Héléna Klotz • Director of Spirit of Ecstasy
"What’s the alternative for modern-day youth?"
- The French filmmaker explains the inner workings of a highly singular character and of an intimate thriller about an ambitious woman moving from a gendarmerie barracks to the business district
Spirit of Ecstasy [+see also:
interview: Héléna Klotz
film profile], unveiled in the 48th Toronto Film Festival’s Platform competition, is Héléna Klotz’s second feature film after Atomic Age [+see also:
interview: Héléna Klotz
film profile] (screened in the Berlinale’s 2012 Panorama line-up and awarded the Jean Vigo Prize).
Cineuropa: How did the character of Jeanne Francoeur come about, this daughter of a gendarme trying to break into the trading world?
Héléna Klotz: The starting point for the screenplay was the idea of spaces. I wanted to work on two modern myths: the towers you see in gendarmerie barracks and the ones you see in the business district of La Défense. Two societies of control, and I wondered how someone inside of them would be able to get out: what’s the alternative for modern-day youth? So, before I started thinking about a character, I set about investigating and working out what I wanted to explore in this world. I’ve also always liked coming of age novels and the fascinating trajectories of their ambitious heroes who start at the bottom but climb their way to the top, class defectors, like in The Red and the Black, Martin Eden, the character Rastignac in Balzac, etc. But those were often male figures; I wanted to depict a heroine who would move from one world to the other. I went to London and I organised fake job interviews carried out by real "quant traders". What struck me was the candidates’ lack of identity, with their hyper-technical language and their suits, like some brutal kind of de-personification was taking place.
What about Jeanne’s ambition and her interest in a world where money and external signs of wealth reign supreme?
The challenge with the screenplay was to make a character whose path was totally anti-heroic, likeable. Finance is sold like an Eldorado and our relationship with money and luxury is ongoing in our societies. That’s what we’ve been selling to young people since they started school. As for the police, they’re always in the news. So, it really was the connection with reality which made me want to construct this character.
What were you looking to say through the gendarmerie barracks?
I grew up on a housing estate and while I was writing the screenplay, I realised that there were similarities with the barracks: towers, and very few girls outside. In gendarmerie barracks, women don’t really have career prospects: all they can do is look after children because the men often go off on assignments, and if they don’t have children, they’re often depressive. What kind of a future would a young girl born into an environment like this have today? It was a question which interested me.
Jeanne is almost androgenous in appearance. Why is this?
The film doesn’t tell the story of a non-binary person, but it could. By wearing a man’s suit, Jeanne transcends something about her gender, her age and her social class. For her, it’s like a suit of armour and she invents a figure which doesn’t exist, but which is her. The question over the suit also really interested me because, in London, that’s what all traders wear. You don’t know where they come from, but they wear this work uniform which could just as easily be an army uniform. I thought it would be interesting for Jeanne to be a character you could project things onto, a bit like a screen, for her to have a very neutral silhouette, without contours or any real exterior to begin with. It’s as if she didn’t exist, so she has a neutral look. But Jeanne is also a little maladjusted, almost as if she had Asperger’s: she’s very solitary, she struggles to express her emotions, she’s a little bit strange. It gives her a timeless air and makes her a singular character, a “stalker" who wants to move from one world to another, but who’s a little on the periphery because, even though she’s wants to be at the centre of things, she’s a bit too strange to be there fully.
How did you convey this universe, which doesn’t seem to be very cinematographic on paper?
The film unfolds very quickly, but it often consists of long sequences to make us feel as if we’re watching quite a cerebral film, replacing the pace of everyday life, like in Eyes Wide Shut, with a more dreamlike pace which blends speed and languor. It needed to be a thriller, but an intimate and inner one.
(Translated from French)
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