Damien Manivel • Director of Magdala
"What moved me most about her character was the radical decision she made to leave human society behind her"
- The French filmmaker speaks about his latest film, which scooped the Eurimages Lab Project Award at the Work in Progress event hosted by the 12th Les Arcs Film Festival
Honoured with the Eurimages Lab Project Award (comprising €50,000 in cash) at the Work in Progress event, which unfolded within the Industry Village of the 12th Les Arcs Film Festival, Magdala is French director Damien Manivel’s 5th feature film after A Young Poet [+see also:
film profile] (Special Mention in Locarno’s 2014 Filmmakers of the Present line-up), The Park [+see also:
film profile] (Cannes’ 2016 ACID selection), The Night I Swam [+see also:
interview: Damien Manivel, Kohei Igara…
film profile] (unveiled in the Venice Film Festival’s 2017 Orizzonti line-up) and Isadora’s Children [+see also:
interview: Damien Manivel
film profile] (awarded the Best Director Leopard in Locarno 2019, in addition to a Special Mention from the Zabaltegi-Tabakalera jury in San Sebastian). Produced by MLD Films, Magdala stars the famous American choreographer Elsa Wolliaston.
Cineuropa: How did the idea for Magdala come about?
Damien Manivel: I’ve been working with Elsa Wolliaston for 12 years now. We made the short film La Dame au chien together, as well as Isadora’s Children. So Magdala came about from the desire I feel on an almost perpetual basis to film Elsa, to document our relationship, to paint a portrait of it, so to speak. I’ve wanted to work on a mythical, legendary character with her for several years, and had notably been looking into the character of Mary Magdalene. It’s a project I’d originally planned to shoot next summer, but with all that’s happened - without going into the current situation too much - Elsa and I felt that it was the right time to venture into that forest and shoot this film.
The extracts you unveiled at Les Arcs’ Work in Progress event hint at a sensorial and mystical work, an atmospheric picture revolving around this character…
As with all my films, it’s the portrait which prevails, both the portrait of a character and the actor playing her. It’s a film without dialogue, so heavily based upon atmospheres, sounds and the movements performed by Elsa, who is an exceptional dancer. We’re still working on a realist and fictional language, but it’s also a product of the work we’ve both carried out in the field of dance. It’s all about the detail; it’s very minimalist in some sense, but it also places sensations centre stage. And if there’s anything mystical about it, it’s to do with the act of filming itself, because this is a movie shot on film, which is important for me, and to do with how nature will encounter her body and how her body will encounter nature.
Why tackle the character of Mary Magdalene?
Firstly, because it touched me, because in this film I work on the final moments of Mary Magdalene’s life. It’s something that’s been heavily depicted in paintings and poetry, but this period of her life has never been explored in film. What we often see in paintings is Mary Magdalene in a cave, in a state of contemplative rapture. I asked myself how those days and nights she spent in that forest might really have gone. I wanted to follow her, to be with her, and what moved me the most about her character was the radical decision she made to leave human society behind her, to isolate herself and be utterly alone with nature.
What stage are you at with the film’s production?
I’m at the editing stage and I still have a few scenes left to shoot, which I’ll do over the next few weeks. All being well, the film should be ready in April-May time.
How does it feel to have won the Eurimages Lab Project Award?
We launched ourselves into this adventure so quickly that me and my producer Martin Bertier had to invest in it ourselves. We don’t have any partnerships for the film yet. So this award is invaluable, because it will allow us to move forwards and carry on making the film, otherwise we would have found ourselves stuck at a certain point. More than anything, it gives us confidence and strength.
(Translated from French)
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