Héléna Klotz • Director
by Fabien Lemercier
06/07/2012 - The daughter of filmmaker Nicolas Klotz and screenwriter Elisabeth Perceval, Héléna Klotz has made quite a feature debut with Atomic Age [trailer, film focus], a film that in 2012 won the FIPRESCI Prize in the Panorama section at the Berlinale, as well as the Grand Prix and the Jean Vigo Award (read more) at the Angers Premiers Plans Film Festival .
Cineuropa: How did the Atomic Age adventure start?
Héléna Klotz: I spent four years trying to get another project going and when I understood that I wouldn't succeed, I focused all this energy on Atomic Age instead. I wrote the screenplay in two months and we shot the film in two weeks. The story is very similar to what I was going through at that time, and I tried to describe the city, Paris, and its nightlife as I know it. The challenge was to make a film that was both very contemporary about today's youth, as well as timeless, sentimental, romantic, and lyrical.
How did you work on this double temporality?
The idea was to start with contemporary characters, who are totally from the period, in a train, in a night club, with very contemporary music and references. It's a universe anchored in reality in which the characters struggle with things that are resisting them. Then, with their journey from town to the forest, we slowly move into something more linked to legends, fairy tales, dreams. In the forest, all of a sudden we are off-screen. It's a place where everything is possible, everything is more abstract, a little more metaphysical and open to inner nature and emotion. We move from a very mundane journey to a return to the primitive.
The entire film is set during one night.
With the idea of a night, you can work on time because there is a unit of time. But this night stretches out enormously. It could almost be a whole week of night. It was a choice to be able to work on time, to give it some abstraction. I was very interested in the long sequences in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which in this sense inspired the fact that my film only has six long sequences.
How did you choose your main actors?
In the past, I had worked a lot as a casting director for other directors, and I wanted to cast the actors for my film myself. So I went down into the street for some wild casting. I first found Dominik Wojcik (Rainer) in a bar. He really spoke like the character, in a very romantic way. We then walked together through the streets, and one night we found Eliott Paquet (Victor). I liked the idea of searching together, it was like a way of linking life to cinema. I hardly did any try-outs with any of the actors in the film. But we worked a lot before the film, practically every day for four months. I needed this to know what I wanted to film from them, to introduce the film's narrative, and to gain some time on set because, with 12 days of shooting, I knew that we wouldn't have time for any acting problems.
What motivated the film's very successful lighting by Hélène Louvart?
I feel that I see a lot of very naturalist films during which I struggle to feel what they really want to tell me. For this film, my choice, with regards to image as well as mise-en-scene, actors, and locations, was to assert myself as much as possible, which is why the images are very romantic, at the polar opposite of coldness, and shot in the same spirit of freedom as that of the characters and adolescence.
How did you fund the film?
At a certain point, you have to make a choice. Either you want to make the film quite quickly and you decide to to make it on a low budget. For Atomic Age, I chose the short film route. I received funding from Arte and the CNC and we made the film on a budget of €100,000, which is nothing. Or you decide to wait for years to take a route that is quite difficult for first films, although this is not unusual and forces directors to be creative. As I was totally free, I shot the film that I wanted to shoot, and it ended up in this format somewhere between a medium-length film and a feature film.