Interview – Signal GPS perdu

Interview with Pierre Voland

Signal GPS perdu opens with a title card announcing a fantasy story set in the Middle Ages, in contrast to its enigmatic, contemporary title. What was the idea behind your film?

At first the film aimed to talk about a desire for love that was unspoken and expressed in hushed tones and then it turned into a case of taking the plunge – diving into gay desire, diving into the desire for spirituality. The gap that you point out, between legend and the contemporary, became more pronounced along the way. Perhaps it is the discrepancy between my tendency to dream of something ancient, lost in the mists of time, and the life I live in the present; between my spiritual and cultural quest for the stuff of legend, which can be seen as dated (well, that’s how I saw it), and my recent love identity.

The landscape throughout Signal GPS perdu is imposing from the first shot and immerses us in snow-covered mountains and forests. What is this setting and why did you choose it?

I shot the film in my native region, the Jura, very intuitively. It was an inner retreat for me: the film was an opportunity to walk in places I knew, like a return to the source of my adolescence and my relationship with desire. At the same time, I was reinventing these sources, and this character who is walking, who is me without being me, has an air of fiction. I also wanted to film in winter, when nature is slowing down. I was looking for a certain numbness.

Why did you shoot in black and white Super-8 with the characteristic shakiness of the camera?

I have loved Super-8 from the moment I discovered the format at the age of 15! I also wanted to make people feel the passage of time, the reels flowing like water in a river. In fact, I dreamt quite early on of a waterfall shot like the one you see in the film, with a correlation between the water falling before us and the grain of the image as it passes by. I also hesitated: I shot some shots in Hi-8 and on digital, which I didn’t end up using. I am now working on a 16mm print of the film, where the film experience will be even more pronounced.

Signal GPS perdu combines the subjective viewpoint of a character, the reading in old French of a 12th century courtesan text and messages from a dating app. How did you work out this structure in the writing?

This interweaving came about gradually, through intuitions and surprises, but all the layers really came together and unfolded thanks to the work with the editor, Sébastien Demeffe. We looked for points of contact – the figure of the deer was one of them, which could cross the various storylines, allow them to cohabit, and help the “mobile”’ to be constructed. I was also keen on alternating things mechanically, like a ceremonial unfolding, an impassive aspect of the film.

Why did you put the contemporary French transcript on the image?

The presence of subtitles was a major concern. I spent a lot of time researching their format. I wanted to position them in the film by putting them at the centre. You can hear the old French on the soundtrack, which you can recognise a little but not quite on the screen. We looked for connections: the transcription itself puts us in this state of hesitation between the ancient and the contemporary, in this space in the film where I find myself, in the search for points of contact between past and present.

The beauty of the language is obvious. Did it determine your choice of literary source?

No. I recalled an excerpt from Le Chevalier de la charrette from my literature class. Today, I know that it was the association of desire and the Absolute I first tried to incorporate it with monastic texts, into modern French prose. Only later did I discover that the original novel was in verse! I recognized its beauty and tried to include it in the film. I learned to pronounce Old French, thanks to a course and the help of a specialist in medieval literature, May Plouzeau, whom I would like to thank. Reading this language was in keeping with the character’s inner self.

The soundtrack is made up of the character’s voiceover, readings, the sounds of nature and the app’s notifications. How did you design it?

From the very beginning, I wanted the character to be absent from the image. This was in line with the prohibition I was feeling at the time regarding desire: a body that censors itself and is nothing more than a voice. The paradox is that the character gains a presence through sound! More specifically, I had many recording experiences in nature: I walked, spoke, read texts, shouted them by a waterfall… The words and the environment were interlinked. I did a lot of takes. Then, during the editing with Sébastien, we re-recorded the old text in the studio in order to work on it separately.

The variations of these very different registers are surprising and sometimes funny. How did you arrive at this?

It came from these recording experiences, which fortunately helped me to loosen up the film: suddenly, the “I saw a deer” or my whistling in the car created a playful departure from the image. It provided a breath of fresh air. I wanted to retain that, to lighten up the film given its solitude and its obstinate course. It’s the humour of a hermit that is emerging from her restraint!

The various quests in the film seem to matter more than their resolution.

Yes, that’s true. For me, there is the question of asceticism as a route to desire, which is sensitive for example in the Courtly text, there is the gay desire on the dating app, and the desire for Christian spirituality, sensitive at several levels. The character tries to take these paths simultaneously, with some hesitations. The common thread is that there is a step to take, and that these quests have no ending.

Interview by Olivier Pierre