Dinner with Genève [Geneva]
Where did your inspiration for Genève come from?
Oliver (the producer) and I were in a situation similar to that of the main character in Geneva. It’s a strange feeling to be the caregiver. I wanted a way to convey this feeling without expressing it outright. One day I was at the movies with my girlfriend and the idea of using a thriller to convey the humility of a caregiver’s feelings came to me. The thriller allows you to make a diversion, to create the childlike mental state of someone taking care of his parent. I wanted to show the absurdity of wanting to do something in such a serious situation. Wanting to do too much in order to show your love, to prove that you can do something no matter what, that only the action itself matters without worrying about the consequences.
What interested you regarding your character’s feelings of solitude and helplessness when faced with his mother’s illness?
What interested me were the obstacles. External logic no longer exists in these conditions. Often the norm exerts pressure on us and distorts our wishes. We undertake actions not for the person but to satisfy some convention. I wanted a childish emergency, something very important that would prove his love. You always go about it in the wrong way when you are so loving, but the objective is the act; action counts not reason. Isolation is loneliness. Of course, everything is exacerbated for dramatic reasons, but I wanted to create a mental state that doesn’t rely on reality. When someone we love is sick, we are powerless. We move, we act but we don’t necessarily advance. That’s why the film is constructed like a road-trip that turns in circles. The caregiver’s solitude is incomprehensible because we are always alone, we want to act logically because we know that’s what the other one likes about us, we want to demonstrate that we’re there. Others in this case are just part of the landscape.
How did you construct the moments of tension and the moments of apathy in the film?
I’ve been very influenced by Korean and Chinese cinema. What fascinates me is that the tension is never there where you expect it. It’s cinema that disregards the American legacy and classical dramatic construction. Nonetheless, I conceived the emergency in the film as something distinct from the hold-ups. I wanted the hold-ups to be a moment suspended in time. When you do something illegal, you are disconnected from time, you have no sense of the world around you. That’s where the spectator needs to be in order to share my character’s obliviousness. Then there’s the end when nothing goes right – because nothing ever goes as you want in this type of situation, and that’s where the music comes in, to cover up an inner cry. Accept that you won’t be able to do it, accept the absurdity of the situation in order to return to reality, to sickness and solitude. If the hold-ups had been too intense, too panicky, the film wouldn’t have been about grieving but about a thief.
Why didn’t you want us to hear the mother make a concrete request for euthanasia?
I wanted to be with my character, not the mother. The theme of the film is bereavement. It was the act of understanding that I wanted and not the mother’s morbid wish.
Were you interested in exploring the questions around the end of life or was it just an excuse for your character to wander around?
End-of-life is definitely a subject worth questioning. Our Christian culture forbids us to think that someone could chose to die. But we don’t know anything about the situation people who ask to die are in. Sometimes it’s better to die than to be just a body, an object that meets the emotional needs of others. Of course, since I took the caregiver’s point of view, I needed this excuse but it’s not so much a film about wandering as the gradual advent of a loved one’s death. The hold-ups are committed mindlessly as a way to accept this end. By doing something so implausible, we prolong living through material necessity; the solution for the mother is there but the son cannot accept it. Here, I wanted to show that he accepts it progressively.
How did you create the female character in the film?
In order to offset the loneliness of the main character I wanted an exterior point of view to pose the questions that we, the spectators, are asking ourselves. At first, I thought about a brother but this act of taking a hostage is stronger. It’s the incursion of something intimate in a desperate act. She is the one that makes him understand that he must accept his mother’s death. I wanted the character to have the same social status as he and that they have something in common. I wanted things to be simple between them. The ambiguity is found in the fact that she takes interest in him and not the idea of a possible love affair. I like the fact that she shows him that he is interesting. The main character’s situation leads him to abandon his self; he clings to daily life forgetting his own life. At the time, we get the impression that once everything is over, there won’t be anything else; you maintain the situation out of fear that you must go on living after that. Alice (the female character) is capable of listening and empathizing. She knows he won’t hurt her and that all it takes is to show him that he is someone of interest, that he must move on. The female character isn’t just an opposite to him; she doesn’t use him; she helps him.
Why weren’t you interested in the consequences of this tumultuous night?
I constructed the film like a bereavement. For a while I thought about a prologue showing that he now had his own life but that would have taken the film to another place. What interested me was deliverance. The only consequence for him is resilience, accepting yourself. Mourning is a long process that’s different for everyone. Only the sense of deliverance is something we have in common. Be it positive or negative. The “after” is futile, we live our lives with a loss that reappears depending on different situations. The most difficult thing is swaying back and forth between wanting to keep someone alive to satisfy our own needs (cannot live without her) and accepting that the void created will be replenished, that an afterwards is not impossible.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
The short format definitely allows certain liberties; you must resolve a given situation, there isn’t time to explore all possible avenues. You stick to the essentials. That’s positive, that creates something pure in a certain sense, you respect your thought process. This film wouldn’t have worked as a feature length, questions around plausibility would have taken precedence in the film. The short format allowed me to establish an atmosphere and storyline rapidly without worrying about the aftermath while maintaining the audience in the character’s state of mind.