• French Competition  
  • GNCR Award  
  • Renaud Victor Award


Zoé Chantre

« This film begins on the 5th of March. Every year, on this exact date, an ant comes in under my front door and I watch it. For her, it’s the beginning of spring, for me it’s my mother’s birthday. The ant feeds its queen who then lays eggs and I ask myself the question of whether I do or do not want to have a baby just at the point when my mother, who is suffering from cancer, is approaching the end of her life.” This is how Zoe Chantre introduces her last film to date. We would have figured out that the film is autobiographical, but from several points of view: her own, her mother’s, the ant’s and other entities who feature in this story about existence. Furthermore, a rare trait in this type of undertaking, is the deliberately generous helping of humour. Not only, in terms of the funny side of the various adventures narrated with obvious jubilation, even when things are not going so well, but also the humour that results from the diversity of the filming techniques: a basic animation using a pencils and rubber which we see rubbing things out – a naïve, jolly technique, echoing the DIY solutions to some of the more serious problems addressed in the film. In short, if this is not “an autobiography of everyone” a la Gertrude Stein, it is an expression of the drive to embrace everything openly – from animals to humans, from a Parisian flat to Vietnam, to the squared paper of a schoolboy’s notebook which is endlessly reinvented before our eyes. The film is never imperious, never sententious, rather always forging ahead. Such is the heavy price of this confession – to do it, to advance, like each choice in a game of snakes and ladders (jeu de l’oie), without any forethought or wisdom simply moving forward one step at a time, each move as important as another: a beautiful hymn to the S in scoliosis as a possible, plausible way of standing tall.

(Jean-Pierre Rehm)

Interview with Zoé Chantre

1. Le Poireau perpétuel (The perpetual leek) is a new chapter in your film diary after Tiens moi droite (Hold Me Straight) (2012), your first feature film. How did you approach it ?
The initial idea was to create a fiction about the desire to have children, or not, but the film diary caught up with me. The pleasure of filming alone with a small camera and a microphone, with no constraints, and the sole purpose of describing what was happening to me. It had become stronger than my desire for fiction. It gradually became apparent that Le Poireau perpétuel would be a sequel to Tiens moi droite but could also be seen as a stand-alone. I can already imagine that there will be a sequel to the sequel, because when you start a film diary and it takes off, it’s hard to stop.

2. The film talks about serious subjects with a fresh touch of fantasy and humour. What choices did you make as you wrote the script ?
The desire to make the film began with my fear of death. That of losing my mother to cancer. At the same time, I was wondering whether or not to have a child. This simultaneous confrontation with death and birth made me take a hard look at the very essence of life. I don’t think anything is too serious, even the most important questions, and facing up to them can give you wings. The desire to bear witness to my “banal” experience is merely a game to tame the world and accept who I am. As for the writing, I mainly expressed my desires and feelings, and as time went by, the film just came about. My story grew gradually, over time, during the shooting and editing which overlapped.

3. The DIY animation contributes greatly to re-enchanting reality. How do you see it?
Quite spontaneously, when an idea for an animation comes to me, I want it to come to life immediately, like a sketch on paper. It’s the idea that I’m interested in. Showing the fading pencil line shows the trace one leaves behind and addresses the notion of handiwork. The film has a deliberate DFIY feel to it – at least, I like to think it feels that way.

4. Alain Cavalier is mentioned as a “fellow traveller” on your website. Has his work been an inspiration for you ?
Yes, I see it as an example of freedom. The way he uses the camera like a paint brush, as a prop that helps him paint his life, really strikes a chord in me. He taught me to be patient, lean and simple.

5. How did you manage the dream sequences ?
The dreams are created with homemade special effects that allowed me to introduce real elements rather than using animation. When you dream, your dream is not made up of drawings, that’s why I didn’t use my pencil for these sequences.

6. Was filming the trips to India and Vietnam a challenge compared to the domestic images ?
Not in India, because we first went there for a health retreat. I took my camera with me but I hadn’t planned to use the footage. It just became obvious during the editing. In Vietnam, on the other hand, I really wanted to get out of our daily lives, to go and see somewhere else, a sort of momentary pause. A written intention. I had to prepare the trip ahead of time, without knowing what I was going to find. But the idea was to film snippets of another vision of death.

7. How did you work on the editing between animation, live action and dream sequences ?
Firstly alone, while looking at the day’s shoots and trying to link them with the previous day’s shoots, like a puzzle. The result was a mass of heterogeneous material. Then, with the help of an outside eye, I got rid of a lot of material so that all only the real parts were kept for the story, the drawings for images of the past or images that couldn’t be filmed and the home-made special effects for the dreams. The parts related to animals are among the things I film on a daily basis, real life that I choose to stage or not. They are part of my visual and emotional landscape, I’m fascinated by their mysteries and by their far less intellectual relationship to life.

8. How did you compose the music for the film ?
I often compose music while driving, in bed, or walking. I’m not really a musician, but like many people I’m always humming. I record myself with the dictaphone on my phone. Little by little, I created a bank of tunes, little ditties. They often correspond to a specific state and I organise them by emotion or situation. I dip into them when looking for a musical accompaniment during the editing process and play them on my keyboard. In fact, I use it as a break during the editing process: when I’m tired of images, I switch to music.

9. As the doctor says, you play all the roles in Le Poireau perpétuel. How did this choice come about ?
I don’t think that a film diary can be made by someone else. I wanted to continue with what I had done inTiens moi droite, alone, without a crew, at my own pace. But I must admit that after a while I had no perspective, everything was blurred and I needed fresh input to continue. It’s a big challenge but gives you a lot of freedom.

10. What place does cinema have in your artistic research, between theatre, books and photography? Does it also play a therapeutic role ?
Filmmaking is an all-in-one tool. It allows me to create a single document from everything I enjoy doing, like drawing, music, story-writing, creating objects, editing, framing… It stimulates my desires, fills my everyday life with surprise and leads me to do things I would never have done if I wasn’t thinking about my film. It is a fellow traveller who fits in with others. I wouldn’t say it’s therapeutic, because the real therapy was done with my doctors, my relatives, time… But I can talk about resilience through the film. It gives me strength to face my problems, to share them, it helps me to put things into perspective and reassures me that I am not alone.

Transcribed by Olivier Pierre

  • French Competition  
  • GNCR Award  
  • Renaud Victor Award

Technical sheet

France / 2021 / 83’

Original Version : French.
Subtitles : English.
Script : Zoé Chantre.
Photography : Zoé Chantre.
Editing : Zoé Chantre.
Sound : Zoé Chantre.
Production : Françoise Widhoff (Les films de l’astrophore).
Distribution : Pascale Ramonda (Pascale Ramonda).
Filmography : Tiens-moi droite, 2012.