• French Competition

LE SENTIER DES ASPHODÈLES

THE TRAIL OF THE ASPHODELS

Maxime Martinot

A map appears on the screen in fragments – the “trail of the asphodels”, a circuit hike somewhere in Brittany. For the duration of the film, beekeeper Jean and his dog Léon walk the entire path, the camera in their wake. From his very first steps, Jean launches into a wildly inspired soliloquy, a half-mystical, half-burlesque gloss on the filmmaker’s own approach: a shaggy, bountiful exploration of the area the path crosses. Far from being content to follow the linear route, the tale multiplies the swerves, pauses and detours in space and time. Maxime Martinot and his filming accomplices invent an animal camera as stealthy and on the lookout as Léon trotting back and forth along the path, offering the fragile beauty of an image that doesn’t seek to capture anything in particular but allows itself to be seduced, its attention caught by everything it sees. The walk leads to encounters both random (a hare, some hikers) and organised (some donkey breeders, au hasard). The editing, impressive with its syncopated liveliness, tears holes in the fabric of time: Jean hears voices speaking Breton to him, and his arrival at a farm conjures up fragments of a family album. From one discovery to the next, Jean ends up an older version of himself, predicting his own future. Without losing its luminous light touch, The Trail of the Asphodels then opens up to the gloomier horizon of ecological disaster – the disappearance of bees and the last remaining slopes. Allowing yourself to do anything whilst sticking to a path… a blueprint for life and how to inhabit this world takes shape during this walk along the asphodel trail. The area is far, far vaster than the map. 

Cyril Neyrat

Why did you decide to follow this trail in Brittany with Le Sentier des Asphodèles?

I’ve walked this trail dozens of times, having grown up in Lanvénégen, a village in the northern Morbihan. There are many other trails in the area, but this was simply the one I knew best. I often walked it alone, and sometimes with family, dogs and friends. The idea of making a film about this path came very early on. Walking along it each time became a way of writing without writing, scouting without a camera, planning without a script.

Did the script take the thread of this journey through Brittany, following a map (which appears in fragments on the image) as its starting point?

At first, there was just a monologue that formed in my head as I walked along the path. The result was a first draft of a completely bizarre text that I wrote up each time I got home. This text was made up of spoonerisms, alliterations and absurd poetic connections, but only based on what I saw, felt or learned from the places I passed through and the people I met. Initially, I thought the film would be solely a walking and talking performance by this crazy character, who delivers his monologue in which we only understand every tenth pun! But meetings and collaborations meant that many other elements crept into the script in a very natural way. Then there was the need to create a character to recite this text (played by poet and historian Marius Loris Rodionoff). The script was always written in the direction and “order” of the trail, sometimes using pretexts for shortcuts and accelerations, but also pauses and breaths. Writing was above all a question of rhythm, and a way of anticipating and testing intensities. As for the maps in the film, there was a clear need to show them regularly, to give the viewer the sensation of getting to know the trail better and better. The film was intended to be an exhaustive portrait of a place, in this case a trail.

The film, like several of your other films, features a dog, in this case named Léon. 

What does a dog’s perspective bring to the film?

Neige (2017) was a portrait of the family home through the eyes of the dog Neige. Olho Animal (2022), which begins and ends in Lanvénégen, took another look at the first images of another dog, Boy, whom I filmed in my adolescence, and opened up a reflection on the possibility (or impossibility) of a concealed animal gaze in cinema. Le Sentier des Asphodèles is also haunted by the presence of Léon, who loves to play – with humans, but for the camera, too. It’s like a trilogy of “Lanvénégen dogs”! Here, the film is based on a walk. It’s a real challenge to film walking without falling into the clichés of a bucolic stroll, or on the contrary, a heavy, repetitive wandering. And technically speaking, it’s just as hard not to fall into the mechanisms of the representation of movement (tracking shots, steadycam, filming from the side, the back, filming feet, etc.). The “dog camera” helps us to forget the frame, to forget the image. It brings us closer to the elements, we become more attentive to depth, to changes in luminosity and color, and above all, we listen to the surrounding sounds in a different way. This gives us a more accurate sensation of walking, where we don’t really see or listen exactly, but vaguely perceive, sense and anticipate.

Filming took place over a fairly long period. How important was this length of time? 

I’ve been filming and writing on my own since 2015. Development and production with Les Films d’Argile took place between 2018 and 2020, and the main shooting in the summer of 2021. But even after that, we continued to shoot a few documentary shots and scenes, right up until a few months ago. The film uses the principle of jump cuts, showing the same place and setting at different times, with different cameras. So it was important to create these temporal dissensions in a clear and legible way. It wasn’t a question of creating a catalog or palette of seasons, but of favoring a perception of time that was anhistorical and antichronological (or if there was a chronology, a purely spatial one). So that the past no longer appears as a mysterious distance, nor the future as something inconceivable: everything is there, close, interwoven.

Le Sentier des Asphodèles cheerfully mixes genres, adopting different formats, black and white and color, and using both archive footage and images shot today. How did you work with your editor Léo Richard?

In the same way, we consider that the systematic separation of scripting, shooting and editing is detrimental to our work. I’ve been working with Léo for a long time, and he was there right from the main shoot. During location scouting, there were already elements that I had filmed on my own beforehand, as well as images recorded with Raimon Gaffier, the DP, and Pauline Pénichout, the camera assistant. To create the jump cuts, Léo would create a sort of timeline, a map of the rushes that would help us to find our way around and to film. The fact that we lived and worked together on the trail during filming also resonated nicely with this spatial approximation of the filming/editing work. We also drew up a real map/synopsis of the film. What’s more, Léo’s presence meant that we could immediately log and check what we’d filmed and recorded. After that, editing took several months. The archives were worked on like any other material in the film: as elements gathered along the way. The film functions in echoes, rhymes and bursts, rather than by development. This rhythm, this poetry, was really found in the editing, the sound editing, and even in the mixing and color grading. We sometimes felt as if our work was closer to disciplines we didn’t know, or knew only as amateurs: archaeology, ornithology and collecting!

Interview by Olivier Pierre

 

  • French Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 87’

Rights holder
Maxime Martinot
maxime.martinot@gmail.com