Interview with Antoni Collot

1. In Paul est mort (2018), you invented the character of Paul Eichmann, much inspired by the philosopher David Lewis. For Jojo, it was the childhood of Georges Bataille that interested you. Why?
In the writing process I enjoy dialoguing with authors I like and with whom I would have liked to be in contact. This is firstly to address the frustration at not having been able to do so whilst they were still alive, and secondly, to prolong the pleasure of their works and lastly, not to leave them alone with the dead.

2. Did certain writings inspire you in developing the screenplay? What challenges did they bring?
The texts by Georges Bataille as part of his “Somme athéologique” [Summary of Atheology]. L’Expérience intérieure, Le Coupable and L’Alleluiah are those that touch me the most. Also, two events in plays by Sophocles. First, Philoctetes suffering from a foot wound which festers and gives off a vile odour, surrendering to the solitude of his cries and pain on the island of Lemnos. I find that the beauty of Baudelaire’s poem, Une Charogne, which Jojo has to learn, is somehow related to this episode. Then there’s Ajax blinded by Athena massacring animals which he thought to be the companions of Ulysses, before coming to his senses and feeling riddled with shame. All this pathos is thawed by the mischievous joy of Jojo, his childish audacity and his courage. This child is nurtured by the characters of Mark Twain and Antigone’s rebellion. The challenge was above all to look at Bataille differently from the morbid readings usually attached to his work. There is joy in this extreme mysticism, and the laughter is essential.

3. Can we consider the film as the story of a fight, an emancipation?
Yes, it’s a fight movie! But in which they fight “with” and not “against”. With the sun, desires, fear, the night, sex, waiting, and the carrions in the making, all of which we carry with us.

4. How did you choose your actors, Attila Meste de Segonzac, Romane Charbonnel and Nicolas Bouyssi?
The choice of actors preceded the writing. I’ve known Attila since birth and have watched him grow up. The child’s mischievousness and charm delight me. When his mother told me that he wanted to act, I began to image a story in which his love of treehouses, aquatic hunting, and verticality—he climbs trees and road signs—would be transposed. Romane had already featured in La Cheville (2018). I was immediately fascinated by her resemblance to certain portraits by the Flemish Primitives, and Rogier van der Weyden in particular. In daily life, she gives off a very Bressonian energy, at once reserved and capable of surpassing the morally restrictive. I knew that both of them would show a rare generosity, and the shooting confirmed it. To play the ghost of Bataille, I could only imagine a writer sharing a radical vision of literature, of which there are but a few. Bouyssi is the author of a demanding oeuvre in delicate relation with our world, which I very much admire.

5. Jojo’s father is often heard but rarely appears in the picture. What made you decide to play the role?
How to address blindness in cinema was one of the crucial questions in order to be able to shoot. As a solution, I imagined a transfer: to render the blind person almost invisible and privilege his voice over his image. To play a character without a point of view, who better than someone normally behind the camera? When I’m on screen, the camera films by itself, like an eye without a body. I really like these paradoxes, and that the device becomes part of the film. But it was last year, after listening to an interview with Pialat, that I decided to take the risk of playing Joseph. It was “a risk”, because playing madness is never far from caricature. I had to transform my body, soften it, age it, and stage it in somewhat demeaning situations. This allowed me to direct from the inside.

6. The film mainly takes place in a house, filmed in the shadows, and nature is quite sombre. How did you envisage the visual aspect?
Everything is filmed with natural light. I don’t use any artifice. Often, the work schedule was shaken up by a ray of light creating an atmosphere that I particularly wanted to capture. When I shoot, I’m always on the lookout and ready to wait for the right chromatic or luminous moment to set up a scene. I like to work with unstable light, particularly at dawn and dusk, and I have a special fondness for the light change that a cloud can produce. Furthermore, I refuse any calibration during the post-production process and shoot with a very sensitive sensor which I push to its limits. I’m obsessed by the construction of the frame, and so the acting is often adjusted down to the last millimetre.

7. You produced, wrote, filmed and edited this film. Was this autarky determined by artistic choice or economic necessity?
Ideally, I would have liked an Alain Sarde or modern-day Georges de Beauregard to give me a budget without requiring me to unveil my intentions. In the absence of this, I prefer to work alone. As the ghost of Bataille repeats: “No project !” There are many advantages, the greatest of which is not needing to talk, and keeping the discussions for when I’m with the actors, and also being able to change one’s mind and film many scenes I only need in order to forge the characters and which I know I won’t use, though the actors don’t know. However, making a feature film completely alone, from the writing to the editing, is an act of folly with moments of paroxysmal despair and exaltation. I’m always afraid of dying along the way.

Interview by Olivier Pierre.