Interview – Lucie perd son cheval

Interview with Claude Schmitz

Your new film is both a portrait of the actress Lucie Debay, who is also a long-standing friend of yours, and a reflection on the profession of acting. Why her, and why throw yourself into such a project at this stage in your career? What first inspired you to do so?

I think what I really wanted was to make the portrait of a woman. I know Lucie well and we have worked together for some time. More specifically, I’d say that I wanted to invent the portrait of a woman. Moreover, making this film was linked to a combination of circumstances and was not at all premeditated. For the most part, it was improvised while filming, as well as during rehearsals for a show that we put on – in Marseille, in fact – just before the second wave of the pandemic which brutally interrupted the tour.

Before becoming a film, whose heart is in a theatre at a standstill, Lucie perd son cheval was a theatrical performance which included video projections. Why this metamorphosis and the transition from a theatrical space to the cinema screen? Can you go back to the origins of the film?

For some time now, I have been producing shows that combine theatre and film. These are not video projections, but real films which, combined with the medium of theatre, create hybrid works. When the show’s tour – called Un Royaume – was interrupted, we found ourselves on the main stage at the Liège Theatre with our sets and no prospects. Serge Rangoni, the theatre director, suggested I adapt the theatrical part of my show into a film. So, we turned the theatre into a film studio and shot this episode behind closed doors – in the middle of the pandemic – which I then added to the section that takes place in the Cévennes.

How did this play out for you, in both the first and second forms – this friction and interplay between theatre and cinema?

I think that with the project, the theatre and the cinema are intrinsically linked, and this was true from the outset. They form a symbiotic relationship. Let’s say that in both cases there is inevitably a need for some work on adaptation, but that was minimal.

Why did you make Lucie into a ‘horsewoman’ – in order to broach her reflections on her profession as an actress?

Because actors and actresses are like wandering riders. They go from quest to quest – the search for a role, the search for a job. It’s a strange profession. Actors are not mercenaries, because, unlike mercenaries they have a moral code, they are serving an ideal.

From an intimate, prosaic starting point – Lucie on holiday at her mother’s with her daughter – the story ventures into much more romantic territory. In the same way, in the theatre, you work on the great gulf between the trivial and the wonderful. What captivates you, what are you looking for in these different nuances, this constant switching from one register to another?

What interests me is the storytelling. In other words, how a story is told. The tension between fiction and reality, triviality and wonder, naturalism and factualness, the shifts in tone, the sharp dramatic turns – for example – all lead the audience to wonder about what they are being shown. My films are nothing more than a game on the question of representation. They invite us to believe in them while at the same time constantly affirming their trickery.

In Lucie perd son cheval, the theatre is at a standstill: it is in these situations of collapse and inactivity that our thoughts and imagination are set in motion. Why this bias? What virtue do you find in such situations?

It’s a framework of meaning that allows all sorts of meanderings. Let’s just say that in order to make films that are not scripted, it’s better to invent a very open situation that allows you to wander. And anyway, I enjoy the tangents. I have the sense that a non-situation is conducive to that. Obviously, with the health crisis, the story of this theatre at a standstill took on a whole new meaning.

“Theatre is shit. You just have to be there.” What do you think of this maxim repeated by the Director in the closed theatre? Does it convey a kind of personal credo? Are film and theatre different for you, in terms of this need to be there?

That’s something I do think, yes. In theatre and cinema, it’s all futile and essential at the same time. I am somewhere within this tension. Let’s say that in a broader sense, one could translate this by saying that we get worked up a lot when, in the end, life is about simply being there… and it is very difficult. Moreover, I would add that what brings theatre and cinema closer together is that in these two forms of expression we seek moments of timelessness. It’s rare, but it can happen. They are fleeting eternities.

Lucie keeps telling herself that she must not “lose the thread”. Which thread?

The thread of her story, the thread of the story… Maybe it’s a statement intended for the viewer. In the end, it’s the audience that must try not to lose the thread. But maybe it’s also addressed to me. Maybe I was afraid of losing Lucie’s thread, when in actual fact everything is quite simple.

Interview by Cyril Neyrat