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"I am proud of the scenes where I observe an intensity that I don't see every day in the cinema"

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Jacques Toulemonde • Director


- At the Black Nights Film Festival, director Jacques Toulemonde took some time to speak to the press about the making of his feature debut, Anna

Jacques Toulemonde  • Director
(© Canal Cinema+)

Born to a French-Colombian family in Bogota, Jacques Toulemonde has been living in France since 2001. Working as an assistant director on a number of feature films, his 2010 short Un juego de niños was well regarded on the circuit, winning more than ten international awards and playing at over 30 festivals.

His debut feature, Anna [+see also:
film review
interview: Jacques Toulemonde
film profile
, is a powerful story of an emotionally fragile woman who runs away to Colombia with her boyfriend and son to start a new life. But she soon discovers that she can’t run away from herself. Shot in both Paris and Colombia, the film is a highly charged affair with some powerful performances. It had its world premiere at the 19th Black Nights Film Festival, where it screened as part of the First Features Competition. The director was on hand after the first press screening to answer some questions.

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What attracted you to making this film?
Jacques Toulemonde: I think making a movie like this was a dream I had had for ten years, and I wanted to make it with my friends – my father performs in the film, for example. What was great was being able to bring people from Colombia to Paris and people from Paris to Colombia, and have this kind of tribe travelling through all these places.

The film was shot chronologically. What did this contribute to it?
A film is about energy, and the crew must be as affected by the film as the characters, and that’s why it was important to film chronologically and get through the different stages and places we were. That was a fun thing about the movie – we started in Paris, where we were kind of cold, then on to Colombia, where it was 48 degrees. That helps the movie, and you can feel it.

Central to the film is the character of ten-year-old Nathan, played by Kolia Abiteboul Dossetto. How did you go about casting him?
We saw many kids – maybe 200. I was in Colombia at the time, and we had a casting director do it. When I saw him on the video, I knew he was the one; despite having some doubts, I met him, and we understood each other perfectly. He’s a child, and it’s not always easy, but he had all the goodwill to do it. There are some scenes that were hard for him and that were hard to direct and to get the results I wanted, and I even had to force him a bit. When we did it, it was really difficult, but when I said, “Sorry, I had to push you that way,” he said, “No problem; that’s what I’m here for.” What’s great about him is that what’s there is raw. We tried to work without giving him the script, and he was always improvising.

You’ve cited the new wave of American 1970s cinema as an influence on your work. How do you think that manifests itself in Anna?
I think it’s filmed in kind of a classical way – for example, another huge influence was A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes. I see it mostly with the character of Bruno – he’s the kind of character who “rises” throughout the film. At the beginning, you don’t want to explain too much. During the shoot, I began to see Jerry Schatzberg’s classic film The Panic in Needle Park, and at that moment I rewrote all of the scenes. I try to work with emotion, which exists in the kind of cinema I want to make. And it also exists in the characters – they’re misfits who are fighting and suffering with normality, and trying not to “go that way”. That’s something I saw in Schatzberg and films of his like Scarecrow.

Given the occasionally tough conditions while making Anna, do you think it’s important to be taken out of your comfort zone?
For me as a director, sure. When we began the shoot, I didn’t realise the difficulty of the task. I like to think my comfort zone is directing actors, but this was another level because of the difficult character of Anna, the kid and the journey itself. I wanted to work with more improvisation and playing with accidents to see if it went elsewhere. I sort of told myself that it was like Scarecrow,with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. You have the sad guy trying to make everything fun, and the other guy who is more violent and trying to find his way. That was the kind of relationship I wanted to try. And working with improvisation is never a comfort zone, especially with a kid. You try something, and one day it works and you think, “OK! I found the key!” Then the next day you try it again and it doesn’t work, so you are always trying to find new ways of doing it. I am very proud of some scenes where I observe an intensity that I don’t see every day in the cinema, because we were all trying to go further.

What is next for the film?
The movie is being released in Colombia in March, and we’ve just had our very first screening. I am eager to know what people think.

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