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Henri: "a film about reawakening"

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Yolande Moreau • Director


- Cinergie met with Yolande Moreau to talk about Henri, her second feature film that was highly acclaimed at The Directors’ Fortnight 2013

Yolande Moreau • Director

As at the morning screening reserved on a priority basis for industry professionals, on the evening of 25 May at the closing ceremony of the Directors’ Fortnight 2013, Henri [+see also:
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interview: Yolande Moreau
festival scope
film profile
, the second feature film of Yolande Moreau, received a lengthy round of applause. The moving story of an unlikely encounter between Rosette, an ever so slightly mentally impaired ‘white butterfly’ and Henri, a bar owner more lost than ever since the death of his wife, captivated and greatly touched viewers. We caught up with the director on the beach at The Directors’ Fortnight, freshly made up for a photo shoot and all ears and smiles, as usual.

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Cinergie: Let’s talk about the storyline. You place great importance on what you write and the experience of solitude doesn’t seem to put you off. What’s your secret?
Yolande Moreau: Writing is difficult, especially to begin with. You have to hang in there, even if it’s painful. Then, once you’re off and running, it becomes an exciting experience, and you grab onto a storyline. Slowly but surely, the most ridiculous things start to come together, they start to exist - that’s when it’s really exciting. But at the beginning, no. Putting those first lines down on paper is not much of an experience. Before, I used to write with a pencil, so I could rub things out, and most of all I ended up not hitting on anything. For this film, I worked on the computer. I was a little apprehensive, as everything comes pouring out, you don’t dare erase anything, but when all is said and done it works well too.

I like writing because it’s a solitary stage, but it’s also one for dreamers. For example, here I knew I wanted to talk about pigeon fanciers, so I browsed through various websites, watched videos on pigeons – I threw myself into researching it… I started to dream when I learned that pigeons are among the most loyal of animals. And I like to dream. To begin with I saw myself playing Rosette. I liked the idea of playing a bit of a scatterbrain, a oddball. But time went by – I’m very slow when it comes to writing – and I realised I was too old for the role, so I chose Candy.

Why the names Henri and Rosette? Are they from your past, figments of your imagination?
I really like the name Henri. Yes, the character is Italian, and it’s not a very Italian name, but I figured that doesn’t matter, and Enrique didn’t really fit. As for Rosette, that came to me with my little song in the middle of the film Rosa, Rosa, Rosam. It was only afterwards that I realised there’s something sad about scenes of roses… I could have found something else, another name, as sometimes you start with an idea that then evolves over the course of the writing process, but I really liked Rosette.

In your first film, you said that “the best part of love stories is the beginning”, is this why you don’t show us the end?
Ah, the phrase from my little show! In fact here, the love story is, for me, of secondary importance. It is in When the Sea Rises, too. Above all I wanted to show how sometimes, grabbing onto a love affair when you’re unhappy does you the world of good. I wanted to show someone who was alone, subdued, resigned to their fate, someone older than Rosette. With her, on the other hand, I wanted to show a type of loneliness that dreams of normality, that dreams of living. Henri sleeps endlessly, speaks very little, while she’s wide awake. It’s a film about reawakening. Rosette suddenly bursting into Henri’s life triggers something in him that he had forgotten – aspirations, happiness, a small beacon of light. Rosette gets Henri communicating again, while the start of the film rests on the lack of communication between him and his wife, played by Lio. Being different brings them together and brings this slightly alcoholic man back into himself. The world of normality and Rosette’s outlook on life aren’t as far apart as it may seem. That’s all this film is about. It’s fragile, but so is life!

Henri is the first film you’ve made on your own. How did you get to grips with film making techniques? At the end of the day, the technical side of things is just one of the many aspects of cinema. I was really scared of using the camera, that’s for sure, as I knew nothing about it. But it’s a team effort, you rely on the expertise of others! Working with all the technicians was wonderful. And in particular, there was my daughter, Eloïse, who’s a continuity supervisor and helped me a lot. It was her who familiarised me with the technical jargon, cutting… For the photography, I wanted someone who knows where to put the camera and understands how it works. I hadn’t done a storyboard because I can’t draw, but together with Philippe Guilbert I mapped out where to cut. In fact, film making is all about instinct, about how you want to portray something. This is what Philippe said to me anyway: “How do you picture the scene?” Now me, I had lots in my head – settings, places. When you write, you don’t have precise places in mind, but you invent them, you picture people moving around. It’s only afterwards that you put together where the characters will actually move around when you go location scouting. Staging is all about preparation. I learnt that in the theatre – that there’s an optimum distance for talking to someone… that you have to know how you want the actors to move around a room, pass by one another, etc. I’ve been in this business for a long time, since I was a teenager, so to make this film, I had to call upon all my experience and senses, especially since, as I said, it’s first and foremost about instinct.

How did you direct your actors?
It’s different for each actor, but on the whole, I believe I’m rather precise in what I ask for. I calmly explain how I picture the scene and then I leave it up to the actors. Which doesn’t stop me from giving them hell if they don’t do what I want! (laughs) Personally, I love improvisation, as does Jackie Berroyer, but here we didn’t do much of it – the film is very scripted, as I also know the pitfalls of improvisation. You end up moving away from what you want to portray. That doesn’t mean you don’t get brilliant little gems pop up too, little coincidences that are superb. For example, in Henri, I love it when Rosette makes the little boat out of paper that sails away on the water. Shortly after, a wave comes and takes away her shoes. That we kept.

All the actors were very focused, they really got into their characters. Also, they’re not the tortured-soul type, so in the evening they were able to unplug. What I noticed straight away when I met them, Candy in Louise-Michel [+see also:
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interview: Benoît Delépine and Gustave…
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, and Pippo in a bar where we talked for hours, was that they both had great presence. They throw themselves into the role, and don’t try to do what the director may consider as overdoing it! I rehearsed a bit with Candy, but I didn’t want to use certain things and she instinctively understood what she had to do. With Pippo, I would have liked to rehearse beforehand, but he didn’t have the time – he was too busy with the theatre. In fact, I was afraid he didn’t understand everything, which has just been confirmed to me: just now, the Directors’ Fortnight team gave him a little card with his photo on which he could write what he wanted. So the others said to him, it’s obvious what you should put “Pipe à tout heure” [“Blow-jobs any time”] since it’s in the film, and he said: “But what does that mean?” Everybody burst out laughing – he hadn’t understood the joke! Better late than never…

Between the actors and technicians, you like working with people you know. Is your team like a little family?
I’m quite loyal in friendship and in love, I think. Very loyal even! I love Wim Willaert’s work, for example, and I was so happy to be able to have him involved in this film. I trust Lio completely. Serge (Larivière) is now part of Kervern and Délépine’s team… Then there’s Jackie (Berroyer), Simon (André)… Life goes on and you meet more and more people. It’s exciting!

You really love your home country, Belgium. Would you like to film somewhere else now?

I don’t know. For now, I’m happy with what I know. I admire filmmakers that can talk about Vietnam without ever having set foot there. It’s another way of operating. And that’s fine, it’s just not for me. Middlekerke, that I knew! My grandmother was born there, so I liked going back there. She had a little café with a farm, some pigs. Now there’s a Tonton Tapis store there, everything has been demolished, there’s just a bunch of buildings… I wanted to lay down some poetry there. Even though I’ve lived in Normandy for years, I’ve always wanted to go to Belgium. It’s weird because I feel at home in Normandy, it’s beautiful and I have friends there. But when it comes to telling a story, I’m immediately pulled towards Belgium. We’ll see with my next film! Here, I met people from the PACA region who said, “Come over here” But I said to them: “I don’t know, it’s not home for me.”

(Translated from French)

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