LOLA BESSIS: From Different Angles and In different Light New Colors Come Into View
It’s rarely a good idea to show up early to an appointment in Los Angeles, and last Friday—when I was scheduled to interview rising French actress Lola Bessis—was no exception.
The plan had been: conduct a tête-à-tête with Ms. Bessis, star of Amazon’s forthcoming Picnic at Hanging Rock and director of several festival-favorite projects, at 5PM, directly following her photoshoot.
But when I showed up to Flaunt at 4:45, Bessis was nowhere to be found—and the photo crew was instead busy shooting a fashion model outside the Hollywood offices.
Unsure of what caused the editorial change, I figured I would cut my losses and watch the photoshoot. If I couldn’t interview Bessis, at least I could close the workweek by seeing a professional demonstrate her craft. But upon closer inspection I realized, to my surprise, that the "professional model" was the director and actress herself. I should have known. Bessis wears many hats, I would come to learn, and she wears them all well.
PRADA top, MARINE SERRE tights, CHANEL shoes, and CHARLOTTE CHESNAIS ring.
And so in the last shafts of sun angling across Western and into our back lot, I observed as she struck and relinquished poses with practiced cool. Legs crossed and uncrossed; flawless arms folding, draping, and straightening—she cycled through images with the ease of a card dealer shuffling and reshuffling a deck. Although her face was undoubtedly striking—set with melancholy, knowing eyes that might have made her a film star in the silent era—what I was most drawn to were her shoes.
With every position and prompt, the sun played upon her Louboutin heels in new and mysterious ways. From one position they glinted pink, another blue, recalling the shifting luster of an abalone shell. I tried to summon the word for a color that appears different from every angle, and, after some time, settled on it: Iridescent.
The shoot finished, Bessis is whisked into a back room, emerging a few minutes later looking at ease, free of the hovering camera. In person, she proves to be as effusive and inviting as she is on film, now dressed approachably in sneakers and a punky blue jumpsuit.
“Fashion shoots have always felt like more of a game to me,” she says, when asked about the strange woman just seen striking poses outside, “They weren’t always my thing, but now I’m starting to enjoy it—It’s really a lot like acting in that you build your own character and your own world.”
And it’s world-building that Bessis, though only 26, is uniquely qualified to comment on. After studying filmmaking at La Sorbonne and NYU, Bessis first gained stateside attention when her film Swim Little Fish Swim traveled the US festival circuit in 2013; aside from directing the offbeat comedy, she displayed in her acting performance a “natural screen presence” that the Village Voice applauded upon the film’s release. At the age of 21, she found herself in the unique position of being noted equally for her talent as both actress and director.
NIKE t-shirt, BURBERRY pants, PIERRE HARDY shoes, PRADA hat, MARQUES ‘ ALMEIDA sunglasses, PEARL COLLECTIVE earring, and CHARLOTTE CHESNAIS ring.
What followed was a steady flow of new projects: she appeared in 10 episodes of the French sitcom France KBEK; her auteur cred was buttressed by her involvement in 9 short films; most notably, she stole scenes in the aforementioned Thirst Street, playing the role of Charlie—a bemusing, lesbian burlesque dancer working the underbelly of Parisian nightlife. And though she claims the world of fashion is somewhat foreign to her, the industry, apparently, does not apparently—Chloé tabbed her to direct a series of short advertorial films just last year.
All of this, though, is just lead-up to what might be her proper introduction to American audiences. Picnic at Hanging Rock, helmed by veteran showrunner Larysa Kondracki, looks to be generating a fair bit of buzz in advance of its US debut.
Called a “decadent feast for the senses” in one early review and likened to the world of Sofia Coppola in another, the series places a paranormal mystery in the center of an all-girls boarding school in Australia, circa 1900.
“I would say it’s a very modern and avant garde feminist period piece,” Bessis says. “Its period, yet at the same time very accurate about what we as women have to go through.”
Bessis’ role is that of Dianne de Poitiers, the school’s “mistress of French Conversation”—and one of several characters at the fictional school who seek to mould and shape its students into “proper” feminine form. That is, at least, until three students vanish, sending their remote community into paranoid psychological territory reminiscent of David Lynch.
And unlike the 1975 Peter Weir film that precedes it, the school depicted in this version of Picnic prominently features characters of indigenous background—not to mention a committed exploration of homoerotic dynamics between characters.
“The writers of this show were very talented...It deals with race issues, homosexuality, female emancipation,” Bessis says, “It deals with how to truly be yourself —whatever people may think.”
In Bessis’s world, “being herself” is not limited to her ambitions on screen. Already hard at work on her directorial follow up to Swim, Bessis exposes herself to be a true film nerd when asked about filmmakers she looks up to.
“I love Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee,” she says, also namedropping young French directors like Virgil Vernier and Justine Triet. “My truest interest is in film. I’ve always loved acting and fashion—but I don’t think I could ever stop directing films.”
Budding actress. Independent filmmaker. The girl in the iridescent heels. All depending on what angle, and what light, you choose to appreciate her in.
Written by Dylan Chase
Photographer: Nick Green
Stylist: Mui-Hai Chu
Hair: Dritan Vushaj using Sachajuan at Forward Artists
Makeup: Jadyn Ngo at The Visionaries Agency
Video: Logan Rice