Exclusive interview with ‘Matriochkas’ director Berangere McNeese

Berangere Mcneese‘s ‘Matriochkas‘ tells the story of 16 year old Anna who unexpectedly falls pregnant, focusing on the important topics of teenage pregnancy, female sexuality and mother-daughter relationships. We spoke to Berangere about the inspiration behind the film, the themes explored and the characters portrayed.

Where did you gain inspiration for Anna’s character?

I think Anna is like many of us. She’s a teenager and just starting the learning process of what it’s like to become a responsible adult. So in the meantime she tries things, she sharpens her mind and she experiences. Teenage girls are fascinating and I remember that part of my life vividly as an extraordinary moment: everything is lived wildly and with a lot less fear of consequences. I think we keep a bit of the teenager we were inside us forever, and so I feel like these characters speak to everyone.

Abortion is a sensitive topic in various countries. Did your film receive backlash for it’s relaxed introduction of abortion?

I didn’t want to make a film specifically about abortion. I wanted to tell the story of complicated but very loving relationship between a young mom and her teenage daughter. That relationship is very intense and I wanted to see how a the daughter could eventually break from it and earn her independence. The fact that she becomes pregnant herself at the same age that her mother had her, had an interesting narrative angle to it, as she then had to decide whether to follow her mother’s path or not. Meaning also that if she decides to have an abortion, it kind of puts her own life back in perspective had her mother decided the same thing. So abortion is of course a subject tackled by the film, but to me it’s not the main subject. In France and Belgium where the film was made, abortion is legal and very well accompanied by social workers and psychologists, so the audience tends to focus more on the impact on the girl or her relationship to her mom. In countries where it’s less the case, the audience tends to focus more on that element itself. However, I’ve been quite protected by any real backlash. I feel like even with different points of view, we’re ready to have this conversation.

What was your intention in describing the emotional process leading up to the procedure?

I think abortion, even in countries where it’s legal and accepted, is never something someone does lightly. In this case, what Anna needs is support, and she can’t seem to find any. Yet she knows what is best for her, even if that means possibly destroying her relationship with her mother. It’s that solitude that I wanted to show, and the weight that represents for a still very young girl.

Plenty of teenage pregnancies happen in seemingly stable two parent households. Why give Anna a shaky home life?

Again the focus for me was to tell the story of this mother/daughter relationship. I found it interesting for the mom to still be quite young and very loving but also very, very present. Anna is lucky in that way, but it makes it hard for her to become independent and make her own decisions. I don’t think motherhood necessarily transforms women at once. Becoming a mother doesn’t make your fears, frustrations and desires disappear forever. I’ve seen it a lot these past years, as many of my friends have become mothers. And the mother in the film is very young and still wants to have fun. I can’t judge her and I hope the audience doesn’t judge her too much either. As you said, teenage pregnancies happen everywhere, no matter the social background. It’s how it’s dealt with, how the teenager is treated, how her decision is respected, those are all the things that can differ from one household to another.

How do you hope the film helps parents become more aware of the consequences of their actions on their childrens life perspective?

The only thing I hope the audience takes away from these characters, is how important it is to listen. In the film, the mother clearly projects her own desire on her daughter’s situation, and forgets to really ask her daughter what it is that she wants. 

Smoking, drinking, interest in older man, and early sexual relations are all actions of a rebellious teenager. What’s the difference between Anna’s actions and a young rebel?

She’s learning and testing, she experiments. I guess that can be considered as rebellious.

It seemed as if Anna saw a father figure in Nelson. Will Nelson become a permanent responsible figure in Anna’s life or a passing individual gently guiding Anna down a better path?

I like that the film leaves these doors open for the audience to project what they want. To me, Nelson is a character that represents the adult and how important it is for the adult to protect the kids; to act kindly and not take advantage of their inexperience. Nelson could clearly become a negative character in Anna’s life, however he makes the decision to go elsewhere, to be on her side, to support her, when it’s not really his place to begin with. He’s the only one who really asks her if she’s OK.


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