Paloma Sermon-Daï • Director of It’s Raining in the House
"The film was written as it was made"
- CANNES 2023: The young Belgian filmmaker talks about her sensitive portrait of a brother and a sister who live their last adolescent summer in a Wallonian resort
Paloma Sermon-Daï made a name for herself with Petit Samedi [+see also:
interview: Paloma Sermon Daï
film profile], selected in Berlin, Best Documentary Magritte in 2022. She is presenting her first feature film, It’s Raining in the House [+see also:
interview: Paloma Sermon-Daï
film profile], in competition at the 62nd Critics’ Week.
Cineuropa: What is at the source of this project?
Paloma Sermon-Daï: First of all, the desire to make a film about adolescence. I had explored childhood in my short film Makenzy, adulthood in Petit Samedi, and it seemed to me that it was still time to tackle adolescence. I was not very far from it, although I had a bit of distance. I still wanted to work in Wallonia, while moving away from home a little, exploring this post-industrial region, where a divide also appears between a rather precarious population and mass tourism during the summer. I wanted to work on this sibling bond between a brother and a sister, and the art of coping. And then to talk about what is expected of girls and boys. Purdey, the sister, naturally takes on the role of the mother, tries to protect her brother, to keep the house standing, even if it means sacrificing herself to take care of her family.
Her adolescence, like her brother’s too, is stolen from her, in a way.
It’s something I’ve experienced, I had a rather difficult teenhood, even if it was also full of beauty and poetry. I have the feeling that I’ve never really been a kid, that I became an adult very quickly. At the beginning of the film, there’s something almost like a chronicle, a good amount of naivete, we have the impression of entering into a rather classical coming-of-age story, that portrays an adolescence at the water's edge. Things that are light enough, but gradually become harder, like their daily lives.
The house of the title is at the heart of the issues. It's falling apart, the characters try to patch it up unsuccessfully, as do their lives.
It was a character in its own right. It's complicated to talk about precariousness in cinema, there's this "social film" label that is quickly attached, the idea that we're going to show misery. It's something that often causes me problems, it's difficult to find the right angle, the right height, I think. I wanted the precariousness to be present in the background, to shine through in the décor, but not to be accentuated.
How did the writing go after the documentary experience?
At first I thought I would go into a classic fiction process. But when the casting became clearer, and I decided to work with Makenzy and Purdey, whom I knew for having already filmed them, there was an urgency. We chose to ask for a light production aid, which meant a smaller budget, and to be ready quickly. My two main actors had no experience, so I started working with them very early on, I did workshops, to establish a framework. I saw them every two or three weeks and filmed them a lot. The camera is the tool with which I have the most ease, I have no writing training, I didn't go to directing school, I still have a bit of a problem with legitimacy, so I work by instinct. A lot of things were written with the camera. I didn't give the actors the text until two weeks before the shoot, because I wanted them to keep this liveliness, to give ourselves a chance to improvise. For us, this production context was not really a constraint, but rather an incitement to a certain radicalism.
It also allows you to desacralize the passage to the first feature film which can be, if not paralyzing, at least intimidating? To go and find one's cinema in a freer way?
I think that if I had had a huge team, with a very tightly framed script, I wouldn't have been able to change my mind when I felt the need. I also think that it allows you to make radical choices, and to stand by them, without fearing the consequences, without being afraid to break the structure, the narrative. The film was written as it was made.
What was your biggest challenge?
Honestly, making fiction. I think everyone expected more hybridity from me, more of a documentary heritage. I had to make it sound right, very simple, work on instinct.
(Translated from French)
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