INTERVIEW – A HOUSE / UNE MAISON

How did your encounter with this « house » occur?

In 2016, the film school I was studying at organized a production workshop in the south of the Cévennes region where Fernand Deligny initiated, at the end of the Sixties, a life experience for autistic children who lived outside language. I got aquainted with Thierry Bazzana, a former companion of Deligny’s who is still involved in work with autistic individuals. His own facility set up in the years 2000 is entirely at odds with conventional psychiatric institutions: just a house with young autistic individuals living with an educational team taking turns, with them and for them, to ensure peace of mind every single day. I was particularly interested in Deligny’s approach to the everyday – specific moments and repeated actions – as the pivoting point between those able to speak and those who aren’t as they share a living space. With much significance attributed to action, to acting, and currently pursued on Thierry’s site.

Since Deligny or Renaud Victor, many films devoted to autism have been produced. Why did you decide to add your own? Which specific aspect do you think you contributed to?

Of course, by the time I produced this film, I had seen Le Moindre Geste and Ce Gamin, là. All through the fabrication process, I felt their action like models, at different levels. What I’m interested in, however, is the specific approach to both films based on the integration of film in everyday life, using it to improve our understanding of marginalized beings and their way of life. The absence of langage, or Yves’ out-of-phase use in Le Moindre Geste, channels our interest towards gestures, towards displacements within space, and ultimately towards relationships between bodies and a territory as if film, like drawing, were some kind of cartography bringing us closer to autistic ways of being, helping us apprehend them through detachment from langage while improving, at the same time, our knowledge of them… and simply seize their beauty and poetry.

Could you tell us about the making of it: shooting schedule, the way it was spread over time…? Your technical decisions in terms of sequences, angles, editing? How did you find your way into such a delicate world?

This film is the achievement of a research project, started in 2016, about autism and film. It lasted about three years. Between 2016 and 2019, I produced three films on the same territory – two short ones and Une maison.

Making this film was a long process. The shooting was spread over a two-year period during which I spent entire weeks sharing and filming the dailylife of the house.  I entered this place and I discovered autism through the image. I had no pre-conceived notion of a script: the film was actually written and composed from all the material I gathered. This probably explains why I spent so much time filming, piling up close to 200 hours’ worth of rushes. I also noticed that the camera made it easy for me to get closer to everyone living in the house. It acted like some kind of screen between us, avoiding direct contact – which is somewhat problematic for some autistic persons. Whenever I’d be looking at the LCD screen or straight into the optical finder, I was able to get really close to them, which would have been impossible with just my bare gaze, so to speak. Finding the right distance was the first problem I had to solve throughout the shooting: it was always a matter of adjusting. As I became more familiar with the house habits, I got to know where and when I could place the camera so I could seize an everyday event. Conversely, I always had to be on the lookout for action or an unpredictable gesture in order to follow it. Thus, the film was composed between these two ways of shooting which, indeed, resonate with Deligny’s idea of living-together: establishing a solid foundation and bearings around shared moments and tasks of everyday life, while remaining open to unforeseen life events.

Could you come back to the place assigned to the parents in your film?

When I set up the interviews with parents, I didn’t think that they would find themselves in the film. Then, once I started recording them, I felt the importance of their words, which specialists in autism have underestimated and denigrated for a long time. When you listen to them, you realize that the parents have turned into real specialists. Often left alone in distress beyond imagination, many have taken care of their child’s diagnostic on their own, after reading or seeing things about autism. The only speach in the film is theirs ; it helps us enter their past, a unique story every single time; and, composed with the present time of gestures, il draws the portrait of those living in the house. I loved the tenderness in their words: you can feel their peace of mind for having found a real home for their child.

The texts in the titles also play a key role. How did you decide to assign them this place?

These texts are excerpts from letters Deligny wrote to the children’s parents he was in charge of at the time of his famous « tentative » in the Cévennes region. I decided to integrate them since I was looking for ways of introducing creative breaks in the montage; to work on it in musical ways; and to free it, for instance, from problems related to chronology. The titles are like punctuation marks enabling the film to be cut up into small independent units.

Deligny’s words resonate with the images while pursuing yet another dimension: they relate to the origin of a way of taking care of people which is perpetuated in this house. The texts also initiate speech; language comes gradually, and we find ourselves slowly shifting from a mute world towards speech.

Can we see, indeed do you see, in the final shadow play, a specific connection to cinema?

Through de-rushing, I noticed that a number of sequences evoked silent film, a cinema of gestures. I was struck by the way some of these autistic individuals were able to create moving images with their own bodies and even with their stereotypic behaviours. The sequence you’re talking about is the one where Thomas ends up making a shadow play on a towel hung up to a clothes line as he shakes his hands above his head. He seems to take much pleasure in seeing this image in motion, twisting a gesture which often closes him on himself and making cinema out of it.

 

Interviewed by Nathan Letoré