Thomas Cailley • Director of The Animal Kingdom
"I like to have the pleasure of mixing genres in a story at the level of its characters"
- CANNES 2023: The French filmmaker talks about his second feature, a daring, accomplished, gripping and smart movie that sees humans mutating into animals
Revealed in the 2014 Directors' Fortnight with Love at First Fight [+see also:
interview: Thomas Cailley
film profile], Thomas Cailley makes a sensational return to the Croisette with his second feature, The Animal Kingdom [+see also:
interview: Thomas Cailley
film profile], a very good moment of cinema that opened the Un Certain Regard programme of the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What attracted you to Pauline Munier's script that you then rewrote with her?
Thomas Cailley: I discovered it completely by chance when I took part in a jury at my old school, La Fémis. Some of the characters had animal features. The story was quite different, the themes were not the same, but I found that this simple metaphor made it possible to reach quite fundamental things, at the crossroads of what I wanted to do. It allowed me to talk about the body, difference, transmission, the world we want to leave to our children, and more broadly about this feeling of belonging and even of common ancestry with all that is alive around us. Without going into a somewhat theoretical ecological discourse, I had the impression that we could do it from the actors' bodies, from something physical, visceral, including a dimension of action, of adventure, and have the pleasure of mixing genres in a story at the level of its characters: that's all I like.
A father and son are at the heart of the film. How did you want to deal with the development of their relationship?
At the beginning of the film, François (Romain Duris), the father, is confident, sure of himself and of the world in which he lives. He will take his son Émile (Paul Kircher) on a quest to save Lana, his mother, and he will gradually lose his certainties, questioning himself. And as this father is confronted with doubts and obstacles, his son strangely finds a way towards emancipation in a dysfunctional world. It's a cross-country journey, the balance of power is reversed and we move from a relationship where François imposed his vision of a world on his son to a relationship of mutual aid, sharing and listening. Their relationship is the narrative muscle of the film and I tried to deploy it to stretch the story, whose nerve centre is above all emotional.
How did you think about the immersion in nature that characterises the film?
Nature occupies a central, very important place. I always start with a location scouting phase, well before writing, to try to get my head around a concrete geography of places, spaces, constraints, lights, atmospheres. I knew that I would find in the South-West of France what interested me for the film and what was even consubstantial with the subject. Because one may have the hasty impression that the Landes de Gascogne have been completely transformed by man, and this is mainly the case with the implantation of pine trees and the cultivation of corn, but there are also places that are like primitive oases, often lagoons that concentrate a lot of biodiversity. These places are quite secret, over a few hundred metres, you go from a silent forest to a place teeming with life, very tangled, almost a jungle with very dense vegetation and a huge number of species. It's really the image of the film's journey, which unfolds like a world that is revitalised, and also of the characters' journey.
Mutations were a risky bet on paper.
There was a scenario with transformations, stages of mutation. Two years before shooting, I worked with the Swiss comic book writer Frédérik Peeters to develop a complete bestiary: mammals, birds, arthropods, we looked everywhere. On this basis, we refined with character designers who specialised in human morphology and who used detailed photos of the actors. But throughout the process, there was a risk that it wouldn't work, that it would be grotesque. But I feel that it is at the border of this risk that something interesting happens.
The subject of the film, difference and the freedom to live it, can be interpreted quite broadly.
The characters experience this difference in their bodies and it questions the place they can continue to occupy in a society. It is a universal metaphor that can evoke the issue of mental disorders as well as that of migrants. It is simply the question of the norm, of how we try to live together, to make society with the greatest possible diversity.
(Translated from French)
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