• French Competition  
  • Renaud Victor Award


Ioanis Nuguet

Ioanis Nuguet
Facing up to the outrage of death, warding it off and keeping track of events is the generous ambition that drives this film, offered up as a libation. When he learns of his mother’s illness, Ioanis Nuguet leaves Bali where he works in theatre and decides to make a film with her. This was the seed that grew into First Kingdom, first to accompany her in her struggle, and ultimately to carry out the task of mourning after the distress of death that eventually takes her, awakening others from the dead. From Bali to France, filming her and her loved ones, the film establishes a dialogue between the living and the dead, and Nuguet-as-filmmaker is their go-between. Drawn in by the lyricism of the staggering editing that thwarts death’s partings, we’re carried away in a maelstrom of images, places and gestures. This is first shown by the disordered chronology, replaying the secret presences and connections between times, between death and life. And very few words are spoken, giving star billing to the power of the music and the movements of the bodies, sometimes acting or miming, captured in the flow of a moving camera. The film moves back and forth from one realm to another, from people to the elements – water, fire – whose substance recalls rites, Balinese shadow theatre and the portrayal of dreams… In the form of a great poem, free and independent with, in its heart, cinema and its potencies, this film rises to the challenge of accommodating reality in order to transform it. Filmmaking as an ode to the virtues of fakery and imagination. A film in which the unborn and the departed are reunited in what’s both a quest and a longing for peace. A little like a ritual, the kind we invent, and a paradoxical monument to life and a dead mother.
(Nicolas Feodoroff)

Interview with Ioanis Nuguet

After Spartacus et Cassandra (2014), Premier Royaume is a wide gesture, encompassing the cycle of life. How did this project originate ?
The project began with the vital emergency of filming my mother, whom I feared I would lose too soon, but it was also loaded with previous mourning, for my father, who had passed away many years before and whose missing image I was looking for in Indonesia. There was the Balinese world on one side and Provence on the other, my father’s death, my mother’s sadness, and the ocean linking all these worlds together.

What orientations did you choose while writing with your brother, Adrien Nuguet ?
One of the directions we considered together was that of the passage, crossing a threshold, travelling. On our tables, we had old pictures, Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil, tales of Provence and Bali, amerindian poems, shamanic travel stories… Following on Spartacus and Cassandra, we were certain that tales, mythical stories, and legends open up intimate images towards wider spaces, collective perspectives. Finding ways for moving between worlds, that is one of the driving forces of our writing!

The film moves back and forth between the present and the past, France and Indonesia, different times and places. What were you aiming for ?
I’m not so sure that there is a present tense in the film. Or else, only in this scene on a balinese beach at dawn. It is an eternal present, always on the move, and also a space, that of the sea. Quignard wrote « When you slip your hand into the sea for an instant, you touch all shores in one sweep ». By dipping into this film, I wanted to touch all shores of my life and family, to find what I had lost in childhood and my origins, the cyclical dimension, to escape linearity. To accept that everything is only relationships and passages, that life and the world pass through us more than we pass through them.

Water, the sea in particular, is the central motif of Premier Royaume. What does it represent ? How did you develop this idea during the editing ?
The Balinese worship and fear the sea as they do death. They disperse the ashes of the dead in its waters. It is with the sea that the trip begins and a new cycle of reincarnation is initiated. Every time there is a death, a passing away, we need to go through the origins again. During the editing, it was not about insisting on water’s presence, but I wanted the sensation of an archipelago to come across, I wanted to shape sequences that would be like islands joined up by currents. The sea is a movement, currents. Even when there is no water in the film, there is movement.

The camera moves from land to sea with noticeable grace. How did you work on these movements, which are akin to a choreography?
Indeed, like a dance. I had a music in mind and improvised with the constraints of the element. It often takes the shape of a crossing. In the passage from sea to land, there is always something at stake that links to a primal scene that I could film over and over again.

The images, whether photos, Super 8, or digital, is heterogeneous. Did you wish to use them almost as in a painting?
The filmed image has a relation to representation that is close to that of the painted image regardless : the problems of lighting, framing, depth, and matter are the same. For me, there is no obvious reason for the cinematic image to strive for being as clear as possible, as realistic as possible, with the highest resolution possible. It remains an aesthetic decision. In this sense, shooting in Super 8 or DV when at other moments I shoot in HD or 4K, is to decide on a mode of representation ; it relates to a poetics of the filmic matter that is even more pronounced during the colour calibration, which for me is the stage which is closest to painting. I spent a long time in postproduction working on grain, pixels, colour, fluidity. Of course, it’s possible to go much further than I did, I’m not an aesthete in these matters, and my images remain, in spite of all this, very realistic.

How did your family, which also appears onscreen, collaborate with you?
Things happened in a very organic manner over a long period. My mother was very happy to be filmed and to take part in one of my projects. For her, life, art, fiction, all take place in the same space. My grandmother Nelly, who was a painter and liked to tell us about her spiritism sessions, took it very seriously, and thought that the film might have psychomagical effects on my mother’s healing. After a scene that we shot at the foot of a castle in Provence, as the storm was coming, she didn’t want to take part in the film for a while. Lightning struck about five meters away from us… My brothers, and then Camille, were involved from the outset, which made me feel much more confident. Maybe so that these difficult images might accompany us without weighing on us, so that they might combine alchemically in so many gestures that guide us, heal us, and transform us.

What is your connection to Balinese theatre and what place does it hold in the film ?
As a teenager, I dreamt of going to Bali to learn about this theatre of « hallucination » that Artaud mentions, as opposed to the « psychological » theatre he so hated. I finally ended up going there thanks to Ariane Mnouchkine who sent me to I Made Djimat, a Master of danse that she knew. That’s where I started learning about Balinese theatre and danse, and for a while integrated my Master’s company. I learnt to learn, through imitation and repetition. Balinese theatre probably gives the film its cosmogonic base. Poetically, it is the netherworld, the theatre of the beyond and of our metaphysical fears. It is the symbolic stage on which our family history is played.

What were your intentions for the sound work with Bruno Ehlinger ?
The sound takes were very unequal and the surrounding sound almost non-existant. This lack was also very interesting, as it enabled us to choose exactly what we wanted to create and add in the sound space. I had many ideas concerning the sounds of the sea, dripping, underground sources. Bruno became a specialist of aquatic sounds, in spite of himself! Then we started looking for more and more abstract things, further and further off from the images : metallic friction, bells, landslides. The sensation was the most important, the image it gives rise to within us beyond the one we see. The music had to arise from this magma of sounds every time.

How did you choose the different musics ?
There are some pieces that I had in mind during the shoot, or even while writing, like those of Cesar Franck, Nicolaus Bruhns, or Mikis Theodorakis, and others that came during the editing, because they carry a rhythm and an emotional state that matches the scene, or on the contrary act as a counterpoint or a subterranean narrative. There’s no set rule, it’s a very empirical process. I always edit while listening to music, mostly great classical composers, even when there are dialogues. I always find the result more lively, more organic in this manner. It doesn’t mean that the music will necessarily stay. It helps me find each sequence’s inner music.

What is this « first kingdom » that is evoked by the title?
I guess that everything mentioned above could in a certain way answer this question. But I also guess that like everything that is the first, nothing can fully explain it, that the First Kingdom is an origin that acts in mysterious ways, something that opens up our thinking and renews it constantly.

Interview by Olivier Pierre

  • French Competition  
  • Renaud Victor Award

Technical sheet

France / 2021 / 91’

Original Version : balinais, French.
Subtitles : English, French.
Script : Ioanis Nuguet, Adrien Nuguet.
Photography : Ioanis Nuguet.
Editing : Ioanis Nuguet.
Sound : Bruno Ehlinger.
Production : Charles de Meaux (Anna Sanders Films).
Filmography : Spartacus et Cassandra, 2015.