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Fiona Gordon & Dominique Abel • Directors

Burlesque revisited

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Fiona Gordon & Dominique Abel • Directors

After several years as stage actors and three short films (Merci Cupidon, Rosita and Walking on the Wild Side), Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel keep their burlesque roots as a source of inspiration for their first feature. Co-directed by the French Bruno Romy, himself an actor too and colleague for years, The Iceberg made a splash in several festivals (from San Sebastian to Kiev, from Tübingen to Zagreb…), allowing different publics to (re)discover a physical comedy in the great style of Buster Keaton. The film, confesses that the burlesque duo, is a "simple and universal story" in which words give space to body language and where the movements of the actors overcome the motivations of their own characters.

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Why have you decided to get behind the camera?
Dominique Abel: As stage actors – in our burlesque world – we were already inspired by film, since our heroes have always been Chaplin, Keaton, Tati… For us, it’s as we had never left the milieu of theatre.
Fiona Gordon: I have always wanted to do cinema, but theatre came up first. Technically harder to manage, cinema came up later on. We guess we are not stage actors who do films, we are a burlesque duo, working in both fields.

Would you like to keep that style or do feel like trying other registers?
Dominique Abel: We haven't chosen this style; it was the style that chose us. I bet there will be an evolution in our universe, but I don’t picture myself working in a film project without inventing both in the story and in the form. To me, there should always be interference on the colours, on the materials, on the sets, on the costumes, to sum up; everything that is seen in the image is part of the dialogue.

What drove you to the making of The Iceberg?
Dominique Abel: Bruno Romy made several proposals in a piece of paper: a woman locked in a cold storage chamber; a woman travelling towards the iceberg… That was the departure point.
Fiona Gordon: It seems to us that the idea of leaving everything behind and start all over again in a brand new place is a simple and universal story.
Dominique Abel: We search simple stories so that our burlesque universe can express itself. It would be impossible to have a very definitive script and with a lot of dialogues. It had to be simple because everything takes form while we are performing.

How was the process of writing a script in which the physical expression is more important than dialogues? Did the first drafts have very few dialogues too?
Dominique Abel: We are fond of a non-verbal language, so from the start, there weren't many dialogues. The problem in writing a film like ours is that once you describe all the scenes in details, they are no longer funny. Things take their final form in the screen. After reading some scripts from my idols, like Tati, I realised that some scenes that looked amazing in the screen, were nothing but simple descriptions of movements in the original script.

You have written, performed and directed the film (with Bruno Romy). How did the three of you share the tasks?
Dominique Abel: In the theatre we are used to working in together and we kept doing it in all the phases of the film.
Fiona Gordon: We worked as a block, which makes it harder for our crew. They would love if we shared tasks, but it doesn't happen.
Dominique Abel: If there is a big issue, we end up gaining time for being three. Some other times, arguments delay the decision making. I suppose it is the same when a director works all by himself. But in that case, the storm happens in his mind. We express our problems instead.

Why all those sequence shots?
Fiona Gordon: We like them because they are like a painting. Instead of showing all the details we allow people to choose those details all by themselves… At the same time, it is a challenge for an actor to perform till the end without any cuts. No space to cheat.
Dominique Abel: For us, the narration is intimately related to the movement of the actors, and we have written several much choreographed scenes. If body expresses itself, we cannot do a close-up. We have a very rhythmic and physical style and sequence shots help because suddenly the body language becomes the rhythm of the scene. It is our artistic liberty, a style less ordinary, but that is a good thing.

Did you have repeat the scenes over and over again?
Fiona Gordan: Some scenes were shot several times, like when Dominique's character wakes up. Our style demands that until you find the perfect rhythm.
Dominique Abel: All the previous versions of that scene in particular were very slow, and we understood when we were editing that it demanded more rhythm.

Fiona dumps her husband and leaves in search of an iceberg. Then she meets a sailor and as we expected a love story, the script took another path…
Fiona Gordon: We were not interested in a love triangle, but in telling the story of somebody who wants to make a dream come true. Indeed, there is a couple in the film, but The Iceberg is not a love story.
Domique Abel: The awkwardness of people has always been out favourite theme. It is the fact that she is constantly falling that makes her so interesting.

The Iceberg was shown and awarded in several international festivals. Do you think it will open the path for other burlesque films?
Dominique Abel: We truly hope so. Film festivals are the perfect occasion to see how differently audiences react to our work. Now we know what the weakest points of the film are because the public has pretty much the same reaction in the same moments. Festivals are also the opportunity to meet international distributors, though MK2, in Paris, does it for us.

Which weakest points are you talking about?
Dominique Abel: It is mainly towards the end of the film. It losses part of his rhythm and in the end it gains it again. Fiona Gordon: The problem of the burlesque genre is that when you start really in a very comic way, it is very hard to keep that rhythm until the end. We will keep trying in the next film…

Can you tell us about it?
Dominique Abel: We are writing it again with Bruno Romy.
Fiona Gordon: It is the story of two teachers who love to dance, but they are forced to stop after a car crash. The responsible for the accident, tortured by guilt, wants to help them but he will turn their lives into hell.

To see the fimed interview at the website of Cinergie, please clic here.

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