Nona and her Daughters (9 x 30’), a new series from ARTE and ARD SWR, produced by Gaumont Télévision France (presided by Isabelle Degeorges) and Rectangle Productions (presided by Edouard Weil), tells the story of the unexpected pregnancy of a 70-year-old woman who is already the mother of 40-year-old triplets. In this, her first series, actress, director and writer Valérie Donzelli has brought together a star-studded Franco-German cast (Miou-Miou, Virginie Ledoyen, Valérie Donzelli, Clotilde Hesme, Barnaby Metschurat, Rüdiger Vogler, Antoine Reinartz, Christopher Thompson, Léonie Simaga and Michel Vuillermoz), for a modern dramedy full of humor, poetry and finesse that deals with social and universal themes. Cécilia Rossignol, Gaumont’s EVP, International Sales & Development; Arnaud de Crémiers, Producer for Gaumont Télévision; and Alice Girard, Producer for Rectangle Productions, discuss the series.
TV France: Nona discovers that she is pregnant at the age of 70, and that’s what starts the ball rolling in the series. Where did the idea come from?
Arnaud de Crémiers: In the beginning, Valérie Donzelli, came to see us (Christophe Riandee, Isabelle Degeorges and me) with her producers from Rectangle Productions, Alice Girard and Edouard Weil. They wanted to make a series about a group of women living together in Paris’ Goutte d’Or district. The characters were already strong, but we all agreed that there was something missing – that little spark of magic that makes Valérie’s film work so powerful. As we explored the subject together, Valérie was reminded of a film that she loves, A Slightly Pregnant Man by Jacques Demy, in which Marcello Mastroianni believes himself to be pregnant. That’s how she had the idea for Nona, our heroine’s pregnancy. At the age of 70, Nona falls pregnant. It’s completely unexpected, and that’s what leads to the group of women living together. That was when we knew we’d found our concept.
TV France: This is Valérie Donzelli’s first series – how did she approach the writing and directing process?
Arnaud de Crémiers: The power of Valérie’s films lies in her characters. And in a good series, you need complex characters, so Valérie was perfectly equipped for this! But a series is a marathon adventure that requires endurance, technical skills, and a lot of imagination. It’s about teamwork. That was why Valérie wanted to work with a seasoned writer. We tried several partnerships, and in the end we found that she worked really well with Clémence Madeleine-Perdrillat. Clémence is very experienced in both the cinema and television. Together, they created and wrote all nine episodes.
The support received from Arte (Olivier Wotling, Isabelle Huige) and then from SWR (Manfred Hattendorf, Birgitte Dithard) was marvelous – full of goodwill and enthusiasm.
Alice Girard: When the series went into production, Valérie wanted to draw on her cinema experience while embracing the customs and tropes of a series. She wanted to work with her usual team for direction, photography, set design, editing and music all the while having fun with crossing work plans, working with two editors, employing the convention of the cliffhanger, creating links from one episode to the next, using recurring musical riffs for each character, etc. Valérie is a director who turns constraints into strengths – she knows how to work quickly while constantly inventing often unexpected scenes and situations – during the writing but also the filming and editing phases.
TV France: Your casting is eclectic and ambitious – how did you bring all these talents together?
Alice Girard: Valérie builds her cast like a family. She knew while she was writing it that she would play George. She wanted her Nona to be modern, beautiful, sparkling, and played by someone we all know – like a real mother. She was particularly keen on Miou-Miou for the role: she exudes something special and her work evokes our collective love of cinema, our shared childhood memories. Miou-Miou was also very enthusiastic when she accepted. Then Valérie found her sisters: she had already worked with Virginie Ledoyen, and she had wanted to work with Clotilde Hesme for ages. Their sisterhood seemed so obvious.
Valérie was delighted to accept SWR’s request that she include German actors in the cast. She felt that opened up new perspectives. She chose to make it one of the series’ unique points and an asset: the doctor (Rüdiger Vogler) and the midwife (Barnaby Metschurat) both have charming German accents!
TV France: The series isn’t just an off-beat drama, though. It also deals with some surprisingly serious subjects.
Arnaud de Crémiers: Valérie’s film work is funny, light and poetic, but it goes further than that. Her comedy is always infused with profound subjects: the end of a love story in The Queen of Hearts, childhood illness in Declaration of War, professional failure in Notre-Dame, etc.
Nona and her Daughters is a feminist story that portrays motherhood as both a magical power and a curse. At 70 years old, Nona should not be pregnant. The heroine’s fight with herself and a society that cannot help but judge her reflects the struggle that all woman experience during pregnancy. Because any pregnancy can be seen as a miracle, and pregnant women have a very special status, sometimes they are idolized, other times it is degrading. Nona and her Daughters is the story of woman who reclaims her power, affirming herself and her strangeness, her femininity, her motherhood. The personal journeys of the three 44-year-old daughters, Manu, Gaby and George, echoes this and rounds out the benevolent and “woke” vision that Valérie offers of women today. Women, at once powerful and fragile, but always free, whatever their circumstances and the choices they make.
TV France: What future do you see for the series internationally?
Cécilia Rossignol: We are very confident! We plan to present the series as it is, that is to say as a little gem. Valérie Donzelli’s creative know-how is widely recognized and her universe is familiar to international buyers. We want to create marketing tools that reflect that in order to evoke the strength of the characters and this story, which could seem grotesque but is actually very moving. The themes it evokes are both universal and delicate, and the proposition in this case is modern and fresh. It is a unique approach. The cast and the actors are a real plus that we plan to highlight. And then there’s Paris – a real asset. Our beautiful capital is always so attractive, even more so since very few people have had the opportunity to visit it lately. We cannot wait to launch Nona and her Daughters on the international market and to present it officially to international buyers. We have already had some great feedback based on our pitches. We are raring to go for MIPTV and other upcoming markets!
TV France: The production of this series must have been a real challenge in the current context. What can you tell us about that?
Alice Girard: Of course, we had to adapt to the circumstances, but we are also all aware that we are lucky even to be able to film given the context. It wouldn’t have been allowed in every country. Valérie adapted – she did some castings and readings with her actresses remotely during the first lockdown. It often created some quite comical situations!
Then, when it came to filming, the whole team did their best despite extreme pandemic-related constraints: everyone wore masks, had their temperature taken every day, and underwent regular PCR tests. And when the circumstances made a scene completely impossible (for example, filming in a working hospital), Valérie found ways to adapt – you’ll see that in the series! The public needs original programs that bring us together during these tough times, so it gives us great joy to be able to offer them this series!