Monia Chokri • Director of The Nature of Love
“I didn't think I had to make the ultimate movie about love”
- CANNES 2023: The Canadian helmer homes in on topics such as the process of making a film about love, becoming more confident as a filmmaker, and her philosophical influences
Canadian director Monia Chokri talks about the inner workings of her film The Nature of Love [+see also:
interview: Monia Chokri
film profile], presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the 76th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: How did the experience of making your third film differ from the second and the first?
Monia Chokri: For many reasons, it was very different. First of all, it’s because I grew up, so in a way, of course I have more experience now than I used to. My previous film, Babysitter [+see also:
film profile], was a very hard movie to make because of the pandemic, and I wasn't in the best place in my personal life. For The Nature of Love, I have a new DoP [André Turpin], and I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone. But precisely because André wasn't overly available at the preparation stage, I had to trust in the idea, and trust in myself and my choices. Also, I think being older makes me a tad more tender: I have changed my way of looking at my work and how I want to present myself to the world – I want to be softer and more tender.
Isn't it difficult to make a film about love without trying to make it the definitive one on the subject, because there are so many of them already? Yours feels very vibrant, fresh and sensual.
The thing is, all subjects have been made into films, so it's difficult to redefine yourself or a subject. I didn't think I had to make the ultimate movie about love. But not many films like these have been made by women; a big part of our perspective has been shaped by men. So I was thinking a lot about eroticism and sensuality, and the cinema of Jane Campion, actually! I remember this beautiful scene in The Piano, with the finger on the piano keys – it’s such a powerful, erotic scene!
How precisely did you imagine the film, visually, before your DoP came in?
I rehearse a lot with my actors, and I rehearse on set, too. So it helped me to validate my idea that I had written before, to see if it would work. But I also wanted something organic to emerge, especially in the long takes, like a dance. We had to do something on a big scale, but also make room for accidents to happen in the shots. You asked me before what was different: it’s also the fact that I let myself be a little less of a control freak. I asked members of my crew for contributions, and I would say: “Just tell me, let the best idea win!”
What about the camera movements? There are so many evocative uses of zooms and compositions, creating some magical moments.
I aimed to do two things: firstly, I was imagining this film as an animal documentary. I wanted to shoot from far away and observe the dance of the animals that were about to mate. For that reason, we had to use a long lens and zoom; sometimes we had a 600 mm lens! Also, I was thinking of Robert Altman and his use of zoom, so I studied him a lot. I was also inspired by romantic films of the 1970s, like Love Story, or other American movies from that era, but I wanted something calmer in the visuals.
Sophia is a philosopher; what did your philosophical preparations entail?
I have to say that love was not so much of a subject in philosophy. It was more like a subject of literature, or poetry, so I had to dig through a lot to find some philosophical writings on love. Surprisingly, there were almost no women! There were some who wrote about love, but in a very cryptic way, like Saint Augustine. And then I was like, “Okay, that's interesting that love was defined by men, too.” Then I would find some phrases that helped me direct the narration of the film.
So philosophy influenced the narrative?
Yeah, I had an idea of the narration and dramaturgy, but also, the philosophers helped me change some things. Then, the narrative helped me to find something more in the philosophical writings – it was like a dialectic between philosophy and narration. Then I read All About Love by bell hooks, a book that changed my life. She's not defined as a philosopher, but when I was editing the film, I was thinking of her and her definition of love as an active choice, and the final edit was very much shaped by this book.
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