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Aïssa Maïga on Humanity, Old Age, and “Living Together”: An Interview on “When You Grow Up”

On display this Wednesday in “When you grow up”, Aïssa Maïga embodies a children’s animator who discovers the daily life of an nursing home. On this occasion, the actress talks to us about humanity, old age and the benefits of “living together”.

After the drama “Les chatouilles”, released in 2018 and awarded two Césars, directors Andréa Bescond and Éric Métayer return to the cinema, this Wednesday, April 26, with “When you will be grown up”, a dramatic comedy steeped in humanity and full of of hope, in which Aïssa Maïga plays opposite Vincent Macaigne.

The actress plays the role of Aude, a children’s animator overflowing with energy and deeply optimistic, who, after the closure of the college canteen for work, must accompany the group of students from whom she takes lives in the neighboring retirement home. It is there, in the middle of this Ehpad, that two generations will live together and share meals, to the great displeasure of Yannick, a caregiver who, despite his contagious good humor, struggles to manage everything on a daily basis for lack of means.

How did this scenario interest you?

Aissa Maiga: I like choral films in which the characters who are supposed to be secondary suddenly reveal themselves. “When you grow up” is a work that reflects life, that speaks of the human spectrum. We follow the characters in all their emotions. I entered this nursing home and met a community of people there. Children who each have their own dreams and personal tragedies, and elders who have for some chosen to be in a retirement home, or who are, on the contrary, isolated from their families. With Vincent (Macaigne), our characters are totally dedicated to their work, but are forced to step out of their comfort zone when children and ancestors have to live together in this unique place. This interaction between two generations is the cycle of life. These meetings should be multiplied on a daily basis.

Andréa Bescond and Éric Métayer explain that they were inspired by the Atsem (territorial agents specialized in nursery schools) from their children’s school to build the character of Aude, whom you play on screen. How would you describe this woman?

Aude chose to be there, and did not become Atsem because she failed her studies. She has at heart to be with the children, to accompany them, to give them listening and energy. In her personal life, this woman suffers from loneliness, but never feels sorry for herself.

Society has become very individualistic. But we cannot live without each other.

During filming, I was animated by the collective dynamic. A team spirit that participated in building my character for which I also drew inspiration from people from my family circle or friends.

While the operation of nursing homes has been widely criticized in recent months, what do you think of the way in which we take care of the elderly in France?

If I’m French, I’m also African (she was born in Dakar to a Senegalese mother and a Malian father, editor’s note). With us, we do not leave the elderly aside. I was brought up in a culture where people look forward to being old. They know that they are going to be respected like never before and that they are going to reach the age of retribution. Elders reap the rewards of a life often spent caring for others. I have aunts and uncles who I call ‘old’, they love that term and what it stands for. I always try to remember where I come from. Our elders are seniors in their own right.

As the directors point out, old age, like childhood, is a forgotten link in our Western society…

There is no place for fragility. If the film shows people happy to be in Ehpad and in adequacy with their choices, it also highlights women and men who sometimes only have social interaction as caregivers and residents. Society has become very individualistic. But we cannot live without each other. Caregivers and carers play a vital role, and this reality has been shattered in our faces during confinement.

These are poorly paid professions, which lack recognition and have fewer and fewer resources. In particular, I have a deep respect for specialized educators, a profession that my cousin exercises and who is an extra in the film. They help in the development of young people whom they sometimes follow for many years. This requires an incredible gift of self, patience, pedagogy and significant psychological support. Logically, we should all agree that these professions are valued.

In your opinion, is the film industry sometimes disconnected from current concerns, from this reality that we must watch and that the film denounces head-on, oscillating between laughter and emotion?

We have a form of responsibility, whether we make pure entertainment or very conscious films. One does not exercise a job which is destined to remain in a circumscribed circle. It is made to be seen. We must never forget the importance of images and the way they shape minds and the imagination.

Actress, you also directed the documentaries “Regard noir” and “Marcher sur l’eau”, both released in 2021. Where are you with your project on your father, a Malian journalist and close to Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara, who was murdered when you were still a child?

I just came back from eight months of filming. I’ve been thinking about this project for two or three years. Next year it will be forty years since my father died. It is a duration that is at the same time abyssal, vertiginous, and completely abstract. I wish to pay tribute to my father, but also to this generation of intellectuals who worked for the liberation of the African continent, for the freedom of women, for the respect of the rights of the child or the environment. These are topics that are still so vivid today. These beings were decimated and did not get the recognition they deserved. It is important that I bring my stone to this edifice which is both memorial and heritage.

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