Interview – Barail

Interview with Denis Cointe

After the valley of Ouzoum (2018), you film a more confined territory in Barail, a garden and its residents. What was the framework in which you made this film?

Ouzoum looked at an immense landscape, a valley and its mountains. I was looking for traces of ghosts. In Barail, I filmed living beings on a tiny plot of land, a garden, in a place called the Maison d’Accueil Spécialisée Le Barail. A place where about fifty people need daily care and support. I came across this place and its residents when I took part in the design and construction of the garden. The film originates from this story but does not tell it.

How was the garden created and what was your approach in terms of the sound work?

The home wanted to offer its residents an escape, based on the idea of a sensory pathway. From 2016 to 2019, with the artist Laurent Cerciat, the landscape designer Fabrice Frigout and the sound director Laure Carrier, we created an artistic garden – a collection of medicinal and aromatic plants alongside art installations. A wooden sculpture, the “Bower Bird”, in homage to the gardening bird, hosts soundscapes from the high plateaux of Amazonia, and the “Red Room”, where strawberries, raspberries and blueberries can be enjoyed, offers the opportunity to hear unusual songs in Bigorre, Peul or Vietnamese.

What was the source of the different sounds we hear and how did you select them?

Alongside the installations in the garden, Laure Carrier carried out individual sound discovery sessions. These sessions generally took place in a room, for the film we moved them into the garden. Laure broadcasts and mixes sounds live to suit each person’s personal taste. The sounds come from sound creations such as those of Félix Blume or Chris Watson and from audio-naturalist recordings such as those of Fernand Deroussen for instance. Laure also plays her own recordings. The film is mainly structured around her listening sessions and the sounds heard are extracts from these sessions.

How did you work with the residents of the Maison d’Accueil Spécialisée Le Barail?

We got on straight away with the residents and established a rapport which grew stronger over the years. Even if they do not have the use of language, communication is evident. Their bodies are like huge receivers. Everything gets through to them without any filter. With certain residents, during the filming, there was a real complicity, with others the relationship was different, more discreet, sometimes just exchanging glances and of course everything was built on their desire to listen. These moments and the garden brought us together, we experienced it all together.

Most of the time you film head-on, using fixed shots, with a certain intimacy with the protagonists and a particular attention to nature, light and colour. What were your priorities in drawing up these soundscapes?

I film over time, no doubt with a pictorial approach. I composed these sequence shots like paintings to show these individuals and their bodies in a setting. In Barail, sound is a landscape which on screen meets another landscape reflected in the faces.

Sitting down or simply strolling through the garden, virtually devoid of words, their presence and freedom is palpable on screen, inviting an experience for both the eyes and the ears. Does this match your initial plan?

If their presence appears to you as obvious, then I am at peace. The whole point of the film was to discover this presence, without any intermediary, or mediation, and outside language, outside words, immersed in an utterly sensitive artistic experience. Why? To get closer to these men and women. To be with them for a moment, to watch them listen to the world, to listen to it with them and then perhaps welcome their radiance.

Some characters come back – others pop up. How did you approach the editing with Antoine Boutet?

Barail is based essentially on a framework. From this strict restriction, Antoine Boutet and I tried to develop a progression. Shot after shot, something had to unfold in the viewer’s experience of looking and listening in order to provoke an encounter. We sought a rhythm within each sequence and in their arrangement. It is an organic edit.

Barail, this garden, a refuge in nature for the residents, seems like a kind of utopia. What do you think ?

Foucault defined the garden as a happy, unifying heterotopia: the smallest plot in the world (an enclosure, a “barail” in Gascony) and the whole wide world. Like the valley in Ouzoum, inside the Barail garden we join the greater scheme of things, a common humanity, in what is undoubtedly still a space of freedom.

Interview by Olivier Pierre