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"What I like about film is inventing"

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Arnaud des Pallières • Director

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- Interview with passionate French filmmaker Arnaud des Pallières, who talked to us about the origins of Orphan

Arnaud des Pallières • Director

Unveiled at Toronto and screened in competition at San Sebastián, Orphan [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Arnaud des Pallières
film profile
]
is the 5th fictional feature film by Arnaud des Pallières after Drancy avenir (1996), Adieu (2004), Park [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(selected in the Orizzonti section at Venice in 2008) and Michael Kohlhaas [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Arnaud des Pallières
festival scope
film profile
]
(shown in competition at Cannes in 2013). We caught up with the director, just a few days before the French release of the film.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Orphan was inspired by the youth of your co-screenwriter, Christelle Berthevas. Why did you want to make it into a film?
Arnaud des Pallières: After Michael Kohlhaas, I wanted to work with Christelle again. I’d known her story for some years, and it really moved me. For a long time, I felt like I wasn’t up to portraying a strong and complex female character. I asked Christelle to put anything that came to her and how it came to her down on paper, without trying to shape it into a screenplay beforehand, because I wanted to try to faithfully convey the emotion that overcame me when she told me her story in this disorganised, fragmented and non-linear fashion. I thought there was something to explore around the narrative form of "how a person tells their story". We started with this medley of events, little scenes, characters, feelings, and emotions. Then we tidied it up a bit, and were left with three main life stages: young girl, teenager, and young woman. That was the heart of the film, which was almost 100% autobiographical. Then, it occurred to us that something was missing, a sort of accomplishment, and that that should probably be the moment when the character, following a specific stage in her life, becomes an adult. Then we had the idea of structuring the film like Russian dolls: starting with the adult character and then, like you’re opening a doll, finding smaller dolls inside, going from the medium sized ones to the smallest ones, discovering the second half of the life of this young adult. 

Why did you choose four actresses to play these four ages?
When we discovered that the film would probably not be linear, but structured around very specific moments at very different stages in the character’s life. Because 7, 13 and 20 are perhaps the ages at which you change the most, with the character then finding out she was expecting a child. Usually in film, when the same actor plays a character at different ages, there’s always a poor relation, an age at which the actor doesn’t convey as much emotion. I thought we could present the viewer with something a lot simpler: an actress per age and roughly the same amount of time spent on each age. Obviously, when we started casting we had the issue of likeness. But I knew straight away that if I looked for actresses that resembled one another, it would become my biggest problem, while the most important thing was to work with the best actresses possible, with those I like most, who move me the most, and who would be most capable of representing what moved me about this character from the inside.

Orphan is a portrait of a women that borrows from lots of genres.
The film focuses on a character who dips into different worlds, meets people and moves around. And the film moves with her. But I filmed in a way that might make you think the film’s a road movie, a full-throttle thriller, a naturalist rural film or in a night club. The only genre of the film is that of the character. The defining feature of my direction, of the images and sound, was the way I looked and felt through the character. It meant sticking to certain technical rules, certain camera placement and editing principles, and these remain the same whatever world the character’s in. 

An adaptation of a book by American author John Cheever, a nose-dive into the 17th century inspired by a work by German Heinrich von Kleist with a Dane in the lead role, and now what you’re calling "a cubist portrait of a woman", to mention just your three latest films. Where does this hunger to explore of yours come from?
I could answer by quoting Gertrude Stein: "if I know how to do it, why do it?" So I try to make films that I don’t know how to make. As soon as I learn or have learned how to do something, it makes me hurry through things, so I try to go to a place where I don’t know how to do something to see how to do it. I don’t travel much in my personal life, I don’t have the life of an adventurer, but I’m a lot more adventurous in my work. I like exploring and, to quote Emmanuel Carrère, I make films "to live lives other than my own". And for my next film, I’ll be going in a different direction, because I find it exciting, and because what I like about film is inventing, inventing ways of telling stories.

What is your next film going to be about?
The clue is sort of in the title: Un homme qui disparaît (lit. A Man Who Disappeared). It’s the story of a man who breaks away from everything when he gets divorced and becomes a vagrant.

(Translated from French)

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