Daydreams: The formal beauty of a surreal tale
by Muriel Del Don
- LOCARNO 2016: French director Caroline Deruas’ first full-length film surprises with its apparent lightness; a lightness that conceals a profound realism and a series of unsettling twists
After several years of collaboration with such eminent directors as Yann Gonzalez, Romain Goupil, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and even Philippe Garrel, and having presented her first three short films at various festivals on the international circuit, Caroline Deruas marks her full-length debut with Daydreams [+see also:
film profile]. It’s a film that is both delicate and powerful, with a surrealist slant, presented in the Filmmakers of the Present section at the 69th Locarno International Film Festival.
Axèle (Jenna Thiam) and Camille (Clotilde Hesme) are artists: one is a photographer, the other a writer. Both are selected for a scholarship to spend a year at the Villa Medici in Rome. Their first encounter is fleeting but unforgettable. One question haunts the entire film: Who is Axèle, really? Is she a mysterious artist, who lives in literal symbiosis with her own work, or could she be, perhaps, the ghost of the Villa Medici itself, a spiritual and artistic guide to Camille? By the end of their time in Rome, nothing will be the same as it was: bodies and minds are set free, but at what cost?
The Villa Medici is the axis around which all of the film’s characters rotate; a kind of sanctuary where creativity can find free expression. Caroline Deruas admits that the first time she set foot in this legendary place she felt as though she had been struck by lightning. Hers was a story of love and conquest that would never be shaken off. The year that she spent in the same programme at Villa Medici that features in the film allowed her to explore through the medium of film this obsessive love for a place that becomes, under her gaze as director, a character in itself. The characters in Daydreams intermingle and converse with the walls of this magnificent building, almost as if they were hypnotised by the very atmosphere of the place, both creative oasis and prison. Inevitably, Caroline Deruas punctuates the story with biographical elements, reaching a daunting but necessary personal nakedness that places her face to face with her own fears. The air of mystery, the cinematographic manifestation of the characters’ subconscious and the struggle between the light and the forces of darkness are constantly present in Daydreams, which acts as a kind of window onto a world that is usually confined to the imagination. Deruas dramatises her own personal life; brutalising it, transcending it, and transforming it into the raw materials of her film. Emotions, and the internal worlds of the characters, are central to the film, and so the events of the plot remain in the background, viewed from the outside. Fantasy propels the entire story, which slips slowly but uncompromisingly from reality into a dream, before eventually becoming a nightmare. The characters find themselves losing control, as their connection to reality slips inexorably through their fingers. The fantastical universe that has given rise to these “open-eyed dreams” comes to form part of reality itself; bending it, caressing it. A score by Nicola Pivani infuses the film with a melancholy and intensely emotionally involving atmosphere. His delicate melodies somehow seem to transform into the inner voice of the Villa Medici. It’s music that casts a spell over the audience, like the song of a mermaid from the mysterious and sensual world of Dario Argento (most notably Suspiria).
(Translated from Italian)