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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Competition

Simon Jaquemet • Director

"I'm interested in exploring characters who are at war with themselves"

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: We talked to Swiss director Simon Jaquemet about his second long-awaited feature film The Innocent, screened in competition at the festival

Simon Jaquemet • Director
(© Alex Abril / San Sebastián International Film Festival)

Presented in world premiere at Toronto Film Festival and subsequently in competition at San Sebastián Festival and Austin Fantastic Fest, The Innocent [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Simon Jaquemet
film profile
]
by Swiss director Simon Jaquemet is a strong and complex film surrounded by an aura of mystery, transporting us into a parallel world where mysticism, scientific experiments and violence merge and then combust.

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Cineuropa: In both your previous film Chrieg [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Simon Jaquemet
film profile
]
and your most recent film The Innocent, you focus on characters that harbour strong, extreme feelings that end up wearing them out to breaking point. Where does your interest in the dark side of human beings come from?
Simon Jaquemet
: I don't know, maybe it's just the fact that this sort of character interests me. In Chrieg, it's a repressed boy who rebels and in The Innocent it's a woman who reveals her hidden side. Both are characters that fascinate me, characters that hide a secret world inside them. I'm interested in exploring these kinds of feelings, expressed by characters who are at war with themselves. Perhaps it is a typically Swiss trait, being very polite and calm up to the extreme, up to breaking point. The weather seems to be perpetually grey and cloudy for long periods of time in Switzerland, creating a very interesting, aesthetically seductive atmosphere. When it comes to film, I’m interested in exploring this grey area. During these periods of darkness, we feel the urge to participate in religious ceremonies or to experiment with experiences of "miraculous" mysticism.

While I was writing the film, I did a lot of research at different churches. I went to some of them very frequently, looking for inspiration. I was considered a guest of sorts, but I really did participate in religious ceremonies. At one point I wanted to meet some of the members, to interview them. I also spoke to various priests. I had a long discussion with someone who really is a member of an evangelical church and is actually in the film. Despite the fact that he was critical of the film, he was not completely against it, he didn’t consider it offensive. On the contrary, he described it as interesting. He considers a lot of things in the film to be accurate.

The Innocent cannot be easily categorised: horror, science fiction, drama, thriller... Was it a conscious choice to go break genre barriers?
I didn't really think about it when writing the film. It was not a conscious choice, although during the editing stage I did realise that the story takes a sort of horror-themed turn. In terms of film references and similarities, maybe I could compare it to Thelma [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Eili Harboe
interview: Joachim Trier
film profile
]
by Joachim Trier. Of course, there’s no problem with my film being considered a fantasy film, nor that it was selected at Austin Fantastic Fest, for example. On the contrary, it is something that I encourage. Fantasy film festivals are very open to experimentation and I really like that. For some viewers it is perhaps easier to think of my film as a thriller. If I had to describe it myself, I would call it a "slow thriller."

The actors in The Innocent are extremely credible and touching, how did you work with them?
For me, casting is an integral part of the creative process. If the cast is spot on, then half of your work as a director is already done. I focused a lot on casting, with the support of Lisa Olàh. As in Chrieg, we wanted professional actors but also non-professional actors. Judith Hoffmann is clearly a professional actress but the actor who plays her lover, for example, really did spend many years in prison. Without revealing too much about the cast, I can say that one of the religious fanatics in the film is actually a member of an evangelical church. Often during the casting stage, I have actors repeat themselves several times and this is a sort of "pre-rehearsal" before filming starts. I try to rehearse with the actors as much as possible. For Chrieg, rehearsals lasted 2, 3 weeks. I also try to film in chronological order as much as possible. That way the actors can evolve with the characters.

(Translated from Italian)

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