INTERVIEW THE CURE
Your film is set amidst the current events of the COVID 19 epidemic. What’s it like to make a film in this context? Can you tell us a bit about the restrictive production conditions?
To start with, we were going to prepare an outdoor theatre festival in a field. What with the uncertainties about bringing the public together in the summer of 2020, we changed our approach: instead of rehearsing in a theatre, we decided to make a movie with a very small film crew and a shoestring budget. The fact that it was practically behind closed doors made this possible, even if it was still a bit crazy: everything was shot and edited between the 1st and 19th August, at least for the version presented in 2020.
The allusions or references to the COVID 19 epidemic, the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement, and the migration crisis create a backdrop that’s both dysfunctional and threatening, in contrast with a protected environment. Why did you choose to treat the – real-life – context out of the camera’s range?
It’s true that in the original play, there’s a riot on stage… But we set the action of our film in an obviously rural environment, far from the big cities and even a long way from small towns, in a house in the middle of the countryside. For some, it’s a cocoon of tranquillity, and for others, it’s a desert that drives them mad. And off screen, the Accident & Emergency Departments at breaking point, the violent demonstrations and the migrants’ camps – they’re not right in front of you when you live in an isolated spot like that. You just hear about them, and that’s it. And it’s also one of the reasons for the selfish blindness of some of the characters.
You adapt Gorky’s Children of the Sun, set during the 1862 cholera epidemic. How did you get the idea to adapt this play? For you, how is it still topical, apart from the backdrop of the action?
Simon had wanted to do something with this play for ages, a long time before the pandemic struck. The backdrop is the 1862 epidemic but above all, it was written during the failed revolution in 1905. Obviously, it resonates because the threat of cholera mirrors what we’re experiencing right now, but it’s also a very beautiful play about love, about couples that have been dealt a bad hand in life, and above all about class violence. We’ve tried to recreate this in contemporary characters and their relationships, set against the background of the capital’s unhealthy relationship with the provinces.
There seem to be several sources of inspiration at work in La Cure. A certain French filmmaking influence, perhaps, such as Arnaud Desplechin or the Larrieu Brothers… And theatre, with vaudeville, among other things, and maybe even sitcom. What directorial choices did you make? And what was at stake blending theatre and cinema?
It sounds unbelievable, but we began shooting without any particular reference in mind. What we wanted was for the film to be funny, dark, and at the same time capable of gravity, sweetness and tragedy. At a push, if there’s a filiation it’s with a certain spirit in the actual making of the film – “school of life”, improvised, capable of changing tone, open to accidents… And for that matter, it’s something that echoes French cinema from the 70s, as well as certain more contemporary filmmakers, as you say. The liberating thing about a non-crew is that you can be guided by the scene itself. And working to a very tight budget requires a little inventiveness, especially with all the restrictions: how do you give the impression that you haven’t exhausted the décor of the kitchen after the eighth sequence and without being able to use special visual effects? It’s all to do with aspirations and intuition. Co-directing and shooting, for example, makes for a very sensitive approach to directing and staging. You’re in direct contact with what the scene exudes emotionally and rhythmically – there’s no-one there to tell you if “it works” or not. It makes you accountable at the same time as empowered. And ultimately, you allow yourself to do a lot more. As for blending theatre and cinema, the answer’s in your question: we believe that there’s a lot more in common between theatre and cinema than what (very French) dogma might have us believe. Saying that a film is “theatrical” is almost an insult and usually an accusation that it’s corny. But we think that theatricality, in that it assumes artifice and doesn’t shy away from showing the working process in the result, is a way of moving on from a naturalist paradigm that dominates French filmmaking and sometimes suffocates it in a kind of tiresome “one size fits all”.
The film is based on a stream of lively, scathing rejoinders. How did you write the dialogue and construct the characters? What was left to the actors? How did you choose and direct them?
In fact, it was more a question that the play that was chosen and adapted for them, because the idea was to work with a troupe that was already formed as part of the theatre festival! From the start, each of them influenced the rewriting of the character they were playing. We didn’t really direct them with a particular style in mind, but the theatrical origins of the script and the importance of the dialogue probably slightly shifted their way of acting towards something less realistic, more stylised. The good thing about making a film so quickly is that it prevented us, whether for the writing or shooting, from over-thinking it. We trusted the actors and actresses, who trusted the text that we were proposing. We just had to get on with it, throwing ourselves into the scenes and trying to get it right!
Lisa’s character is the only one who addresses society’s social and political issues while the other characters are caught up in their love lives and emotional upheavals. Can you tell us a bit about this concentration?
Lisa is just as caught up as the others in her love life and emotional upheavals! But she’s the only one driven by this profound sense of injustice, this uncompromising political conscience, which, we see, also has its limitations and vanity. She’s also the character who’s ill, which explains the presence of all the others in the house at this moment in their lives. This concentration of all our social issues in a single character who “pisses everyone off”, is perhaps a way of talking of our growing indifference for politics.