Anthony Jerjen • Director of Inherit the Viper
"The way we film violence in Europe isn’t the same as in the US"
by Muriel Del Don
- Young, Swiss director Anthony Jerjen chats with us about his first feature film Inherit the Viper, presented in a world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival
Inherit the Viper [+see also:
interview: Anthony Jerjen
film profile], the first film by Anthony Jerjen, tackles the delicate and highly topical subject of the proliferation of opioid painkillers in the US. Jerjen talked to us about it on the occasion of the film’s premiere at the Zurich Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Anthony Jerjen: I’ve always felt a close connection to classic, American cinema, films made between the 1970s and the noughties. I grew up with it and it felt natural that I tell stories using this aesthetic.
I worked in script analysis for a few years, so I got to read a great deal of texts. I came across one screenplay, that of Inherit the Viper, through a website called The Black List. At the time, I had no idea about the opioid issues in the US and this script was a real eye-opener. I took it to a few people I was working with at the time, producers such as Michel Merkt, telling them that I thought it was an interesting study on the problem and that a European angle on such a sensitive subject might prove interesting.
I started my research by reading up on the topic, so as to understand the background behind the crisis. During the film preparation phase, I got the chance to visit the hospitals and the doctors who work with opioid-dependent patients. I was also able to speak with people who had had to contend with the problem themselves. I took the research process very seriously. When you’re exploring a subject like this, you have to be careful not to fall into moralistic tones or what we might call "poverty porn", sensationalism.
In your film, you shoot violence in a direct and explicit fashion. How did you go about doing this?
What I wanted, at all costs, was to avoid glamorising the violence in the film, or to make it too stylised. In my film, there are small hits of violence; it comes and goes very quickly, just like in a western. It’s all done and dusted in a few seconds.
You’ve got quite an impressive cast of actors for a first film. How did you sell the project to them?
There were three things which helped us to secure this cast. The first relates to the material itself: the screenplay really was good, with great dialogue and meaty roles for the actors. Secondly, we had an unbelievable casting director. She was really invested, and she wanted to get us the best when it came to the actors. She managed to get almost all of the actors that I’d dreamed of approaching to read the script. The third factor related to the actors themselves. I explained to them what I had in mind for the film, that is was a bit different from other independent films being made, which borrow a lot from the documentary genre, with their handheld camera style, their nigh-on improvised dialogue and the stolen moments they offer up. I explained why I wanted to make this film, and, by all accounts, I managed to win them over. I think that one of the things that worked the best was the way I filmed violence in a “European” style. Many American directors would tend to focus on the weapons themselves rather than the person behind the gun. The way we film violence in Europe isn’t the same as in the US. It’s something I’ve picked up on, and I wanted to show it in this way, in my film.
Was it a difficult movie to make, from a financial point of view, but also artistically?
From the financial perspective, I think we were very lucky; all of our funding partners really believed in me and in the project, more generally. The difficulty was that it’s a very small film with very little funds. We had 18 days of filming available to us. As with any independent film of limited means, you have to be prepared to deal with unexpected issues, challenges that you hadn’t even thought about.
Artistically, I think that all directors have doubts, especially during the shooting phase where it’s like trench warfare. Sometimes, it’s difficult to be objective, to be able to see the bigger picture. We had to get things right during filming, it was hardcore; there was no room for error, or for experimentation, which is something I’d quite like to do in future works. I’d like to keep working in the US, I feel I’m better suited to an environment which produces films of a more “commercial” kind.
(Translated from French)
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