Lunch with Le baiser du silure [The Kiss of the Catfish]
How do you happen to know about this type of fish, the silurid? Is the actor who plays the main character a fisherman in real life?
I learned of the existence of this fish when I was shooting an previous film in the countryside of the Haut-Saôn department where I quite by chance witnessed a debate between pro-silurid and anti-silurid factions. They were discussing a simple fish, so this heated debate seemed surrealist. But since the species can reach sizes larger than a human, some fisherman are deeply fascinated by it, for example the actor, the fisherman Tanguy Demule, who is exactly the same in real life as he appears in the film. In the hopes of catching what seems like an imaginary animal, he’s capable of going it alone in the country for long periods, even against a strong wind, snow or freezing temperatures. But this species that hails from the Danube is often the object of mistrust, even violence. It is considered potentially harmful and invasive. In the film, the animal becomes a metaphor for the stranger that solidifies fantasies and fears of the human being. So the ancestral history of our relationship to alterity is reflected in this pariah of the rivers.
How did you work on the relation to fishing and to the movements of the fishing rod?
The relationship to the body is evident in the practice. Gestures are very precise and choreographic, which interested me, all the more since I think the question of the body is central to cinema. To begin with, it is highly present beyond fishing movements because this film is about a crossing – a fisherman who sets of to find a mysterious fish. His body will be bruised and scraped by the harsh, poignant nature of the waste heaps of the North of France. Next, I worked on fishing gestures in a documentary way to make them as correct as possible. Those actions fascinated me. They’re both extremely virile and delicate. Le baiser du silure, which became the film’s title, is a good example of that. That’s the name that fisherman give to the action of catching the fish. They put their hands in the silurid’s mouth and bring it close to their faces in order to get it out of the water, which explains why it’s called a kiss. It’s an ambivalent gesture somewhere between an embrace and a gesture of domination.
How did you work out the lighting and why were you interested in the effect of half-light?
The color grading was quite important: our goal was to create a dawn that stretches throughout the whole film. The intermediate, transitory light creates a strange atmosphere that is reinforced by the use of virtual images. I wanted to play with the connection between “stranger” and “strangeness”. During scouting, I discovered that the waste heaps could spontaneously combust. The big black mountains begin to smoke, and that inspired the event just on the border of the fantastical that blocks the fisherman’s progress. The digital rain shower of ashes is not solely a dramatic device that heightens the troubling atmosphere. It is a material element with poetic force. In the film, the event is caused by the silurid’s sadness and makes the fish’s meeting with the fisherman a magical moment. Generally speaking, I like augmenting the documentary element with less standard forms of reality that do not betray it but rather shed light onto it and transform it. I work with the idea of magic realism.
What about the scientist interviewed in the film? Who is he, or if he’s a fictional character, who does he represent?
All of the voices, the fisherman, the scientist and the female poet, are authentic. At the same time, they are figures, since our idea was to work on archetypes in the sense of grand schemes, sort of like a fable where each character highlights the theme in a different way. The scientist’s voice is that of the ecologist Florent Lamiot with whom we had passionate discussions. That allowed me to have both a scientific and poetic point of view and ask the question: does the notion of strangeness have meaning in the animal kingdom? We devoted one series of images to the voice, a program tracking the movements of silurids. Obviously the program doesn’t exist in scientific research, so a graphic designer helped us come up with a visual representation. The program is an exaggeration. It’s actually easier to imagine this sort of technology being used for example in a spy film to track people, which resonated with the parallel we wanted with the stranger.
How interested are you in the topic of the Environment and exchanges among species?
It’s not ecology per se that’s the direct impetus for the project. I wanted to talk about Man’s relationship to his environment and how we project things onto nature. The film begins like a mock course in natural history, carried by the scientist’s voice, and ends up in more philosophical terrain. The silurid, a fish seen as a prehistoric monster, becomes a mirror, a double for Man. Just like him, it is a large predator and has strongly expansionist tendencies. Some fisherman refuse it in fact, because it’s a competitor. This unflattering comparison pushes us to reflect on our own behavior. To my mind, that was an original way of discussing the ecological problem.
Have you discovered any advantages that the short film form provides?
I think the film is the correct length and for me that’s the most important thing. I like short films when they’re not a calling card for an eventual feature film. Some films can only exist as shorts that don’t give the impression of being teasers, but dense, complete works. It’s a very open form that allows you to experiment with things that wouldn’t work in longer formats. You can see that when feature film makers continue to make shorts simply because they like the format.
Le baiser du silure was shown in National Competition.