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Jean-Philippe Martin • Director

“I wanted to play a personal journey and a geographical one against each other”


- We caught up with director Jean-Philippe Martin, whose first feature film, Sonar, goes on release in Belgium

Jean-Philippe Martin • Director

Born in the south west of France, Jean-Philippe Martin decamped to Brussels to study photography at INRACI. Following short films BBBrrOOmm (winner of the 2002 Krzysztof Kieslowski prize for best screenplay) and 2006’s Lapin aux Cèpes, he made a number of documentaries — including Manou Gallo, Femme de Rythme (52’), completed in 2007. Sonar [+see also:
film review
interview: Jean-Philippe Martin
film profile
, his first full-length film, focuses on a sound engineer who creates a sound portrait of the women he is trying to understand. The film, released in Belgium today, 7 June, is being distributed by production company Hélicotronc.

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Cineuropa: The challenge of this film is to “show” sound through image. What was it like trying to capture that on paper?
Jean-Philippe Martin:
There were times during the writing process when everything was almost too detailed, and it was difficult for the reader to understand it. Conveying sound through image, the rhythm, but written down...It’s a film about sound, but above all it’s a film about language, contact — about how we relate to others. This odd character, the sound engineer, acted as a kind of transmitter. For him, the act of turning on and aiming his microphone meant being ready to listen; it was a physical expression of the whole process.

How did you choose to portray sound through the visual image?
I didn’t necessarily want to get into a causal relationship between image and sound. There were several levels of reflection as far as sound was concerned: the portrait of Amina herself, the way that sound moves across the image, the way that Thomas experiences sound... The sound editing took on a very important role. In my short film, Lapin aux cèpes, I felt the same frustration during this stage; I felt like I was just padding it out. I wanted to open up this field, to explore this universe.

Amina wants to reinvent her story, but at the same time, she is also returning to her roots.
I wanted to talk about the right to not be determined by the way we are represented in the eyes of others — by our origins or our environment. Amina has to confront terms like “Arab” that are still being used to describe her. At times, she takes advantage of this and poses as an illegal immigrant, playing it up to the point of making people cry, because this is the identity that we have given her and the one she has to deal with. In the end, we are all facing the same problems; we build up walls out of fear, or sometimes out of shame. More often than not, we win through. We’re all just as fragile as Amina, Thomas or Wyatt; they all have these cracks that make them human and create similarities between them.

It’s by searching for someone else’s origins that Thomas eventually finds himself...
That other person is the key to his own wellbeing. Being generous towards other people and towards the world can only do us good; it brings us serenity. It’s quite a humanistic view, but one I ascribe to completely. I’m convinced that the solution to every ill is to be found in another person. In an age when we are all communicating constantly, without a second thought, we sometimes miss out on direct communication.

Is Sonar a strange kind of love story?
I play about a bit with conventions. The first part is constructed like a romantic comedy, with hints of film noir. I didn’t want this story to have a happy ending, although in the end we did film one. The characters are not in love; they have simply joined the game, and the encounter does them both good. It could be that they fall in love later on, but they get off to a bad start.

Does the idea of the journey also play an important role?
I wanted it to be a story about learning; the idea of playing a personal journey and a geographical one against each other, of having this interaction between these two realms. In my life, the journey has been fundamental — it’s what has created and formed me. Obviously, that had to be reflected in my first film. For me, it’s the best way of appraising and, sometimes, reinventing yourself.

(Translated from French)

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