Interview with Tonie Marshall

Véronique Le Bris
Véronique Le Bris

Tonie Marshall, French producer and director of Number One, a fiction about women’s rise to power.

Number One, the new film by Tonie Marshall, bluntly confronts the almost impossible accession of a woman as brilliant, skilled and qualified as she is, to the highest professional functions. A subject rarely, if ever, treated in cinema, and yet, a reality for many. Why did this filmmaker and producer work on such a delicate subject? Tonie Marshall explains her motivation to us.

How did you come up with the idea of dealing with the difficult subject of women’s accession to power?

Tonie Marshall: It’s my desire to work with actresses from different generations, to create characters for them, that gave me the idea, six or seven years ago, of a TV series. Through the perspective of a women’s network, I wanted to tell the difficulty for women to gain access to important positions in politics, industry, the media, sports, etc. I had heard about these women’s club meetings and I wanted to know why they were meeting and what women could get out of it. I found the project exciting ... but it was not well received at all!

And you came back?

T.M: Yes, because since then, the atmosphere has changed a lot. There are more morality, religion and identity issues, and I know that these are never favorable to women, on the contrary. Finally nothing or so little has progressed since I was 20. From feminophile, I am on the way to becoming a feminist! So I decided to make a film about it.

Why have it located in the industry?

T.M: Politics are too depreciated. Industry is less well known, although there are paths of brilliant women, who have long studies behind them, which offer a captivating universe to film.

I asked Raphaëlle Bacqué, a journalist for Le Monde, to help me meet women who had made a career in the industry, and asked them for insights to help me tell the story. And I was not disappointed. What the film shows is far below reality.

You talk about misogyny?

T. M: Yes! About frontal misogyny to well-meant, unconscious, patronizing misogyny... And about the usual comments on hysteria or the supposed fragility of women. I never thought that we would still be there in the 21st century. It would take a massive arrival of women at the head of companies for habits and governance to change a little.

Have these women considered solutions to this?

T.M: That was not my purpose. However, I could feel that they were holding back a very strong sense of exasperation, whilst having adopted a habit of constantly controlling themselves.

Is your story true to their stories?

T.M: All that concerns the company is inspired from reality, even the anecdotic adventures about espionage for example. The personal life of my heroine is, on the other hand, invented. The women’s network, too. There are no women’s networks in France that are powerful enough to catapult a woman to the head of a CAC40 company.

Your heroine is skeptical at the beginning of the film. She claims not to believe in female solidarity.

T.M: To which the director of the women’s network answers: "You are not asked to believe in it, it is not a religion, but politics! "

I have always felt supported by women.

And finally, why does your hero accept the challenge of running a CAC 40 business? For the thrill of being powerful?

T.M: When she understands that her ascent in her society will be limited, she analyzes the situation and realizes that the proposed directions are all bad. She decides to go forward, not in order to advance the cause of women, but because she has a vision. It is her source of motivation, where a man would have been sensitive to the power of the position and the money it implies.

In addition to being a director, you manage a production company: Tabo tabo films. When and why did you create it?

T.M: In the mid-1990s, I could not find any money to set up my movie Venus Beauty Institute. In the end, the film cost little but worked well, which gave me the means to hire employees (five today) and to acquire offices. I also created this company to have more control over what I was doing and to work on other people’s projects. I like to tell stories but my life won’t be long enough to tell them all. So you might as well push other people’s work!

What is its editorial line?

T.M: Bringing life to singular projects. Tabo Tabo was for example the first French cinema company to diversify in series, in 2004, with Venus and Apollo for Arte. Today, we produce the Cannabis series, also for Arte. For the cinema, we financed ten short films, Ouf by Yann Coridian, Complices and Moka by Frédéric Mermoud, as well as my own films.

Numéro Une by Tonie Marshall will be released in France on October 11, 2017, with Emmanuelle Devos, Samy Frey, Suzanne Clément, Richard Berry and Benjamin Biolay.

The film was presented at the Toronto 2017 Film Festival.