Interview – To be Loved by Whom

Interview with Emily Barbelin

What are the origins and background of To be Loved by Whom, your first feature film?

There are profound questions that trouble me and that come out in the writing and films: love, the group, the prominent place of work in society. I wrote a novel, Asile de nuit, knowing that it was going to be the starting point for a film. That’s how it happened with this one. This film was self-produced thanks to the existence and belief of a group of people. We shot outside of all production circuits, with the financial, artistic and personal support of Benjamin Porcedda, and the time, generosity and talent of the whole team. We also received a lot of material and artistic support from the beginning of the writing process to the final edit. A sort of companionship was established on the project with people who were more or less close to us and who participated at different levels of the production.

The film centres on a young Russian woman in exile working in a hostess bar, Le Monroe. Why did you choose this particular place, this community of women?

While Irina is still the main character, the film became more choral in the editing. The setting is their place of work, the bar Le Monroe, a very modest bar, far from the glamour and sexiness of this kind of place in our imagination. Famous photos of Marilyn Monroe in shabby frames, chintzy costumes, cheap wigs, ageless furniture, and the usual suspects at the bar. I didn’t think of showing a community of women but rather the meaningless gregariousness they are cast into. There is no plurality, but desolation, an impossible common world in this place.

The story is deliberately incomplete, avoiding any psychology. How did you develop the script?

I started with a literary script that evolved enormously during the writing phase, depending on the situations I encountered and the people I worked with. I looked for ideas and a rhythm in the writing before shooting. We never had a classic script to work from. Knowing the actresses well, we left ourselves open to surprises, to a certain amount of improvisation. The writing continued in the course of the image and sound editing.

The editing is part of this narrative freedom. How did you work with Lucas Furtado?

I met Lucas Furtado later – he didn’t yet have a vision of what had already been done, unlike the rest of the team. He came along at a time when I had done a lot of editing on my own and needed to work with someone else. His sense of rhythm, his agreements and disagreements with me, his gaze, his intelligence, made it possible to understand what the film should be.

What role does the female voice-over play and where does the text come from?

The voice-over is the voice of their film, the film that Irina wants to make with her mobile phone. They try out randomly found words and try to build a common space in this poetry, in these stolen words that they paste onto stolen images and then combine.

What meaning do these images hold for Irina/Alice?

She does not use her phone in a kind of advertising naivety as one might expect. Unlike what she does in life, she is not bothered about appearances but concerned about her sense of being while filming. She tries, without any preconceived ideas, to make her presence in the world tangible by capturing all these fragments of bodies like images snatched from reality, like an investigation, a collection of clues for a reconstruction.

The shoot took place at night, mainly in the bar, with the camera focusing on the faces, bodies and dances. Why this bias in the image?

The bar is quite incomprehensible, the place is rather sparse. They are the ones who have to breathe life into the place. Their bodies, faces, and movements fill the void of the bar, but they don’t dance very well, they are worn out. The nocturnal world is where they work. Daytime is only a parenthesis that can no longer embrace them; nothing can happen in this suspended, dematerialised, devitalised, disembodied time. I had the chance to highlight this imprisonment in the bar with Rui Poças, an incredible director of photography, and to film, in a more wild way, everything that exists outside the bar with Camille Sultan, a very talented young director of photography.

Why did you hire Irina Plesnyaeva, a Russian actress, for the lead role and how did you choose the others?

I have known Irina Plesnyaeva and Oleg Yagodin for a long time. I met them as part of a non-state theatre group in Russia. I went to their house and they came to mine, we worked together on many occasions. Oleg and Irina participated in all my first short films. A series of common experiences underlie and underpin our collaboration. If the fact that she is Russian gives a direction to the film, they are all ultimately a bit isolated and exiled. The other actresses, such as Coline Fouquet, Lila Janvier, Gaëlle Cerisier… are significant people I met in theatre.

What directions did you give regarding the original music for the film?

The diegetic music we hear in the bar and the costume shop is the kind of music that is played everywhere in this type of space, a permanently imposed background noise – almost like an instrument of control, a sound bath that shapes behaviour. The music that punctuates certain scenes was composed by several musician friends and the last piece that extends the film was composed by Thierry Delor, who also played an important role in the film’s sound design and carried out the mix.

The heroine, a rebel, does not accept the role she is forced into, the alienation and violence imposed on her. Does To be Loved by Whom also has a political dimension?

You can think of her as a heroine and a rebel, but I don’t force anyone to think that. They are in the same place right from the beginning to the very end of the film. Only it’s true, a sense of common danger has emerged, and perhaps, the possibility of solidarity and love.

Interview by Olivier Pierre