Casting films is an unlikely path to writing and directing them, but Lise Akoka and Romane Guéret didn’t only succeed on that journey, they made the experience the basis of their first feature, “Les Pires (The Worst Ones),” earning a berth in Un Certain Regard.
The French filmmakers met on the set of Rudi Rosenberg’s 2015 teen comedy “Le Nouveau (The New Kid).” Akoka worked as a casting director and acting coach, Guéret was a casting trainee, and the two became fast friends. “We were in the north of France, in those old mining territories, and found these two amazing children,” Akoka recalls through a translator. “We fell in love with them, along with their school and surroundings. But in the end, the director didn’t, and they didn’t work on the film. So we decided that we had to write a short film to feature them.” That was 2016’s “Chasse Royale,” the portrait of a poor, tough 13-year-old girl (Angélique Gernez) — with an equally foul-mouthed little brother (Eddhy Dupont) — who is cast in a film.
“It was really the encounter with those two kids that was the trigger, because they were incredible, and we knew that we could not let them down,” Guéret recalls through a translator. She studied filmmaking with the goal of becoming a director, but Akoka never had that ambition, earning a psychology degree and studying drama before pursuing work in casting and child actor coaching, “It was not a professional thing at first, not as if we decided to become directors,” Akoka says. “But as we were writing, we found a producer and had to organize crowdfunding. The whole thing grew out of proportion.” Indeed, the short earned the pair an Illy Prize in Cannes and a César nomination.
“Les Pires,” a sequel of sorts co-written with Elénore Gurrey, follows a group of streetwise, nonprofessional young actors as they make a film — to the utter disbelief of their disapproving neighborhood. Behind the scenes, art imitated life: the film mixes nonprofessional young performers with professional actors in key adult roles. “We are interested in a certain form of realism, social cinema tackling subjects that surround children and teenagers,” Akoka says. “We want to blend reality with some form of comedy. It has to have color and its own strength.”
They expanded on this goal with the Arte France web series “Would You Rather (Tu Préfères),” co-written with Gurrey, which premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It follows the misadventures of two poor teenage girls living on the outskirts of Paris. Akoka and Guéret are now developing it into a feature, aiming for a summer 2024 shoot.
Working together, “we became really close. We’re not a couple, but we are nearly a couple!” Guéret laughs. But unlike their characters, neither of them comes from an impoverished background. “Making these films is part of the process of asking ourselves why we’re so fascinated by these kids,” Akoka says. “We want to shed light on them, to make their voices heard and show how much talent they have, even if they aren’t aware of it.”
On set, Guéret is more involved in the filmmaking, while Akoka works more with the actors. The two are represented by UBBA, and though they’d love to see their work shown internationally, they don’t have plans to work in the states. “English is not our best asset,” Guéret laughs.
“For the moment, we plan to continue working together,” the pair says. “We are complementary in our visions and tastes, and we find it precious to be able to share our doubts and joys in the framework of a common project. We have faith in the strength of the collective.”