‘Chorus’ is a project you’ve been thinking about for a long time, right?
Yes, it’s a project that took a while to come to fruition: I started it before ‘Twice a Woman’, which I completed in 2010. I then directed ‘The Meteor’ before going back to it. Paradoxically, the result is quite close to the first script I wrote, even though the project went through a rollercoaster ride of different phases over the years. At the beginning, I wanted to write something other than a traditional synopsis, so the first script was fairly poetic. In retrospect, you could even see it as a blueprint for the tone of ‘The Meteor’. Narratively, however, everything was there. I later decided to work with a co-screenwriter, but our collaboration was a bust. So it took time for the wounds to heal and for me to be ready to consider re-writing the material.
It reminds me of the final line from Bresson’s pickpocket: “what a long road I had to travel to get to you.”
Yes. It wasn’t until Catherine Martin’s ‘A Journey’, which I produced, that I went back to writing ‘Chorus’. I also think my experience with ‘The Meteor’ seeped into the project.
You seem to have a real propensity for dramatically loaded subjects and extreme situations like conjugal violence, killing, kidnapping and child murder. What draws your filmmaking and your imagination into such dark places?
Just taking on subjects like that necessarily creates some pretty strong tension. As a result, the issues become clear. At that point my work consists in finding nuance and subtlety, which suits me better than having to add another layer so it works dramatically. In other words, what defines these situations is that they pull the narrative thread tight; I can build around it more freely since I know that I’ll get eventually to the other end of the thread. But that’s all technical details. In general, I’d say that these issues help me deal with life head-on: difficult, violent subjects lead us away from entertainment. I don’t want to make films for entertainment because I see that as a kind of offensive nihilism, a way of giving up in the face of our destiny and the challenges posed by our humanity. I want to grapple with reality; I want to face up to it. I feel that’s a sign of vitality: dealing with death is a good way of dealing with life. I often tell actors, “You don’t need to overplay it; it’s already loaded enough.” These are subjects that allow for, and even demand, a certain economy. I’m very interested in the repercussions these situations have on the bodies of those who live through them. It’s probably less obvious in ‘Chorus’, but for example in You, the main concern was observing the movement of bodies clashing against each other in situations of extreme emotion.
And what was the spark behind ‘Chorus’? Was it the idea of a child being kidnapped or was it something else?
The spark was the feeling of loss. I experienced that at one point in my life, and I realized that it can lead to a kind of fetishism: you save someone’s phone messages and cling on to their voice, for example; you refuse to let go of that little fragment. That’s how the idea arose of a couple who get back together through mourning a child. All that’s from a very theoretical perspective, since I’ve never been through anything like that. To me, the focal point was the ending, when they’re together on the staircase. Everything had to converge toward that. Afterwards, the writing, the shooting and the form got fleshed out, but the trajectory was already clear.
So the idea of loss was the essence of your approach?
To me, living means coming to grips with loss. Mourning is an essential part of existence, whether of a person, a thing, an ideal or a dream.
We’re all familiar with couples who fly apart after the death of a child. It’s become almost a cliché. The originality of your approach is to go in the opposite direction, taking a couple who have broken up and bringing each half together.
Starting the story ten years after the child’s death creates a distance from the initial shock. Right off the bat, the characters are shattered and broken. Yet they’ll have a chance to rebuild themselves by finishing a narrative that came to an abrupt end: the child’s body was never found, there was no funeral, etc. Soit’s an interesting challenge to rebuild characters who are in pieces, imprisoned in their memories. Putting ten years between the child’s disappearance and the beginning of the film gives me access to characters who are no longer in crisis mode and, as a result, can put in words what they’re going through and how they feel. It’s a definite advantage when you want to go deeper into a subject.
The film seems built around the idea of inverse symmetry: he fled to Mexico but has contact with his father, who’s comforting and well-grounded, while she stayed here and has contact with her mother, who bums money and seems like an outcast.
They experienced the same loss together, but their reactions are different, some would say opposite. I felt it was important to show that that came about due to different family backgrounds and different upbringings. Their differences came together over the child. When the child was no longer there, only their differences remained. This relationship of inverse symmetry probably comes from the way couples complete each other. We find something in someone else that we need, that we don’t have. This can be seen even in parents.
What about the title, ‘Chorus’?
Music and choir is mainly what keeps Fanny anchored to life and society. At first, the film was supposed to be called Forget-Me-Not, after the flower. But the graphic power of titles is important to me. And in that sense, ‘Chorus’ was much better. Phonetically, it’s also reminiscent of coeur (French for “heart”), of a pulsating motion that evokes the waves that are so important to the character of Sébastien. So the title links the two characters in several ways.
When did you decide on black and white?
At the beginning, but subconsciously. I mean that I didn’t one day decide that it should be in black and white, but I saw the scenes as they are in the final film, which is pretty weird. Maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was going back to black and white. After writing the final version of the script, I chanced upon some images by the American photographer Mark Steinmetz and thought that they matched the film’s atmosphere. They’re low-contrast images where the shades of grey override the blacks and whites. Since I did the photography on the film and also the colour correction, I had full control over these aspects of the production.