• French Competition



Mathilde Girard

Paris at twilight, children playing in a square. When night falls, masked passers-by scurry about before returning home. In wide, static shots, decisively composed following the lines of streets and buildings, Mathilde Girard films the flow of people during lockdown as curfew begins – the erratic, perpetual movement of a fragmented people. The serial repetition of the same locations, the same settings, records the variations in this flow and forms the documentary framework of The Night Drags On. But because “the city is fiction” (Godard, Letter to Freddy Buache), Girard has laid and interwoven two accounts onto this frame. A person awakes every morning alone in their apartment, caught up in the routine of an existence without any “outside” other than messages from friends on their mobile phone. A woman is driven in a taxi at night between hospital and her home. The conversation she starts up with the taxi driver reveals aspects of her life: the strange illness she’s recovering from, her work as an artist. The beauty of The Night Drags On, the second movie from the director of Épisodes (Prix Premier, FID 2020), lies in its sobriety without artifice: it’s through the care and sharpness of the frames and lighting that it illuminates the night of the present. It’s without words, through the syncopated connection of shots and narratives, that the film tries to ward off separation, managing to pierce a passage in time that has come to a standstill. The world will undoubtedly go to the dogs, but night will not always drag on as long as faces are filmed and words listened to with this tender yet firm attention, this calm yet intransigent determination.

Cyril Neyrat

Que quelque chose vienne intertwines three distinct modes of storytelling and representation : a woman’s ride home from the hospital, the repeated awakenings of a lone individual in their apartment, and a compilation of sights from certain neighbourhoods in Paris. What brought this film into existence ? 

What hunches or ambitions does it depend on ? 

The film’s three separate parts came quite naturally, and stuck together in such a way that I couldn’t properly trace the precise history of the writing process. The first intention appeared when the government established a national curfew, which brought us into a mode of presence and experience usually belonging to the symbolic context of wartime (and I say this even though I’m well aware that different historical events cannot be equated). The curfew was put into place on October 17th, 2020. I began researching pictures and photographies dating back to October 17th, 1961, and the bloodbath that resulted from the Algerian protest against the curfew that was then imposed onto them in Paris. In Paris, I found the locations where many images from that protest were taken, mainly around the Opera district and the Boulevard des Italiens. I found the streets where people had marched. I took pictures and videos with my phone. These are truly ugly Parisian neighbourhoods nowadays, complete with their Starbucks and Pathé multiplex cinemas. There was nothing to see in those pictures, and I was unable to summon memory back into them, to edit them in such a way as to guide me in this staggering state of affairs. I gave up on trying to film these locations in the perspective of their political memory, yet this inital gesture showed me a way forward : I repeated the process, filming 3-minute shots of precise frames during curfew hours, but focusing this time on on my childhood neighbourhood. I operated a number of reconciliations and separations. The elements, the characters and storylines needed to be separated in order to be reconciled. The lone individual is an opposition to the city, a body as autoeroticism and waiting (simultaneously for love and for writing). I had the ambition of materializing a duration of loneliness. The taxi ride is the tale of an encounter, and a of a spoken word that comes completely at random, tangential. 

Could you introduce the film’s three leads ? How did you pick them ? How did they collaborate in the writing process ? 

If we leave the city aside (I consider the city an actress in its own right), the three lead characters were written with a preexisting clear idea of the people that I wished to film, and they were inspired by these people. Each of the actors and actresses then took part in perfecting their parts :Anna Cohen-Yanay, a writer, a friend and a neighbour who lives alone ; Anne-Lise Broyer, a friend and artist with whom I exchange regularly through the post, and who’d shared with me reports on the symptoms brought about by her disease ; and Michaël Bejaoui-Evans, an actor and a friend, whose characteristic presence made him the ideal candidate for my cab driver.

The focus on repetition (the character repeatedly waking up, frames of Paris being shown again and again) clashes with the lineary duration of the cab ride. This creates a very particular case of dual temporality : the feeling that time has been blocked into a standstill is contradicted by the deployment of speech and dialogue. What did this temporal tug-of-war mean to you ? 

Obviously, the representation of time as a standstill is linked to the period in which the film originated. Over time, the film was able to free itself from this moment (I purposedly operated the editing process as to achieve this), but a tension and a sense of waiting remain. I wanted to produce representations of objects circulating between rigorously disconnected spaces : namely, to highlight the relationship between city and disease ; that between a person and a bouquet ; that between the single person and the couple. In order to establish these relationships, I needed to isolate them from one another. Separation generates desire. In the end, this is what I discovered through this research, to my great pleasure : restraint, people who do not spontaneously give themselves fully, and desire. You never know in advance what one will bring to the table. 

Watching the film, one can feel a real pleasure linked to shooting Paris by night, notably in the taxi scenes. Caravaggio is mentioned at some point in the film, with specific attention to the many shades of black featured in his work. Why is nighttime so central ? What are you trying to see in the darkness ? 

To tell you the truth, I initially thought about making a horror film, using Carpenter soundtracks. When we started shooting on set (in Paris, in the winter of 2020), it was truly terrifying; and it was still terrifying, but also quite beautiful, to shoot Anna with the same attention, with equal parts of terror and a sense of the everyday miracle. When we got to the cab sequence, the night had already changed. We weren’t faced with the night of the horror film anymore, but rather that of the encounter, of the escape, of fiction. Anne-Lise’s photographies and drawings are all black and white, and I wanted us to discuss color and drawing, and hoped that something would occur over the course of the drive, that we would truly cross the waters, so to speak. Nighttime is duration(an unlimited duration, if you’re sleepless) as much as it is shades of black. 

You made this film with only a very small team of friends: Robin Fresson was put in charge of photography, Léo Richard was responsible for the editing, and Luc Chessel handled the sound design, as he had previously done for Les Episodes – printemps 2018 (FIDMarseille 2020, Prix Premier). This provides an impression of a highly collaborative and collective process. 

The process was less collective than it had been for Les Episodesprintemps 2018, which was less scripted than Que quelque chose vienne to begin with ; it nonetheless remains a very collaborative work. I came into it with some pretty fixed ideas, but they needed to be tested and tried; the film’s duration could’ve reached 4 hours. A film is a fantasy in which a dose of conflict must be introduced for something to happen. Conflict appears, at every stage of the process, thanks to the other people involved (thanks to love, friendship, strong bonds and what we ask from each other), and it allows us to elaborate on our representations and on the specifics of the film we’re setting out to make. I have long conversations with everyone involved, and at every turn we inherently discuss the question of the representation of a human person in the world, as well as our respective images of reality, and our understanding of filmmaking. This requires reaching an intimate agreement on very fundamental matters. In the end, this makes it more political. This happens at every step of the process: during the writing, the shooting, the editing and mixing. Every single choice is a political choice. 

 The film’s title is an extract from the song gracefully sung by Luc Chessel in a sequence reminiscent of Les Episodesprintemps 2018. Could you comment on how you picked this song, and on the purpose it serves in the film ? 

On New Year’s Eve, 2020, I danced to this song with my girlfriends while the boys were busy discussing philosophy nearby, which was quite a funny scene. I’d never heard it before, which is quite surprising in itself. I asked Luc to perform a lipsync, like in Les Episodes-printemps 2018. This time, Anna is on the receiving end of the resulting video. I wanted this lipsync to serve as a flashback, bridging the two films. It’s a simple, tragical song, operating as a connection between the themes of nighttime, loneliness, and love. 

Interview by Cyril Neyrat


  • French Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2023 / 70’

Rights holder
Société Acéphale
Lorenzo Bianchi