private and the universal, in the world of work, for example, one of her favourite subjects: work in a bakery, a restaurant, or supervising children's games. So she does not approach documentary-making by looking for ways to control reality, but by finding ways to release its cinematic potential. She therefore “works on” the film locations: her films often operate within a subtly defined topography. In MIMI, for example, she maps out a part of Nice we rarely see, far from the attractions of downtown. With her plan of attack solidly in place, Simon takes us to the other side of the picture postcard, to the complexity of documentary.
But focusing on place can never be enough; filming a schoolyard at recess without its “inhabitants,” the children, would make no sense, certainly no narrative sense. RECREATIONS and COUTE QUE COUTE then are really “suspense documentaries” on the same theme of war, about controlling a nondescript patch of grass in a schoolyard or entrenching oneself in a kitchen.
It is at this point that editing becomes important, and we can never forget that Simon, as well as shooting all her films, edits them, having begun her career as an editor. This allows her to make some scenes extremely dense, or conversely to delay information she wants to downplay, where other filmmakers might have drawn it in broad strokes.
In the end, everything Simon does is a refusal of sentimentality, and that, paradoxically, leaves room for the deeply felt emotion we experience with all great cinema that is respectful of its subjects and its viewers.
Carole Desbarats, Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal