Night cap with Pauline asservie
You mentioned that Fragments d’un discours amoureux by Roland Barthes was at the origin of this film. Can you tell us more about this?
I’ve been wanting to do something based on this work for a long time. It is a very intelligent and accurate work with regards to love and the way we experience love, in all its phases, and in particular the most painful ones. Following a “one-way” love story, I re-read Fragments and I told myself that it was time for me to write a film about love and alienation. I structured the script of Pauline asservie both on my experience as well as on Barthes’ writing, from which I collected all the passages related to absence and waiting. In my film, Pauline, without news from the man she loves, passes through several different emotional states such as incomprehension, worry, anger, nostalgia, etc., which are all evoked by Barthes in his book. In the beginning, I absolutely wanted certain phrases by Barthes to punctuate the film, that his work be physically registered in the picture, but after a few attempts in the editing room, I realized that it wasn’t very convincing (because of the redundancy), so I only featured the citation.
We feel an elaborateness to the rhythm of Pauline asservie, alternating between moments of apathy and euphoria. Did you work on this aspect in particular with Anaïs Demoustier?
In the sense that nothing or nearly nothing is happening in the film, and everything is based on dialogue, it is very important indeed to work on the question of rhythm. In any case, it is something that I hold very dearly: to make energetic, lively, impatient films. And I thought it would be interesting to try to make a film about waiting in which we are never bored – in part because the discourse takes up a lot of space, because Pauline fills the void by speaking. So, I worked in detail on the dialogues, but also on the staging, by choreographing the scenes so that everything would be in movement to the greatest extent possible. This was one of the first instructions I gave to Anaïs Demoustier: read the text quickly and move about energetically in the scenes. During, let’s say, the first fifteen minutes of shooting, she was a bit frightened, she was worried that it would flatten her interpretation, but in reality, being an accomplished actress, she succeeded in integrating this instruction right away, thanks to an impressive sense of tempo. However, as you highlighted, there are moments where Pauline sinks into despondency, apathy, and I was very lucky to be able to work with an actress like Anaïs, who always embodies her role with lots of finesse and nuance, which helps avoid oversimplification.
Pauline’s character, due to her obsessive and excessive personality, could have been an unpleasant character, yet she inspires lots of good will from the audience. Did you intend this, to take care not to reduce her to a caricature?
Yes, of course. The film is a comedy, things are shown with a slight degree of derision, because we have all experienced at some time in our lives that unflattering state of alienation, and with a bit of hindsight, we are able to laugh at ourselves. So I stressed a bit the trait by making Pauline excessively obsessive and inattentive to the people around her, etc. But deep down, there is a tragic side to Pauline’s situation if we put ourselves in her shoes at the moment she is experiencing these things, and I wanted to make sure we could identify with the character and empathize with her. I would like to add that for me, Pauline is not an unpleasant character in herself, it is simply the situation in which she finds herself that makes her slightly unbearable. And to finish, I must say one more time that Anaïs Demoustier’s acting was largely responsible for making her character so lovable.
Pauline asservie, in addition to being selected for International Critics’ Week, is starting to move about and encounter a certain success on the short film circuit. What audience did you want to reach with your film?
Ah, that’s funny. That’s a question I had never asked myself! What I can tell you is that when the film is seen, it touches both women as well as men, the young as well as… the not-so-young, many different people have told me that they recognize themselves in Pauline, and that brings me lots of joy.
In general, what do you think about the visibility of short films today?
Except for a few TV broadcasts late at night, short films are seen above all in festivals, and in particular in festivals dedicated to the short film, thus by people who have actually taken the time to appreciate this format – like, of course, the public in Clermont-Ferrand. It always makes me happy to see people with this curiosity, this appetite, and happy to see the theaters often at full capacity. Because obviously, we make films so that they are seen… I also like festivals that decompartmentalize and offer both feature-length as well as short film programs – as is the case for International Critics’ Week. It seems terribly “cliché”, but as a viewer, I don’t establish a hierarchy, nor even a difference, between a very good feature-length film and a very good short film.
Are there any particular freedoms that the short film format allows you?
Yes! You can see the proof in this film. I had a lot of freedom writing this film, without a need to respect the “rules” of dramaturgy, of action, etc., but by simply following my desires. I had a subject, of course, but I chose to address it in a rather radical way: the script was a pure continuity of dialogue, and never would a feature-length film written this way have received financing…