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Damien Manivel

Rosa and her gang have decided to spend the night on “the island”, a stretch of beach that has become their kingdom. It’s the last evening of the summer, the summer of our eighteenth birthdays, the time to experience everything, the time to say goodbye.

The end of the summer, somewhere in Brittany. Twenty-year old Rosa spends a last evening on the beach with her friends before leaving the next day for a fresh start in Montreal. With this simple narrative thread, Damien Manivel weaves an original cinematic fabric, taking L’Île far beyond the expectations of a coming-of-age film. Following Les Enfants d’Isadora (2019) and Magdala (2022), Manivel here steers his pursuit of unique harmonies between cinema and dance into uncharted territory. Rather than developing the script as a sealed, linear work of fiction, the filmmaker chose to edit the rushes of the rehearsals with his young actors. The film alternates between two locations and two working moments: the rehearsal studio, a bare and abstract space where the troupe brought together for the occasion experiment with movements and rhythms, as if preparing for a choreographic work; and the beach, where the scenes take shape in the fictional setting. Here and there, the gestures and words of the filmmaker, a discreet presence often offscreen, sometimes onscreen, mould the evolving material. Movements, words and scenes recur, time spiralling as the story unfolds. This temporality creates an exhilarating sensation of constant oscillation between inside and outside, between emotion and distancing, between the pure presence of the actors at work and the gradual blossoming of the characters they embody. It is an end (of the day, of the summer, of a moment in their lives) and the beginning (of a collective work, of a form, of fiction). If the art of cinema lies in endings and beginnings, L’Île pays it a double tribute.

Cyril Neyrat


You try out new things for each of your films. After Magdala (2022), which looked at the sacred figure of Mary Magdalene, what was your project for L’Île

After Magdala, which was a film about old age and death, I was looking for some kind of light-heartedness and to change my creative process. At the start of the summer, I gathered together a group of teenagers in Brittany and our film crew to develop a movie over a couple of weeks. I’d been thinking about L’Île for a year and had a first draft of a text to hand, and some formal and musical intuitions but I also wanted to shake things up with them – in other words, to construct the characters together, and define their relationships, their group, and, of course, the actions and scenes they’d be playing. So it really began the day everyone arrived. 

L’Île is both a fiction about a group of teenagers and a documentary about the process of making this film. How did you imagine intertwining the two? 

The original idea was to rehearse the film in early July, then spend my summer preparing the shoot that was going to take place at the end of August. Except that, since nothing ever works out as planned, the lack of money meant we had to cancel the shoot. A few months later, in mid-October, Martin Bertier, my associate and producer, persuaded me to have a quick look at the rushes of the rehearsals. So I opened the disk for the first time and I was moved by what I discovered. I said to myself that we had to tell this story, come what may, with all the traces of our work available to me, the rushes of the rehearsals, the sound recordings of our discussions, sequences filmed on an iPhone by the actors themselves, the videos of scouting, etc. Despite all this, L’Île is pure fiction. We follow the thread of a narrative, the actors are always in character, looking for the right words, listening to the ideas I suggest and nothing exists outside of this film we’re constructing. The only difference with classic fiction is that here, the approach is revealed to the viewer; we see the fragility and the beauty of the endeavour.

Why did you want the film to be supported by Rosa’s voice-over, which also comments on the action? 

The voiceover was an idea I’d had since the start of the project. Rosa takes us with her in her memory, telling us about the movements and words that have stayed with her, and her voice moves us, as well as bringing all these different materials together.

With the sound, we also hear the actors acting and the directions you give them. Was the mixing complicated? 

I’d say the sound editing was more complicated. There were lots of words and background noise, as we can hear, it was very spontaneous. We decided when editing with Jérôme Petit, and Simon Apostolou for the mixing, to keep this raw, lively quality, which makes the film’s lyrical flights of fancy all the more powerful.

How did you envisage the music, which you also composed? 

I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted, but because it was the first time, I hesitated for a long time before composing myself. It was Rosa who persuaded me. Everything in the film is very personal, so why not do the music for it? It’s a loop made from magnetic tapes, in a home-made way without a computer. With each repetition of the loop, like a backwash, we’re plunged into memory, intoxication and melancholy.

You also inserted drawings and photos that suggest a collective work that’s partly improvised. How did you go about this? 

They’re drawings I always do of my shoots, a kind of very badly drawn storyboard, but it’s always really useful for me to understand what I’m doing. Usually we stick it all on to the sitting-room wall, but this time it was on the kitchen table. We took photos to archive our work but I never thought they would feature in a film one day. It was the same with the film crew whose discreet and generous presence the film records. Right from the start of the editing, I understood that we had to include everything, not just film the actors but also the very special atmosphere surrounding them.

The rehearsals in the studio become just like choreographies. You yourself are a trained dancer. How did dance influence the actors’ work? 

For the auditions for L’Île, the idea was to find young people interested in dance and movement. Not professionals but young people open to improvisation and experimenting, people not afraid to go for it, to try physical things. I think you can see that in the film, it fits in well with the way I direct them.

How did you manage the editing, the subtle passage between the studio and the beach in a single scene with different timeframes?   

The editing took three months, I worked intuitively, my only compass was the emotion that all these images I’d discovered stirred in me. The structure imposed itself, with the back-and-forth between the different places and timeframes, this idea of circularity in the fact of rehearsing the same scenes with formal variations reminiscent of musical loops. From the outset, it was about the memory and ephemeral nature of a film shoot.

Was the choice to use a light, mobile, handheld camera decisive for this film? 

When I was a teenager, I used to film all our parties with a Mini DV videorecorder. I don’t know why, but I needed to record those moments. They were very badly filmed but there’s something very poignant in them. For L’Île, I asked the director of photography Mathieu Gaudet to try and imagine that feeling of having a camera in his hand for the first time.  He had his work cut out for him because we often filmed at night and dawn, and the young people were overexcited, so we did it in a single shot lasting an hour and a half.

L’Île is like an imaginary haven, a teenage Utopia. What do you think? 

They try to maintain an intensity, never coming back down but aware that it’ll soon come to an end. It’s the same thing for a film shoot. 

Interview by Olivier Pierre

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Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 73’

Rights holders
Cosimo Santoro
France : Météore
Mathieu Berthon