Breakfast with la danse des mots
Interview with Jean-Marc Rohart, director of La danse des mots
How did you come up with the idea for La danse des mots?
For the last ten years, I’ve had in a drawer a musical recording composed by a friend that I have listened to dozens of times with my young child, who would dance joyously every time we listened to it, and I’ve wanted to make a movie from that music. I finally began working on this film in the summer of 2014, beginning with writing text over the music. As my preceding films were mostly in a “burlesque” vein, I tried for once to write a “serious” text about a race towards an impossible love… And what was destined to happen happened: after about ten days of writing, research and the despair of coming up with nothing that satisfied me, I ended up picking up the microphone and did a live improvisation of a text that had nothing to do with the theme, without even controlling the content or the scope. After a bit more work, I submitted the two versions to the musician who replied immediately saying it was this version, the good one… so, back to the burlesque, but this time with a good dose of cynicism and self-deprecation.
Do you think words have power?
Yes, of course! Having grown up with painting and trained as a painter, I have always been fascinated by language, especially by what escapes us when we speak. I’m also an enthusiast of psychoanalysis and all the lapses and other slips of the tongue. My preceding films consist of a presenter impassioned by art who explains how to visit a museum (L’harmonie cosmique), and how to create a painting (La quiche au l’art). His speech is so full of lapses and slips that the words are playing him.
What was the relationship between the music and the musical structure, and the writing of La danse des mots?
Stéphane Milleret’s music makes me think of a never-ending race, and I really like this idea of running after something, like we were in search of… we don’t know what. It’s the first time I’ve wanted to write a text over music – perhaps it’s the memory of my child jumping and dancing every time we listened to it. There’s something joyous about this music, but also a level of distress that arises with the variations in the middle. I also thought of the song by Nougaro, “À bout de souffle”, over music by Dave Brubeck. And then, when I was improvising over the music as I explained earlier, it got out of control, and finally the story gets out of control, slipping away from the narrator who wonders what’s happening, even if all of “this” doesn’t displease him, on the contrary…
How did you create the animation in La danse des mots ? How did you conceive the different visual “themes”, defined by very different graphic styles? Why are you interested in cubism in particular?
So, the images were created after the sound. I’m not that attracted by “classical animation”. Even if I do admire it, my basic desire with animation is to make a painting “live”. In the beginning of the film, there is that idea of walking, then running, then a string of events with elements sometimes appearing to help with the understanding of the soundtrack, which is especially intense. And then when the story begins to slip away from the characters, the idea was that it also slipped away from the film itself. As for the cubism, as a trained painter, the references to Picasso or Cézanne are inescapable.
Why did you include hunters in your Dance?
The film makes references to children’s stories, thus the presence of the wolf and then the hunters. But this time, they won’t save anyone – quite the opposite. I think (in fact I am sure) I had some scores to settle with certain members of my family and certain friends of mine, which could explain the presence of hunters who won’t save anyone. The hunters are also a reference to “Peter and the Wolf”. Also, the narrator says at one moment, “it’s good music for hunters”….
It seems in La danse des mots, the family portraits, which perhaps represent long dead ancestors, come to life. Is the power of animation to give life back to a “dead” image?
Yes, exactly. In my previous films devoted to art history, it was already a question of bringing paintings to life… Paintings are faced with the problem of being kept in museums, which are often terribly lonely and dreary. The museum always causes a bit of fear and too often we are too serious when standing before the works. In L’harmonie cosmique, I invited the spectator (the specter-actor) to make his own viewing a work of art, for “it is the way we look at a work of art that is the artistic act”. I also invited spectators to share with each other so that together they became “actors in cosmic harmony”. So, obviously, there is an incredible and fascinating pleasure to be able to animate and give life to images. In the credits of my first films and thus my first steps in animation, I rediscovered the simple pleasure of making lines move and transform into paintings. In the film Imaginons, I took the pleasure of creating associations between different paintings in order to give them another meaning and a new life, as well as making connections between the various schools of painting.
The funny, offbeat side of the text that accompanies La danse des mots gives a feeling of complete detachment from the image. Why did you decide to create this distance, this humor valve?
A while ago, I shot an English version of the film. It was a friend who read the text. This experience taught me a lot about the film and about the way I speak, and it was hard for me to explain to the narrator the character’s affects so that she could make them her own. There is something a bit psychotic about this character, but not only that, it’s obvious that the burlesque aspect helps make the pill easier to swallow, otherwise the story would be unbearable. The character seems halfway between fairy tale and reality, perhaps… I agree with you, there is a “complete detachment from the image”, and frankly, it’s hard for me to explain exactly who this character is and where he is speaking from.
Death is very present in La danse des mots. What do you think about the different cycles of life and of generational recurrences?
There is a phrase in the text pulled straight from psychoanalysis and put into drawing: “That’ll make some skeletons… in the closet”. Yes, I think we carry our family history around with us, both the good and the bad. And the film ends with this seemingly illusory phrase: “A line must be drawn under the past”… but still, the dead continue dancing in the woods.
Can we say that birds don’t make rabbits?
I laughed while making that sequence! I often think of that phrase by Léo Ferré (in his inimitable style of reciting) “I wonder why nature is so stubbornly determined to make sons look like their fathers…”
The “ditty” in La danse des mots may also bring to mind children’s games with Death. How did you work on the text and did you draw part of your inspiration from the schoolyard?
Like I said at first, it was seeing my child jumping and spinning about to that music that made me want to do something with the music one day. The whole film is infused with childhood and innocence, with all of its cruelty as well.
While writing La danse des mots, did you think of certain relationships that may be considered “toxic” (like certain mushrooms)?
In fact, I am quite a mushroom enthusiast, and my father was an expert in mushroom gathering. In fact, when he died, he took with him all the secrets of where the mushrooms could be found (as I say this I realize just how much he has inspired this film, where sure enough, no mushrooms are to be found). I owe my humor to him as well… regarding “toxic” relationships, yes, of course…
Do you think short film is effective in questioning the meaning of family and of “macro” social units?
Yes, I hope so. These works help us to grow. At the moment, with my now grown child, we watch all the Hitchcock films one after the other. The delicate and subtle way he shows the viewer family and human relationships always leads to reflection that nourishes us and helps us grow.
La danse des mots was either produced, co-produced or self-financed with French funds. Did you write the film with this “French” aspect in mind: in building the film’s context or in questioning certain notions?
When I was making the English version, I reflected on the universal aspect, or lack thereof, of my film and I just don’t know… I think Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf, the hunters, the children’s stories are all quite universal. Regarding my relationships with my family and friends, I think those must be even more universal, but it’s true our notion of family is quite different than what it might be in Asia or in Africa. It’s a bit hard for me to answer this question, and perhaps you may know better than me how to answer this question. I’d enjoy continuing this discussion with you.
La danse des mots is being shown in National Competition F2.
Viewers of the F2 programme at Le Rio cinema on Monday, 8 February at 14:00 will be able to talk to the director of the film after the screening.