Tea time with Diversion
Interview with Mathieu Mégemont, director of Diversion
What does the title Diversion mean?
It’s a reference to Pierre Bourdieu’s famous dictum, « Le fait divers fait diversion » [« human interest stories are a diversion »]. The film takes an ironic perspective on the statement, because the story itself is a diversion, a ridiculous smoke screen that dresses up the reality of events. Human interest stories are a diversion in the sense that their content is only a distorted reading of reality, which in itself is already very strange… Taking things a step further, I like to tell myself that the film is also a form of diversion: the viewer steps into it on a path they think is well-travelled, only to find the forks in the story gradually lead them elsewhere. So basically, the codes I give them at the outset are there to mask what the film will become.
How did you build the film’s plot? Did you start with a character, a place, an event?
We built the plot from two elements: on the one hand, my memories, my teenage experiences in a very peculiar rural area of France, the Médoc region, and on the other, the principle of automatic writing that comes from the surrealists. Unlike the scripts I usually write, where I do a ton of preparation, I wrote this one really fast, not knowing where I would end up, carried only by memories and by re-appropriating things I’d experienced in the region. And, according to my recollection, that region was a place where a crack in reality could open up in a split second. You’re in the real world and a second later, without you even noticing, the world has become something else – absurd, fantastical, even nightmarish. It’s like a permanent Fourth Dimension that can swallow you up at any moment. Even though the events in the film may seem completely ridiculous, they all come from things I saw or experienced when I was young, and I reworked them to make them fit in story where the logic becomes stranger and stranger. In the end, I realized that the way the story was constructed mirrored my recurring nightmares – in particular, the wild flight toward the wolf’s mouth like in zombie movies where the characters are forced into tighter and tighter spaces, making their flight at best illusory and inevitably fatal. It’s a variation on the « worst-case scenario ».
Thrillers are not a very typical genre for French short films. What ideas do you think the genre allows you to explore? What peculiarities of the genre attracted you?
I’m not at all familiar with the world of short films. My references are all feature films, or in the specific case of thrillers, literature and mysteries. Speaking generally, I think the genre allows us to explore – and this is evident from the beginning with writers like Chandler and Hammett – it allows us to explore the reality hidden behind the smokescreen of society. The main character is searching for the causes of an event and will eventually uncover a lot more than he thought at the outset – through his investigation, or tragically, despite it. Thrillers, like a whole darker side to the genre (horror and the fantastic, etc.), allow us to show the dark side of man and society, to extract what’s hidden or repressed, either through metaphors or not. Speaking from a purely formal perspective, what interested me was using the chase structure and then the flight to create tension and draw the viewer in as much as possible, to play with them, with their expectations, give them what they want one minute all the better to throw them for a loop the next. I find that the genre has a marvelously playful side that I, as a filmmaker, would be remiss to overlook. If we go a step further, they allow you to immediately place the film’s world in a different reality that you as the filmmaker can manipulate as you like, tipping it on its head or tearing it apart completely.
Which thrillers (short films or features) have had an impact on you?
Oh, very very many… If we’re talking about « film noir », then I think Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is pretty much the top. If we’re talking about refinement and viewer-manipulation, it’s difficult to beat Hitchcock and his obvious and rather gruesome disciples, Brian De Palma and Dario Argento. Metaphysically, I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers’ dark absurdity. Lastly, with regard to opening up holes in reality, I’m particularly fond of the way David Lynch has found ways to play with codes and plunge some of his films into a completely fantastical world (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and so on). Actually, though, I see Diversion as more of a horror film, of the survival type, with a marked redneck angle. Sort of a French appropriation of a whole type of American exploitation films from the 60s and 70s, which I like very much. With, at the same time, an absurd point of view. The general idea was to balance the violence of the events shown in the film with deadpan humor to make the viewer feel uncomfortable or suspended: should they laugh or be concerned with what they see?
Have you discovered any advantages that the short film form provides?
Yes, the freedom to experiment. Experimenting on the story and on the tone that I was just talking about – discomfort, hesitation between amusement and terror. It also led me to experiment with getting the precise tone to handle such a « mad » story and such intentionally exaggerated characters so that the viewer would believe them and play along. The script was really a minefield where the film could explode against the extremes of the grotesque on one side and the gratuitous brutality on the other. In the end, I realized that the best way to achieve that precision was to tell the story « normally », without too many flashy effects, either in the direction or the acting. After all, what’s disturbing about madness is that it gradually supplants normality without us having noticed. And the other reflex a rational mind has to that is to laugh… The lesson I learned was that if you want to talk about something « mad », the best thing to do is to do it as normally as possible.
Diversion is part of National Competition F4 and la Collection CANAL+.