Carmen Jaquier • Director of Thunder
"I needed to rewrite history, to create a powerful ancestor capable of inspiring me today"
- The director spoke to us about her compelling portrayal of a character who fights for freedom to love, which society would rather censor forever
Swiss director Carmen Jaquier spoke passionately about her first feature film Thunder [+see also:
interview: Carmen Jaquier
film profile], her love for Pasolini’s films and her desire to foreground characters forgotten by history during her movie’s premiere within the Toronto Film Festival’s Platform section.
Cineuropa: You list The Gospel According to Matthew as one of your references. How has Pasolini’s cinema influenced your directorial approach? What other sources of inspiration did you have?
Carmen Jaquier: I’m in no way familiar with all of Pasolini’s works, but I have very clear memories of all the times I’ve come into contact with his texts, his images and his voice. I think that, by way of his obsessions, his thinking and his relationship with the sacred, Pasolini touches upon grace. The Gospel According to Matthew was one of the bases of our work with director of photography Marine Atlan. We immersed ourselves in this film so that it would penetrate and inform our research into the setting and the way in which bodies and the camera following them would move. Segantini is another important reference and there’s one specific detail from his painting Nature in Thunder’s prologue. I was inspired by the immense loneliness exuded by these characters who are often very young people. Another painter, Marguerite Burnat-Provins, was crucial for us during the writing phase, when imagining Elisabeth’s sister Innocente’s obscure inwardness. There were so many references, both visible and secret, which accompanied me throughout this process: Sarah Kane, Marie Métrailler, Carlos Reygadas, S. Corinna Bille, Sally Mann, Ana Mendieta, Kurt Cobain…
Why did you decide to work with non-professional or first-time actors/actresses?
Ever since my first short film - given that I was writing roles for children and teenagers - I’ve worked almost exclusively with “non-professional” actors. This was a first for me, too, and I liked the fact that we were learning and growing together. Casting director Minna Prader and I were looking for new faces, with a truth to them which we could cherish and who seemed like they came from another time but who could also impose themselves as modern bodies and a modern presence. The casting process is first and foremost about an encounter and the sincerity which emanates from this encounter. The work we carried out with our actors was quite unique, as the final stage of casting and rehearsals were cut short by the first lockdown. Luckily, we’d been able to talk at length during the initial auditions and carried out some effective work sessions together. Despite these complications linked to delays in preparing the film, I was able to arrange for the four main actors to spend three days with actor and director Aurélien Patouillard. His aim was to help our young actors feel some sort of "team spirit". Aurélien covered a lot of ground in a very short amount of time, mostly revolving around our actors’ autonomy on set. He got our actors to think about the sentiment that comes from belonging to a group.
There’s a really interesting mix of past and modernity in your film. Why so?
We incorporated modern elements all throughout the film, wherever we could, without losing sight of the film’s historical side, in terms of colours, decor, faces and movements. For the sequence where Elisabeth reads Innocente’s notebook, we embraced a digital approach and made the pixels visible in order to create living, breathing. non-romantic matter, inspired by DV images. The film sometimes muddies the waters, which I felt was essential. Whilst writing Elisabeth’s character, I felt the need to rewrite history, to create a powerful ancestor capable of inspiring me today. Official history - the kind that’s written in books - is always a question of viewpoint. During my research, I was faced with the black hole left that had been left with regard to certain lives which hadn’t been of interest to anyone. But every human being is part of history. I hope that Elisabeth’s quest reminds us that benevolent communication and a better understanding of ourselves and of oppressive structures helps us to build a fairer and less binary world. The conversations and secrets which Elisabeth and her friends implicitly share effectively reveal their need for affection from and connection with others as well as themselves.
(Translated from French)
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