Actress-director Maiwenn talks to Dominic Corry about her acclaimed latest work screening in this year's French Film Festival.

French celebrities tend not to be like celebrities from other countries. But even so, there has never been anyone quite like Maiwenn.

A child actress who had a baby with director Luc Besson when she was just 16, she is thought by many to be the inspiration for Natalie Portman's character in Besson's 1994 thriller The Professional, in which she had a small role.

English-speaking audiences probably have seen the single-named star as the blue-skinned alien diva in Besson's 1997 blockbuster The Fifth Element, French audiences know Maiwenn as one of that country's top contemporary filmmakers, having solidified the position with her third film, the award-winning Polisse (2011), which she wrote, directed and starred in.

Relationship drama Mon Roi (My King) is Maiwenn's latest directorial effort, and it too has generated a flood of acclaim -- the film was nominated for the top prize at Cannes, where its leading lady, Emmanuelle Bercot won the award for Best Actress.

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When TimeOut was in Paris to discuss Mon Roi with Maiwenn, world events cast a pall over the interview: it was just three days after the Friday-night terrorist attacks that shook Paris to its core.

As we're exchanging pleasantries, she suddenly, understandably, bursts into tears.

"I live close to what happened," she says quietly.

"I don't want to stop my life just because of that. But it's hell for everybody today."

Mon Roi focuses on Tony (Bercot), a lawyer resident at rehabilitation centre after a skiing accident. While recuperating, Tony reflects back on her longterm relationship with Georgio (French superstar Vincent Cassel), a charismatic restaurateur with a giant flaky streak.

It's the first film Maiwenn has directed without also appearing in front of the camera.

"I wanted to try, at least one time, to not act in my movie, just to see how the energy is going," she says. "What do I lose? What do I win? And also because the character is completely losing herself -- you can't direct a whole crew, actors and take care of your character. It's two different energies that don't match, I think. At least on this one I didn't want to. It doesn't mean that I won't act anymore."

Although not without its romantic highs, Mon Roi presents a much clearer-eyed view of modern relationships than the vapid portrayal movies usually provide.

"On the set, we were talking about couples all the time, the actors, the crew, everybody was talking about themselves. I thought my story in the movie was unique because of the details, and I figured out, Vincent kept telling me, that this story is not unique, this is a story about all the couples who have patience. Now that the movie is in the theatre, I've had lots of letters and texts from people I don't know, and they all say 'Me! This is my story!' So I figured out my movie doesn't talk about a unique story, it's talking about men, women, and how the communication is never the same.

"All the women, they come up to me and they say, 'This is my story, and he is an asshole', and all the men, they tell me 'The movie is fantastic, but the man is not an asshole'."

Let's make one thing clear: Vincent Cassel's Georgio is an asshole. But he's an often sympathetic asshole.

"I think there is lots of Vincent in the character, but I think he wouldn't be as horrible as Georgio. He doesn't like people saying he's an asshole in the movie. But when he accepted the movie, he said 'I accept but, you have to know that I'm going to be on Georgio's side all the time'."

Although it's pretty hard to watch the film without forming an opinion on Georgio, Maiwenn says she didn't want to judge the title character.

"I wanted the viewer to be torn in each and every moment of the movie between her and him," she explains, "to show their irreconcilabile differences between his view with regards to the facts of life as a man, and her views as a woman."

As our time together winds down, an inquiry about what Maiwenn is doing next brings the conversation back to the events of the previous Friday night.

"Making movies at a time like this feels like something that's very superficial. Right now, it's not what matters.

"But on the other end, culture is what feeds the spirit."

Lowdown

Who:

Maiwenn

What:

Mon Roi

Where and when:

Screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which starts in Auckland on Thursday (Rialto Newmarket) and Friday (Berkeley Takapuna)