Delphine and Muriel Coulin • Directors
"It’s a kind of group visual therapy"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2016: Delphine and Muriel Coulin tell Cineuropa about the astonishing origins of The Stopover, which was presented in the Un Certain Regard selection
After they rose to fame in the 2011 Critics’ Week with 17 Girls [+see also:
film profile], Delphine and Muriel Coulin are treading the Croisette once again, this time in the Un Certain Regard selection of the 69th Cannes Film Festival, with their second feature, The Stopover [+see also:
interview: Delphine and Muriel Coulin
Cineuropa: The Stopover revolves around female characters in the military domain, centring on the decompression leave that French soldiers get when they return from Afghanistan. What was the starting point for this surprising mixture of subjects, which you initially wrote a novel about?
Delphine Coulin: It all stemmed from violence and women. There’s a huge number of presuppositions, as if men had a monopoly on violence, and we women were totally innocent. And yet I think we are just as capable of being violent as men are. At the same time, when a 15-year-old boy goes off on a camping trip with his mates, everyone is delighted for him, whereas if it’s a girl and her friends, everyone’s likely to warn her and worry about her. It’s not the 1970s any more, and a lot of the questions surrounding feminist struggles have been resolved, but there is still a form of violence being exerted on women in this way. And also, we come from Lorient, a town with a lot of soldiers, and we’ve rubbed shoulders with them, even though that’s not our particular family background. Lastly, despite me telling myself that we have the right to do any job, just like men, because we’re their equals, I still found it strange every time I saw female soldiers. And I was also interested in the question of friendship between females.
Muriel Coulin: We read an article about the decompression leave on Cyprus, and we told ourselves that we were going to insert this female-orientated story into this fairly unbelievable setting: three days that they spend virtually in a vacuum, to forget about the war – they have to come to terms with the conflict in a five-star hotel by the sea.
The military atmosphere is reproduced very skilfully, as is the detail with which you portray the decompression session. What research did you do?
MC: We gathered a lot of material, and we met up with the right people who had genuinely experienced the decompression leave and who described it to us in minute detail: the reveille, the breakfasts, the main activities, who goes where and when, and so on. And we went to visit some barracks.
DC: We also met the only "embedded" journalist to have gone on the leave. And five out of our cast of 16 military characters are real-life ex-soldiers who served in Afghanistan or elsewhere. For instance, the first soldier who is debriefed in the film was a mine-clearing expert in Afghanistan and was left shell-shocked by the war.
MC: There are a lot of things that we were able to make up ourselves, like the experiences of these girls and their friendship, because we have lived through them in a different context. But in a world that is as distinctive and unique as the military domain, we couldn’t get away with not being accurate, because that would have been visible straight away and it would have brought the viewer out of their immersion in the story. So we couldn’t leave anything to chance.
What about the astounding therapy sessions with the animation in the background while the soldiers are wearing a virtual-reality helmet?
MC: The Americans and the French use this virtual-reality system to train up before going to fight, but they now also use it when the soldiers come back, to help them recover. It’s incredible! We had heard about it, and we saw some videos by the army and by a modern artist. It was great for us because there were all those flashbacks and the virtual reality in Delphine’s book, but the question came up of knowing how to recreate this war in the movie. Obviously, we weren’t going to go off and shoot in Afghanistan or somewhere else to get some images that the soldiers would have seen in the VR helmet. And given that for us, reality is reality, we didn’t want to use a green screen. But the actual system would have cost an arm and a leg, and we couldn’t use the army’s gear either. So we decided first of all to come up with some 3D images, and our actors playing the soldiers wearing the helmet would act in accordance with these images.
DC: In films, you don’t normally see what’s going on in the characters’ heads. But here, we had an actor recounting his experiences in Afghanistan and, at the same time, his memory playing out behind him in animated form.
MC: And around him are the other soldiers who have lived through the same event and who are plunged back into it, because it’s a kind of group visual therapy. We devised the 3D images (in fact they were 2D because they are projected) and the military strategy of the ambush. We gave that to the people at BUF, who suggested some drawings and produced the animation.
(Translated from French)
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