• Other gems



Patricia Allio

An androgynous figure appears and wanders: Yves. In the course of a conversation, Yves claims to have existed, some hundreds of years ago. A series of meetings acquaint Yves and ourselves with the denizens of Saint-Jean-du-Doigt and with their rituals. A shaman, a storyteller, a parishioner describe some local religious ritual, as well as Anne de Bretagne herself. In other shots, Yves is seen wandering through the set, rolling on the ground, blurring the lines between movement, dance and convulsion. What prevails here is the human body’s tactile and material rapport with nature and landscape. The film is an intimate appropriation of Brittany, of its natural, historical, anthropological foundations.

Nathan Letoré

The film is built around the androgynous figure of Yves, whose successive encounters help us to discover diverse aspects of Saint-Jean-du-Doigt. How did this figure come to be, and how did you work with the actor François Chaignaud ?

The film’s genesis is tied to the village of Saint-Jean-du-Doigt, located in Finistère, where I’ve been living part-time since 2015. I obviously developed an interest in its extraordinary history. In the year 1420, a young country lad named Yves allegedly came home from Normandy carrying the relic of Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s finger, which had been brought back from Jerusalem by Sainte-Thècles. This relic of the finger was assumed to have spawned a number of miracles, which in turn led to the creation of a new ritual during the Saint-Jean’s day pardon. The film’s character Yves was born from a three-way encounter between Breton history (« the miraculous translation of the reliquary finger of Saint-Jean-Baptiste » as told by Albert Le Grand in his Life of saints in Brittany Armorica), my infatuation with Da Vinci’s painting of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, and my relationship with François Chaignaud, a singer, dancer and choreographer. 

I became interested in the ritual in 2015 : it occurs during the yearly pardon and celebration of Saint-Jean’s day, and consists of the imposition of the reliquary finger onto the eyelid. As I filmed the ritual then, I was already considering filming a reenactement of the Da Vinci painting on the Saint-Jean-du-Doigt beach, linking Leonard’s androgynous model (presumed to be his lover) to François Chaignaud, who performs gender fluidity in their daily life and onstage, and who looks just like Da Vinci’s model. When I reach out to them in 2016, they’re unavailable, and it will be years before these desires and obsessions converge in a fictional tale of my design in which Yves, now the main character, is a wandering fool set on an initiatory path 600 years after his first coming. 

I offered them the part of Yves, who eventually embodies Saint-Jean and his leonardian model. We exchanged at length during the long lockdown of 2020, via text and phonecall, since theatres were closed and every stage-bound activity had come to a halt. We dreamt up the mystical quest of Yves, who is clueless about their own identity. The fact that Yves is clueless about everything, that they are somewhat empty, is the tangible and metaphysical premise of their character. This absence of knowledge serves as a dramaturgical driving force. The dance sequences are performances that they came up with based on this premise, and in constant dialogue with extreme situations. This is true of the fire dance, for exemple, which occurs in wild weather conditions. 

Over the course of their trajectory, Yves come into contact with diverse figures (a shaman, a painter, a story-teller, a parishwoman…) all of whom seem to enact their own parts. Could you elaborate on these figures ? How were they chosen or composed ?

I grew attached to the people around me who indeed perform their own parts. I picked them because they are all linked to the mystery, and mystically connected to the World, either through paganism, Christianity, or the arts. Philippe the shaman is a friend who’s practiced shamanism for a decade. When he tells Yves that « it is possible to encounter the spirit of Saint-Jean, for it is an elder spirit », that is not merely a line from the film, but rather the sincere expression of a true belief in the possibilities of the shamanic journey. Musician and storyteller Patrick Ewen is my neighbour : he is a famous Breton storyteller who’s sung, written, and embodied the choice of paganism and of celtic magic in resistance to the Christianization of our lives and our country for 50 years. Ricardo Cavallo is a famous Argentinian painter who’s lived in Saint-Jean-du-Doigt for the past 17 years. Like Cézanne, he pursues a relentless work of transcribing the variations of the light. Annick Toullec is a Christian, connected to the spirit of Saint-Jean-Baptiste. She understands the imposition ritual as a metaphor for opening one’s heart and vision. My relationship to these people are free from any irony, quite the opposite : I see each of them as connected to a cosmic, poetic and spiritual dimension of existence. They share a powerful relationship to faith, and all believe that the World is bigger than we are and that the vast majority of the mysteries of time and space remain inaccessible to us.

The other main composition rôle is a pair made up of Anne de Bretagne and a genderfluid knight. Unlike Yves, Anne is a historical figure. Why give her this space within the film ?

I continued my historical exploration of the « legendary » tale, which features several mentions of the coming of French queen Anne de Bretagne to Saint-Jean du Doigt in the year 1505. She visited the village in order to have the reliquary finger imposed onto her, in the hope of relieving her from eyeaches. The Queen Anne de Bretagne is an often carucaturized feminist figure that I find very interesting : she was the founder of the first order of female knights and commissioned a book portraying illustrious women. As soon as I set myself to writing a film in which the protagonist would be the ghost of Yves, I felt the urge to bring her back as the Queen’s ghost, showing this character in the new light of actress Christelle Podeur’s extraordinary personality, paired up with a transgender knight played by a Milon performer. Working with Christelle Podeur, I made it clear to her that I wished to blend her actress self with her personal self, since she has a long-standing obsession regarding time and eternity.

Several sequences display a particular attachment to the sensuality and tactile character of nature. How do you explain this compositional stress on Yves’ appropriation of the natural world ?

I don’t think they’re appropriating anything, but rather inventing a visionary dialogue with nature. The film opens on the choir of birds (or dawn chorus), a truly marvelous phenomenon occuring every morning at sunrise in the springtime, and that no ornithologist has ever been able to explain for good. Yves is a mystical being. A connected being. I set off from this fabulous premise : they who came with the reli of the finger of the founder of Christianity inserted in their left forearm create in their wake the awakening of nature and other miracles. If they return, they must be in a shamanic connection to the world : they know without knowing. They experience the unknown and open up to sensations and visions. They are granted access to the « oceanic feeling », the Freudian name for the mystical communion of the subject with the unlimited. This was my point of focus, because I wished to make a film about vision, contemplation, in which what I’ve called the « epiphany of landscapes » plays a crucial part. « I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer » : Rimbaud’s not far off !

Interview by Nathan Letoré

  • Other gems

Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 81’

Rights holder
Quentin Laurent