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Nathalie Biancheri • Director of Nocturnal

“Making this film was a constant heart attack”


- Cineuropa braved the snow to talk to director Nathalie Biancheri about Nocturnal at the Les Arcs Film Festival

Nathalie Biancheri • Director of Nocturnal
(© Romuald Maginot / Les Arcs Film Festival)

Shown at Les Arcs Film Festival in the Hauteur section, Nathalie Biancheri’s debut feature Nocturnal [+see also:
film review
interview: Nathalie Biancheri
film profile
revolves around an odd connection forming between a teenage girl (Lauren Coe) and a much-older man (Cosmo Jarvis) who harbours a secret he doesn’t know how to reveal.

Cineuropa: The relationship you are showing in the film is not exactly obvious. Without spoiling anything, until a certain point, the viewer has no idea what is going on.
Nathalie Biancheri
: Initially, the mystery of the two of them was sustained for much longer. I started to think: What is it about Pete that makes it impossible for him to share his secret? I decided to interview people in similar situations and that really reshaped the script. It was important to keep this tension so that the viewers could make their own assumptions – also as to what it is this man really wants. Then, when you find out, you can revisit the initial part. I didn’t want to “trick” the audience for 70 minutes, it would be tiring and unnecessary, but this question of why he can’t open up is probably the most interesting for me.

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Such a strong yet sensitive man with a working-class background made me think of British cinema from the 1960s. How did originally you see him?
I always felt that he was very vulnerable. Pete didn’t really have an opportunity to choose, so he just went “fuck it” and remained in this adolescent limbo. But I never imagined it would be so evident on the screen. When I cast Cosmo, he was really tending towards this vulnerability and I didn’t want to immediately give away his position. When he started playing Pete, I started seeing the other side of that guy. He comes off as a broken bird, so tough and yet so fragile. I really think that he “felt” this character. That’s such a beautiful thing, when after putting all this work into a project, something still surprises you on set.

Why did you want to show them interact mostly at night?
When I first got the script, it was called Nocturnal and I just loved that title. It made me think of a certain mood or atmosphere of the night. In the UK, you often go to small coastal towns and that’s when they transform. All these little lights go on, there is mist hanging. That was a really big reference for me: this duality. Laurie is still in school, so it made sense for them to meet after hours, with the night protecting them. Although, in the first part, when you don’t know what’s happening yet, you go: “Why are you getting into his car at night?!” From a practical point of view, there was no real need for that protection, but it was important somehow. Sometimes the smallest thing can establish the whole look of the film.

Having made the move to fiction with this film, what would you say was the most interesting thing about that change?
The circumstances of making this film were quite crazy, as nothing was ready when we got a green light. I had never even been to Yorkshire! It was like a constant heart attack. We shot in 17 days, with no rehearsals. When I was filming documentaries, I always had more time and space. The idea for Nocturnal was very precise, but everything was an obstacle to an extreme level. It was a baptism of fire. But in the end, it didn’t discourage me – I am shooting my next film in April.

Being so pressed for time goes against the very idea of filmmaking. Luckily, I cast Lauren early so we had some time to talk. But with Cosmo, in part because of his schedule, it was extremely complicated. We had quite a confrontational relationship, very feisty, but I think he saw how dedicated I was and I certainly saw his passion. I blocked the whole film with my cinematographer before they arrived, like in theatre, but within these limits they actually had a lot of freedom.

The characters always seem to be moving around each other – they can’t stand still, except maybe for one of the last scenes.
Actors usually want to stand still. It’s not natural to be moving when you are doing something. But it would be quite boring, so the idea of adding movement came early. They rebelled against it, but I think it’s one of the strongest parts of the film. It’s dynamic and gives energy to this relationship. I had this image of a car crash happening in slow motion, with both of them spiralling towards something.

We managed to shoot a bit in sequence, but I wanted to use them being strangers as an advantage. I told Cosmo that Lauren was 16 years old – she is 26 – and he was treating her like a child. And when he found out she is practically his age, something changed. That also helped, because there was this awkwardness that was real. I feel that, in the end, I made what I wanted to make. I have never felt this with my shorts, I couldn’t recognise myself in them at all. But with Nocturnal, it will always be an honest first feature.

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