Christian Volckman • Director of The Room
"I could introduce ideas such as mental labyrinths: the puzzle of the human mind"
- French director Christian Volckman talks about his transition to fiction via The Room, genre cinema and trepidation towards the form in France
Having earned a high profile with the animated work Renaissance [+see also:
interview: Aton Soumache
interview: Christian Volckman
film profile] - his first foray into film - Christian Volckman has now made the shift into sci-fi fiction with The Room [+see also:
interview: Christian Volckman
film profile]. The French-Belgian-Luxembourger co-production, whose scheduled cinema release on 25 March was shelved as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown, has drawn on the exceptional measures introduced in France and is subsequently due for direct release on VOD, today, via Condor Distribution.
Cineuropa: Why make the leap into fiction with The Room after starting out in animation with Renaissance and many subsequent years of absence?
Christian Volckman: Making Renaissance totally exhausted me, because the level of technique involved consumed all of my drive, my desire to create. And then, my dream was to paint. At the same time, I started to think about what it meant to write screenplays, the importance of which I hadn’t fully grasped. I was more focused on the images themselves, but, ultimately, film is all about the story you’re telling. The Room was a way of moving towards a more personal side of myself, and I found myself wanting to create within the fantasy genre once again, which suits me perfectly, I find. It’s not easy in France because it’s a rejected or even a declining genre; a bit like genre literature which is almost seen as pulp fiction. Yet many brilliant filmmakers such as Kubrick or Cronenberg have lent the genre credibility. I clung to a few masters and probed gently at the obsessions we inherit from children’s stories and more generally from fables, from a few French authors such as Balzac and from filmmakers like Franju, etc.
Beneath the film’s “playful” outer shell, there are many different layers: creation, materialism, relationships, education, etc.
One of the themes that interested me the most was that of the modern-day couple and their confrontation with materialism. Exploring people’s private lives and hidden urges reveals other secondary themes, such as the question of humanity, the direction our society is heading in, etc. You can say a lot with just three characters in one house, even if I did avail myself of the sci-fi genre, which opens up further possibilities. With this Room, which is a bit of an Aladdin’s lamp, I could introduce ideas such as mental labyrinths: the puzzle of the human mind. We’re told that it’s a matter of neural connections, nothing other than electricity meandering through piping as if in some sort of super-computer. But these are concepts; the reality is that we have thoughts which come to us and then leave us, desires whose origins we can trace through psychoanalysis if we want, but it still remains a huge and fascinating mystery to observe. The Room is like entering into a couple’s brain, a mirror of what inhabits them.
You play more with plot twists than with fear of the Room itself.
I wanted this Room to be neutral, and for the house to be neutral. It’s the characters who bring their baggage and traumas inside this system, which simply reveals what’s already there. I wanted to lay down the foundations traditionally associated with the genre and then back away quickly, allowing viewers to slowly make their way around familiar ground before diving into something crazier with this house within a house, this mise en abyme, this mirror, this penetration of the characters’ minds. I needed to maintain the balance between realism and fantasy, which is very difficult to achieve. I don’t know if I managed it, but I tried to bear it in mind in order to remain anchored in reality and work, at the same time, on projections of their imagination.
Why make a film in the English language?
I wanted the film to travel and the English language allows works to cross borders easily. We also had the problem of how genre films are perceived in France by financiers: there’s a huge rejection of the form. This might change with all the online platforms, I don’t know; they will open up possibilities, either way. It wasn’t an easy decision to make because it made the process harder, but in Europe we’re lucky enough to be able approach producers from other countries who might be interested in such a subject.
(Translated from French)
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