The Movie Waffler Interview - LOLA AND THE SEA Director Laurent Micheli | The Movie Waffler

Interview - LOLA AND THE SEA Director Laurent Micheli

laurent micheli
The Belgian filmmaker discusses his new drama.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Director Laurent Micheli's Lola and the Sea focuses on Lola (Mya Bollaers), who lives in the city with her best friend Samir (Sami Outalbali). Emboldened by her life changing transition and with the support of her mother, she has the world at her feet with no plans of looking back. When Lola receives the devastating news that her mother has suddenly passed away, she returns home for the funeral and to face her estranged father, Phillipe (Benoît Magimel). Driven together by the common goal to fulfil her mother’s last wishes, Lola and Phillipe reluctantly embark on a journey to the North Sea. Forced to spend time alone together, Phillipe begins to accept his daughter for the first time.

lola and the sea poster

The film deals with some very important issues. I was wondering what sort of research you did when scripting the character of Lola? Mya Bollaers is tremendous in the role, and, if this is not too impertinent a question, how far did her own experiences inform the character?

As I’m not a trans person myself it was very important not to put my own pre-conceived ideas onto the subject.  I had to be really mindful when writing about an experience that isn’t my own and even more so as it’s a stigmatized community about which so many clichés are written. So, I did a lot of research while writing the script and watched a lot of documentaries. I read novels and features and met trans people as well as speaking to the friends I already have in the community. I even spoke to parents of trans children.

By the time I did the casting for Lola, the script was pretty much done.  Mya didn’t influence the actual writing of the script that much or at least no more than any other actor or actress influences a script. However, her presence was nevertheless essential for me and it was very important to work with a transgender person for this role, for both political and artistic reasons. Mya brought a lot of things to the character but, primarily, sensitivity. Her presence on the set and in the film was vital and brought a form of truthfulness.


Watching Lola and the Sea, I felt that a real strength of the film was the sustained interactions between Lola and her dad (Benoît Magimel). There is a real energy created via the dialogue and the performances! I note that you have a background as an actor yourself and I wonder how that experience informs your filmmaking?

I believe the fact I was an actor for so many years gives me a natural empathy for both the profession and the actors I direct, meaning that I have already experienced and felt the issues I come across. Knowing this allows me to put myself into their place so I understand what they need to hear to get the best out of them. I have great respect for actors and great confidence in them and their intelligence. There are certain things only they can feel about a character that, as a writer, we will never be able to feel. I often talk about ‘emotional logic’ and that’s something that as a writer/director you have a hard time feeling because you tend to think of the characters as a whole whereas the actor only sees the film from their own character’s perspective. So this ‘emotional logic’ encompasses their body and their feelings so they can bring something very personal to the creation of a film.


I find the filmmaking industry fascinating. People always quote the ‘nobody knows anything’ maxim, but I think that is truer than ever, what with the business model changing so radically over the last five years. What I find thrilling, however, is the potential for personal films like Lola and the Sea to not only get produced but achieve distribution, despite the odds. What did you find were the major challenges to making an independent film?

It’s true that making a film is full of pitfalls. I was really very fortunate with the funding for it because I had a lot of support and the financiers understood the project in a fair way. Mind you, one of the main difficulties was in convincing the television channels who represent a significant portion of the funding. Despite all of the work that went into having a script as accessible as possible, it was still tough to convince them that the film would have popular appeal. 

There is a natural reticence surrounding the subject, which I find unfortunate especially as the distributors of the film have to work extra hard to attract the public to go to see a film like this. It’s such a shame because, as we have experienced so many times at festivals, those people who thought they wouldn’t enjoy it were actually very touched by the film. Sometimes we have the impression that the story of a young trans girl won’t affect us because we haven’t experienced it ourselves but that’s not true as we have discovered time and time again. We are in the thrall of the power of cinema which is able to create an empathy between the audience and a character even though it has nothing to do with their everyday life.

I would say that the main difficulty in making an independent film is finding outlets that bring in an audience for it in an age where people have access to a huge catalogue of films and series. To stand out from the crowd is complicated and takes a lot of work from everyone involved.


If there is one message you would want audiences to take away from the film what would it be, and how does the film convey this message?

If there is one message to be taken from the film, I believe it is this: as citizens we all have a responsibility for the well-being of others. I recently read an interview with a trans person who said that we often tend to say that trans people are people who are born in the wrong body but actually that’s not it at all. These are people who were born into the wrong society. That is exactly what I tried to get across with this film. What needs to change is the way we all look at a trans person. It’s not specific to trans people but it’s down to how we treat all people from minorities and it’s this that dictates their well-being. So it kind of grows out of this logic that a trans person has an internal problem which is basically a dysphoria problem. It’s this mindset that relieves the viewer of all responsibility and what I tried to do was to empower the person who was going to watch this story.


Here’s one for you Laurent. If you could programme Lola and the Sea in a triple bill with two other movies, what films would they be and where would Lola and the Sea fall in the line-up?

Well, I would do a programme that would centre around the stories of transgender characters at three different ages and I would start with childhood and the documentary Little Girl by Sébastien Lifschitz. Then I’d screen Lola and the Sea, which features teenage characters and then I’d end with A Fantastic Woman by Sebastián Lelio, which is a film I really like and is about an adult transgender character. I would also put on a bonus film about a trans man, the documentary Ocean, directed by the actor Ocean.

Lola and the Sea is in UK cinemas and on VOD from December 17th and in Irish cinemas from December 27th.