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CANNES 2019 Directors’ Fortnight

Blaise Harrison • Director of Particles

"A deregulation of everyday life slowly establishes itself"


- CANNES 2019: Franco-Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison discusses his hybrid feature debut, Particles, unveiled at the Directors’ Fortnight section in Cannes

Blaise Harrison • Director of Particles

Presented at the 51st Directors’ Fortnight of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Blaise Harrison’s feature debut Particles [+see also:
film review
interview: Blaise Harrison
film profile
proves to be a teen movie with a very personal style, at the crossroads of fantasy and quantum physics

Cineuropa: Where does the idea for the film come from?
Blaise Harrison: I grew up in the Pays de Gex, so the idea of the film was to talk about what being an adolescent in that place is like, taking inspiration from the memories I still have of that period. This area is simultaneously very banal — between the countryside and the city, with housing estates, fields, small centres — quite particular — because it is on the Franco-Swiss border and its population is very international (they work at the CERN, in Geneva, for NGOs, etc.) — and very mysterious, because of the CERN and the particles accelerator that goes through this entire area underground. I think this creates a rather peculiar kind of anguish, because you have this gigantic monster of technology buried in the ground, invisible, with just a few signs of its existence at the surface, even though what is happening in it is absolutely incredible. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose the rather trivial and ordinary things happening at the surface within a band of adolescents, a group of friends — in particular the character of P.A., who begins to see the world around him change a little, and the existential and metaphysical anxieties that are often felt at that age — with the things that are happening right under his feet.

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How did you mix social realism with fantasy?
I wanted the film’s beginning to look like a perfectly normal story of adolescence, until a deregulation of everyday life slowly establishes itself and lets the film enter a much more cerebral, worrying, disquieting dimension, with the apparition of fantastical phenomena that become more and more important as the film goes on. The idea was also to play on the idea that maybe what happened didn’t really happen, that maybe it’s not real but all in the head of the young men, that the CERN may or may not be responsible for the phenomena they see. I wanted this movement to be rather progressive; I wanted to start with a naturalist, documentary approach before the film completely slipped into the realm of the fictional. Combining these two aspects was one of the challenges of this project; to tell a truly fictional story with written characters, while also finding the freedom of documentary in portraying a place that truly exists, in meeting people who truly exist, in filming them at home and in their environment. All the actors in the film are non-professionals and I was inspired by their real lives. But it’s also a fantasy film, so there is a large part of invention, and the fiction eventually takes over.

What about the special effects?
It was complicated, because it was my first time working with digital special effects. You have to be precise right away, because changing CGI images of particles that require an insane amount of (calcul) with massive machines… It’s something that had to be limited, because we’re not making a Disney film, but we needed those effects, and there had to be a progression: at the beginning, we have to wonder if we’ve really seen something odd about the character, and if the strangeness might not come from nature; he has to notice something a little strange, which alerts us a little but doesn’t appear completely improbable. That is part of the unsettling feeling we’re experiencing with him, where we wonder if the weird thing we’re seeing is real or not.

How can we share scientific knowledge in films?
I was passionate about the research led at the CERN. When you visit that place, you really are in a spectacular, futuristic universe that evokes world of science-fiction like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Trek. But I spoke to some physicists, and the ideas surrounding the particles accelerator are actually very concrete, far from the fantasies that are often spread about quantum physics. It’s the theories explored by the physicists that are the most vertiginous: the world becomes a kind of enigma, and that can be unsettling. But all of this couldn’t take too much space in the film because it becomes very complex very quickly, and it would have been difficult to comprehend for the viewer. We had to find a way to make people understand a bit of what is happening there, without the film becoming completely abstruse. It had to remain simple to retain the essential.

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(Translated from French)

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