A Conversation with Filmmaker Pascale Bailly

By Ronnie Friedland


Seated in a corner suite overlooking the Public Garden in Boston’s elegant Four Seasons Hotel, Pascale Bailly–a straightforward, unpretentious woman with long, caramel-colored hair, wearing casual workout clothes and no apparent make-up–talks with me while also trying to entertain her four-year-old daughter.   

It’s the classic single-mother conundrum.

Bailly handles it well, speaking affectionately yet firmly to her daughter while striving to converse in English, rather than her native French.

When our conversation naturally turns to Bailly’s daughter, who, dressed in a bright pink tee shirt and black stretch pants, runs in and out of the room bearing gifts of scribbled drawings, Bailly mentions that she was adopted a year and a half ago in Haiti, when Bailly herself turned forty.

In a stunning series of dreams being fulfilled, the adoption also coincided with the final phase of Bailly’s first feature-length film, God is Great, I’m Not.

For Bailly, God is Great is about the search for identity that animates her two main characters. In fact, she says, “They mirror each other.” Michelle, played by Audrey Toutou of Amelie, searches for meaning by trying out different religions, while Francois, played by Edouard Baer, tries to free himself from his religion and from the pain that comes with being the son of Holocaust survivors.

Bailly loosely based her story on an important relationship she, a non-practicing Catholic, once had with a Jewish man, Alain Tasma. Their relationship, like the interfaith relationship in the film, faltered for many reasons, she says, not just because of their religious differences. Nevertheless, she retains a close friendship with Tasma, who, in fact, co-authored the first version of the script with her.

That initial version, however, was too heavy for Bailly, who likes to “touch on deep issues,” but “to keep it light. I find it boring to be sad. I prefer to be gay.”

Unlike Michelle, who begins the process of converting to Judaism, Bailly “thought about conversion,” but decided that she “doesn’t really believe in it. Perhaps in the film I wanted to explore what might have happened if I had tried conversion.”

Bailly’s emotional life, like Michelle’s, she says, has been turbulent, with many highs and lows. Although the desire to have a child is a theme running through God is Great, Bailly did not consciously insert it into the script. Instead, she intended to focus on how the search for meaning in life can take us in odd directions.

As research for the script, Bailly read Enfants de Survivants (Children of Survivors) by Nathalie Zajde and also spoke to a rabbi and two converts to Judaism. Each of the converts mentioned that she had become more observant than her lover–a situation that is reflected in God is Great.

Bailly began her career as a photographer, but then moved on to film, starting out as a script girl. In 1993 she made her first short film, Comment Font Les Gens, translated as Things People Do. This unique, offbeat film became quite popular. Her next project, Mariage D’Amour, a film for a French TV series (Combat de Femmes) shown in 1996, starred Mathilde Seigner and Roschdy Zem.

After Mariage D’Amour, Bailly spent seven years working on God is Great, writing the script, trying to get funding, and then, after it was filmed, being forced to wait to release it until after Amelie achieved its anticipated success.

As a director, Bailly has been told she behaves like a choreographer, emphasizing timing, quick movement, and dynamism. She likes to “keep things moving,” and her films are very “precise, rehearsed, planned, with traveling shots and long sequences, showing moments in which people are caught in the middle of the normal activities of life.” She adds that “Actors like to work with me because I allow them the long sequences; I don’t constantly interrupt them with short takes.”

At forty-two, Bailly now has a successful film and the mother-child relationship she has wanted since her late thirties. Although she feels she is still seeking her identity, she has learned a few things since she was twenty. One of them is the importance of work in her life, and the other is the degree of delight she takes in her daughter.


About Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.