"Capturing the passage of time through film"
by Fabien Lemercier
- We caught up with French filmmaker Mikhaël Hers, to talk about his second feature film, This Summer Feeling
After making a name for himself with Memory Lane [+see also:
film profile] at Locarno in 2010, Mikhaël Hers is back with This Summer Feeling [+see also:
interview: Mikhaël Hers
film profile], an "atmospheric" second film notably featuring Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie, French actress Judith Chemla, and American actor Joshua Safdie.
Cineuropa: This Summer Feeling is set in Berlin, Paris and New York. Where did the idea for the screenplay come from?
Mikhaël Hers: When I write, I always start with where I want the story to be set, that’s what drives my writing. I made my first films almost entirely within a 10km2 perimeter, in the western suburbs of Paris, and this time I wanted to look further afield. I have a very close relationship with the three cities in the film, the landscapes of which move me, with their mix of wooded areas, flowerbeds and more urban elements. I’m drawn to these boundless landscapes. Standing in a park and looking out over a city or being in the city and seeing a block of trees stretching out towards the horizon: the juxtaposition of such different spaces speaks to something mysterious in me.
What was the main theme you wanted to explore?
The passage of time and dying. I address this more head-on here than in my short films and my first feature, as the film starts with a death. What I wanted to explore was the repercussions of death on the people left behind, and to see how the passage of time can be captured through film. The way I see it, this is something we all have to deal with sooner or later: facing up to loss, bereavement, that which slips away from us.
Why did you decide to set the story over three years?
I didn’t want to film the shock of bereavement, and the period that immediately follows that shock. I don’t think that can even be put into film: it’s a type of violence that’s too complicated for words. Then again, the story couldn’t stretch out over 30 years either. I chose what I thought would be the right timespan for the film, but I did so intuitively. I’m not used to theorising: making films is all about luck, and the freedom to not have to set every little detail and the whys and wherefores in stone.
And why did you choose three summers?
I always end up writing just as summer rolls around. It’s obviously a season that’s full of life, bright and full of renewal, but I also find that it’s a period in which boredom and absence weigh all the heavier. I like this ambivalence and the feelings that go with it.
You have a gentle approach to serious subjects. To what extent is this premeditated?
It’s a question of personality. I don’t force myself to film things gently. It’s almost certainly got something to do with the way I construct the relationships between my characters, but it doesn’t stop me expressing ambivalent feelings and feeling the effects of violence deep down. I’m not trying to tone things down, but you don’t need to assault the characters and the audience to convey the feeling of a world you can’t understand. You can’t necessarily get to the truth and heart of a matter by crashing full force into what you feel is its epicentre: you can get there by building the right atmosphere, by using echoes. Obviously doing so shouldn’t exaggerate things or avoid conflict, but I think the reality of absence, of bereavement, can probably be grasped a little better and a little more accurately over time.
You chose to shoot the film in Super 16
It’s a format that speaks to me, even more than 35mm. I’m sure cinematographers everywhere would scream at me for saying so, but I find that these days there’s not a lot of difference between 35mm and digital, whilst Super 16 is totally different. It’s worlds apart; it gives you a grainy, imperfect image that really feels tangible. And I find that for films that broach the subject of the passage of time, it’s the perfect format.
Is your style of film easy to fund?
It’s hard, but I had an amazing producer, Pierre Guyard (Nord-Ouest Films) who fought to make sure that the film could be made under decent conditions. I know I’m very lucky, with these kinds of films that don’t feature any famous faces, don’t deal with any issues affecting society, and have a singular timespan, in today’s context. But this is a film as dividing when it came to funding as it was when it was released. Some are bowled over because it’s about the ordinary things in life, which they identify with and feel very close to, whilst it also has the power to infuriate those who prefer more head-on films.
(Translated from French)