Yuki & Nina is a beautiful film and my only regret after seeing it was knowing that it would probably never be seen by a wide audience. Yuki (Noë Sampy) is a 9-year-old girl living with her Japanese mother and French father (played co-writer and co-director Hippolyte Girardot, who is directing for the first time). When her mother tells her that she and her father are separating and she is taking the girl to Japan to live, Yuki launches a campaign to keep her parents together with the help of her best friend Nina (Arielle Moutel), who lives with her divorced mother. The anonymous letters they write to the parents don’t work, so they decide to run away to the empty country home of Nina’s father, hoping their absence will draw the worried parents together. When a curious neighbor comes around, the girls get scared and flee to the woods. At this point, this ultra-naturalistic film takes a turn toward magical realism, as Yuki is separated from her friend and, running through the French woods, inexplicably finds herself in the Japanese countryside. The unstrained performances by the child actors allow the directors to show everything from their perspective, but it is the ambiguous storytelling that makes this a wonderful film.
Co-director Nobuhiro Suwa, who previously directed a sequence in Paris, je t’aime, happened to be in the audience when I saw this film and did a short Q&A after the screening. As might have been expected, someone asked him to explain the magical realist segments in absolute terms. “Was it real or was it a dream?” The director expertly skirted a clear answer. “Of course it was real,” he said. “We had to take the actors and the crew to that location in order to capture it on film. If we didn’t do that, it wouldn’t be in the film”
The Q&A session was rather short, and I didn’t get a chance to ask a question, but when my friends and I spotted Suwa schmoozing with fans in the lobby, I asked him what it was like to make a film with another director. “Of course it is much easier to make one alone,” he said. “Living alone, for example, is much easier. Living together with someone is difficult. But if you living together there are a lot of things you can do that you can’t do if you live alone.” Suwa sited the scene in which Yuki’s mother (Tsuyu) reads the anonymous letter Yuki as written and breaks down in tears in front of the child. The adult actor’s performance is realistic and deeply moving. The child seems uncomfortable, and looks nervously off to the side, and almost seems to crack a smile at one point. Suwa related that he and Girardot argued for hours over whether to use this take or not. Girardot felt that Sampy had broken character, while Suwa’s position was that a child actually placed in such a situation would likely act the same way. Suwa obviously won the argument, as the take remains in the film.