“May December”: Todd Haynes, taboo filmmaker

“May December”: Todd Haynes, taboo filmmaker


“It’s a game of chess. » This is how Todd Haynes defines his work. “Really a game of chess” , he insists. In the Parisian premises of his French distributor, ARP, which is releasing his new feature film, May December, in theaters on January 24, the 63-year-old filmmaker comes alive. He gets up, sits down again, gets up again. And mimes a game of chess with his hands.

“In my opinion, the most moving melodramas are those during which an individual attempts to express a desire that his social environment does everything to repress. And, in the end, this same individual destroys everything around him. » But then, why a game of chess? “There is no question of eliminated parts” , he specifies, but of “pain inflicted” on his characters, of the fate reserved for them, of the increasing intensity, of the permanent and dull anguish of being put in checkmate.

In May December , his eleventh film, in competition at Cannes in 2023, the victims of this game of massacre are all designated. A famous actress (Natalie Portman) arrives in Savannah, Georgia, to a superb house on the riverbank. She comes to meet a woman she is about to play on screen. By getting to know him, notebook in hand, she seeks to grasp his gestures, his postures, to understand what drives him.

The “May December” team during the presentation of the film in Cannes, May 20, 2023.

The approach is usual for any actress who rubs shoulders with a real character. Except that, here, the model is difficult to pin down. Gracie, played by Julianne Moore, is a woman in her fifties with a seemingly ordinary life. But she hit the headlines two decades earlier, for having had an affair, when she was a thirty-year-old mother, with a young boy of 13.

Game of pretenses and unsaid

The affair, initially kept secret, caused a stir when it came to light. And it is this scandal that the actress tries to understand, twenty years later, by touring the city, meeting witnesses to the story and discovering, during her investigation, the fragilities of the couple formed by former lovers. Then emerges an ambiguous game of pretenses and unsaid words, complicity and reproaches.

May December is based on an authentic story that fascinated and shocked America in the late 1990s: the relationship between Mary Kay Letourneau, a mathematics professor from Washington State, then aged 34, with the one of his students, Vili Fualaau, 12 years old. Convicted of embezzling a minor, Mary Kay Letourneau had two children in prison, with her young lover, whom she married in 2005, when she came of age.

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