How did this film come about?

Some time ago, I went to the north of France to present my work in a secondary school. I met some teenagers, including Chaïnes, at the corner of a corridor. I immediately felt some kind of admiration for her.  Shortly after, I gave a cinema workshop in the school and she came to take part. Over a few months, I came to meet these young people to see what interested them and we quickly began to speak about romantic relationships and what it was like for them to fall in love.

Then I met the big brother of one of the participants, Hugo, who came to the workshop to see how it was going. I was fascinated by him right from the start because he behaved completely differently to the other young people. He was mature, very laid back in his language. One day he took me to his special place: a nearby slag heap where he spent his days fishing. Another day he came to see me and said: “I’m in love with Chaïnes, and I’d like you to film my declaration.”

This was when my project completely transformed: for me, it became clear that, given his gesture, his confidence, I now had in my hands a film whose starting point would be his declaration of love. He understood the power that cinema could have on life.


The performance of the young actors is key in Tender: how did you work with them? Were they involved, for instance, in writing the dialogues and designing the screenplay?

Yes and no. I really followed the evolution of the romantic relationship between Chaïnes and Hugo day by day. During filming, the staging of course comes into play, at different levels, and in different ways. I talked a lot with Hugo before filming the scenes in order to know what he wanted to tell Chaïnes. I based my approach on what he wanted to tell her and to do. It was the same for Chaïnes, and Mia: I built on their suggestions and desires. Sometimes I left them completely free to experience the moment. Depending on the scenes, even I adopted very different ways of doing things: from simply capturing the moment to intervening and directing them with my voice, as during an argument, where I almost played matchmaker to get them to talk to each other when they couldn’t communicate anymore.  Thanks to Hugo, I had the chance to capture the unfolding of a love story and its vagaries, to which I wanted to bring a retrospective gaze, by filming the aftermath. The film is therefore based on a present—the discussion between Hugo and the young blond girl—which is in fact the “time after”, which allows us to recall the love story after it has ended in the form of flashbacks. It’s likely all these differing approaches that make the film a hybrid of documentary and fiction.

Sometimes the bodies are very present, sometimes not at all, but I wanted us to be very close to them. So, I chose to record scenes with just sound and no images, but spatialised. During the editing, I relocated these conversations in the scenery: I wanted the viewers to be able to put themselves in Chaïnes and Hugo’s shoes, to be with them in that place, and listen to them speak.


In parallel to the main love story, there is also Mia, who has important dialogues, and the young brother, who doesn’t. Why did you leave room for these characters?

The young blond girl, Mia, is Hugo’s confidant. The other young people we see are her young brothers and sisters—she is the eldest. I see her as Chaïnes’ double, but she doesn’t have the same relationship with Hugo at all. It’s with her that he shares his passion for fishing. She isn’t yet caught up in relations of seduction, not yet old enough to experience love stories, and yet she has an incredible understanding of love and life. She’s a very lively young girl who helps Hugo by shedding light on what he has experienced. For me, Mia is Chaïnes’ carefree, sun-like twin. She is in a very free relationship with her own self and what she likes. Chaïnes, meanwhile, is moon-like and has a more secretive relationship with her emotions and feelings.

Additionally, what struck me in these young people was also their animalistic, very happy and joyous side. Without fear. I really wanted to film this contrast between the “laborious” discussions of the two lovers who dwell on their situation, who try to find themselves, who flirt, and the young people’s very bodily, slightly savage side.


The setting of the pond is a focal point, around which the whole composition revolves. What made you choose this unique and central setting?

I always try to adapt to the people I film, and therefore to the place where they feel good. From there, I develop my way of filming. Hugo spent his days contemplating the pond, watching for fish. As it was his place, his spot, my approach centred on it. The pond is a place where energies circulate, a place of life. It is also full of the unknown and of mystery. Fishing is time spent waiting when we hope that something will happen. At night, the pond takes on another imaginary: we don’t know what’s under the surface, what might arise.

In the film we never see the whole slag heap. When I discovered the place, I was fascinated by the black earth, which reinforced my desire for abstraction. There’s also the Map of Tendre, which I was reminded of right at the beginning of the filming. Imagined by the Précieuses in the 17th century, it seeks to define the stations of love. I found an echo between the map and the way I wanted to film the place, in solid blocks of colour, in an abstract way.


The lighting is also key: why did you choose to film almost exclusively at the end of the day?

This is something I had imagined from the start: filming the young people on several late afternoons, favouring the twilight hours. I wanted to transform the location and make it a bit magical. The twilight creates an atmosphere, a colour. It’s a tipping point towards freedom and worry. Additionally, for this romantic relationship to unfold, I felt that it needed an intimacy that only the night brings. When night falls, something loosens and relaxes. Young people are also obsessed by the night, so I wanted to give them access to it through the filming.


Interview by Nathan Letoré