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Cannes Rising Stars: ‘Queens of Drama’ Actors Louiza Aura and Gio Ventura Light up the Screen

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Gio Ventura was first introduced to acting via a poster in his high school, which was a call for auditions for a student short film. “I went to the casting and then I realized that the role was inspired by my ex-girlfriend. [The director] didn’t know I recognized her,” Ventura says with a laugh. “It was really easy to get into the character.”

Ventura would spend the next couple of years acting in a handful of short films before heading to Paris, where he began his professional career five years ago. He says of the city: “I got to meet more queer filmmakers that were making the movies that I actually go to see.”

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One of those filmmakers was Alexis Langlois, who in 2021 directed the campy, queer horror comedy short The Demons of Dorothy, about a screenwriter who must focus on mainstream films instead of making campy, queer horror comedies. Dorothy is reminiscent of John Waters’ oeuvre, filled with hyperbole, subversion and lots of glitter.

“In France, Alexis is one of the only people who makes cinema that has a real visual presentation. I know it’s a thing in the U.S., but it’s not really in France, so it’s very special,” says Ventura. Langlois’ films sit in stark contrast to the more grounded fare that is synonymous with contemporary French cinema, Ventura adds: “In France, we have very realistic movies. He’s very interested in extreme femininity, but it’s beyond that — it’s like it almost touches something that is more monstrous. It’s queer, in the real sense of the word.”

Taken by his work, Ventura attempted to make contact. “I wrote him a message on Facebook a couple of years ago and he replied with something very polite, like, ‘Thank you.’ I replied: ‘You know, I’m an actor …’ He didn’t really react,” remembers Ventura, who later ran into the director at a film festival party. “I was drunk and I just went up to him: ‘Do you remember me? I wrote you a message. I want to act for you!’ ” With Langlois’ latest, Queens of Drama, Ventura got his wish, co-starring in the film that is set to screen in Cannes as part of the Critics’ Week, which is a sidebar to the Cannes Film Festival.

Queens of Drama tells the early aughts love story of pop icon Mimi Madamour (played by Louiza Aura) and punk rocker Billie Kohler (Ventura), whose tumultuous relationship inspired the music that helped each of them climb the charts but also inspired much heartache. Queens of Drama is told in flashbacks, with a fanatic YouTuber serving as the audience’s guide.

Unlike Ventura, Aura wasn’t looking for a career in performance, let alone a role in Langlois’ movie. “I actually got into acting totally by chance, it wasn’t something that I ever wanted to do,” says Aura, who was working as a model. “I had gone to a premiere screening for a film and someone saw me there. One thing led to another, and I had an agent.” Shortly after, she booked her first acting role in Queens of Drama.

Set in 2005, the movie is a fever dream of early aughts nostalgia, filled with music show parodies (à la American Idol) and low-rise pants. Langlois and his stars shared a Dropbox folder of inspiration and imagery from the time period, the zenith of the pop diva and the “girl power” groups, complete with images of Mariah Carey and Britney Spears. 

Between casting and the start of production, there was a long delay, during which the stars rehearsed every week for nine months. “It would have been quite a different film had we not had all of this rehearsal time,” says Aura. They took the time to establish their onscreen relationship and practice their choreography. French artists Rebeka Warrior and Yelle helped produce the original music in the film.

Filming on Queens of Drama took place over five weeks in Brussels, Belgium. During that time, Ventura and Aura shot scenes of onscreen competition shows, grunge concerts, music videos, awards show speeches and talk show meltdowns. Interspersed throughout the fun, camp and, yes, drama, the duo shot a simple love story about losing your love and finding your way back to them. 

Asked what she hopes audiences take away from the audacious movie, Aura says simply, “I hope they cry.”

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