• Flash Competition


Sophie Roger

Sophie Roger
In each of her films (including many of those that have been shared here at FIDMarseille, over the years), it seems as though Sophie Roger has given herself a rule that is unsettling for anyone else: nothing guarantees that the secrets hidden in each work are revealed to the author, let alone anyone else, in a definite way at least. In addition, perhaps this time more than usual, we are confronted with a riddle – in two chapters. On the backdrop of a beautiful green board in an oldfashioned classroom, young people (the pupils we imagine) are putting their hands up stretching to their fingertips, opening their mouths and eyes wide, making emphatic demonstrative gestures. All of them are engaged in prosopopoeia, in other words a scene unfolds which we can only guess at via their evocation. What is the origin of these scenes? Who knows ? They could come from the film, a dream, a hallucination, or a foggy memory. Sophie Roger holds fast, in the frame and at their side. Mute but indisputably complicitous, she watches over these bodies and their singing. Second chapter, now we’re on a bus, with the same protagonists and other people; everyone, or almost, is wearing headphones. We, looking out on the snow that zigzags the landscape like a zebra, hear magnificent, discreet music, composed by Jonathan Harvey, which is artfully interweaves with a child’s voice with a ringing bells of a cathedral. The explanation for this – if you must track it down, perhaps that is where it is hidden: There is a heady mix of sounds in this construct steeped in history with the fragility of a gasp of burgeoning humanity. In other words – Sophie Roger lets these young voices carefully construct the decors, stories and landscapes – we just have to slip into this calm carnival and there’s plenty of room.
(Jean-Pierre Rehm)

Interview with Sophie Roger

1/ Your films Les Jardiniers du petit Paris (FID 2010), L’île déserte (FID 2014) and more recently Les Vagues (FID 2017) have all featured at FID. This is your latest film, made with a group of high school students. How did the project come about?
I started filming my students a few years ago. I didn’t have any particular intention in mind, just a vague desire to share and to film. I edited as I went along, as I often do, and different versions came one after the other. This chronological approach without any distance didn’t seem right. So, I stopped filming, and the editing was left on hold. A waiting time was necessary: former students who had become friends came back in front of the green chalkboard to look back and reconstruct shared stories.
In general, I like to film the film the astonishment that arises at the fringes of my everyday life. The films you speak of all borrow from this relationship to the mystery of an intimate reality. In this film, there’s my gaze and theirs, and I wonder what plays out and what is invented in the course of their meeting.

2/ We see your students in action, but you choose to maintain an enigmatic quality to their mimed stories. Could you explain this choice?
Before our eyes, they construct the stories that they act out in a theatrical manner. Speech wanders but always ends up evoking precise figures. We don’t know what they’re speaking about, but we see them. They seem to be searching for lost snippets of old stories. They reminisce and their memory is at play, without us knowing whether they invent as they go along, or if they’ve learnt it by heart. Perhaps it’s both. In any case, they are the actors in their own story.

3/ You appear onscreen, a discreet and silent presence. How did this come about?
I appear several times in an incongruous way. At the beginning of the film with a student, Justine. We are both lying on a table and I seem to be asleep whilst she performs. In another shot, I am seen from behind, and unlike my students I am facing the green chalkboard, turned towards their unfolding stories. My point of view is unknowing, and my listening is made up of what I hear and discover. In the second part of the film, I am asleep among them in the coach taking us to an unknown destination.
My startled awakening marks a caesura, a fault line, an interval between sleep and waking. I find myself at the threshold of the image, among this small joyful band that doesn’t seem to see me. The shock triggers a constellation of contradictory sensations. The bells of Winchester cathedral were necessary to accompany them…

4/ Indeed, the music of Jonathan Harvey does justice to the film. Could you tell us more about this choice?
It’s music I listened to when I was their age. At the time, I didn’t have the words to express what it did to me: awe and wonder, no doubt. Mortuos plango, Vivos Voco was composed in 1980. It is based on the voice of the composer’s son and the sound of the big tenor bell at Winchester cathedral. This enormous bell carries the inscription “horas avalantes numero, mortuos plango : vivos ad preces voco”, “I count the hours that vanish, I cry for the dead and I call the living to prayer.” This text is taken up by the voice of the young boy. The constant transformations between the spectrum of a sung vowel and that of the bell are produced by manipulating the internal components of the two sounds. Due to its evolving nature, the piece could not be cut. I chose to include it in its entirety. This musical journey of initiatory sounds accompanies our experience.

5/ How did the structure in two parts, with these two moments, come about?
The enigma of the film, if there is one, can be found at the junction of this diptych. These two parts face but do not oppose one another. The first part is full of sunlight. The stories are enigmatic, but they give off a certain strength through the sense of conviction they exert. The narrators make and are the story. They pull and untangle a thread which clearly comes from their memory. In front of the green chalkboard, their naked presence gives form to the words they are looking for with so much precision. They are searching for the right images to describe what resembles a filmed experience. The weight of their words is almost palpable.
In the second part, on the contrary, everything is immaterial, shrouded in a shadow in which we are carried in spite of ourselves, as if suspended. The time of the journey is slowed down, in waiting. It converges towards an uncertain vanishing point with a feeling of vertigo, undoubtedly linked in part to the ethereal music of Jonathan Harvey. In sleep, everyone lives in their own world, to which we cannot have access. The fog on the windows of the bus lends a feeling of opacity to this experience. It’s a screen between dream and reality, like the sleeping faces of the adolescents.

6/ The landscapes that pass before our eyes through the fogged windows, their listening, our listening: you maintain the gap between them and us. Is this meant to encourage meditation, as the title does, in its own way?
Yes, a meditation in the face of time. This draws on the title of the wonderful book by Georges Didi-Huberman who questions in its opening the abstract fragment of a lower part of the Madonna of the Shadows by Fra Angelico. In front of this panel made of erratic marks, he contemplates its “figural mystery” at a distance. This is perhaps the sound of the film, a timeless beating of life.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2021 / 23’

Original Version : French.
Script : Sophie Roger.
Photography : Sophie Roger.
Editing : Sophie Roger.
Sound : Sophie Roger.
Production : Sophie Roger.
Filmography : Les vagues, 2017. La maison brûle, dans l’atelier de Loreto Corvalan, 2016. Shyam Lal, un potier à Molela, Rajasthan, 2015. L’île déserte, 2014. Le point aveugle, 2012. Contre-jour, service des maladies tropicales et infectieuses, 2011. Les jardiniers du Petit Paris (en lisant Tristes tropiques de Claude Lévi Straus), 2009.