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Elise Girard • Director

"I don’t film with a camera on my shoulder running around"


- Unveiled at Berlin, Strange Birds, the second feature film by Elise Girard, is being released today in French theatres

Elise Girard • Director

After rising to prominence with Belleville Tokyo [+see also:
film profile
in 2011, French filmmaker Elise Girard is back with Strange Birds [+see also:
film review
interview: Elise Girard
film profile
, a delicately off the wall film unveiled at the Forum of the Berlinale and starring Lolitah Chammah and Jean Sorel in the main roles. A KinoElektron production (with Reborn Production and Mikino), which is being released in French theatres today by Shellac.

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Cineuropa: What drew you to these Strange Birds, these two relatively atypical characters?
Elise Girard: There were a number of themes I wanted to explore. First of all I wanted to look at the big age difference, then at a man who has had to change his life, someone who goes into hiding, as it happens the publisher of forbidden texts for the Red Brigades, and finally the transition into adulthood of a young woman who is different, anachronistic, who has trouble finding her place in the world. The two characters fall in love with one another, but it’s a love that’s doomed to fail as there’s an age difference of 50 years between them. They are atypical characters as what I’m interested in fiction: I try to create people that don’t exist. Georges doesn’t exist, and neither does Mavie. Seagulls don’t fall from the sky and bodies aren’t moved like that!

From the provinces to Paris?
What I like about film is discovering a character you know nothing about. I also liked the idea of this girl from elsewhere coming and discovering Paris with her own eyes, a Paris that is beautiful to her and seduces her. I also wanted her to be a bit like a character from the 19th century, of rare charm and with very literary interests.

The screenplay handles the suspense carefully through the enigmatic side of Georges.
I did a lot of research and met with some former Red Brigades activists. I wanted what Georges recounts to be credible, but I don’t go into too much detail. I’m more interested in feelings, movements of the soul, trying to use cinema to give a condensed portrayal of the things we all experience, but that we can’t necessarily express.

What about the small surreal details?
That’s my sense of humour. I wanted to bring a bit of fantasy into the scenes, for there to be some distance between what happens, which is serious, and what happens off-screen, in particular at the level of sound, like when her friend makes love in a really weird way. I wanted the audience to laugh at it, but it’s also a way of pushing the bounds of fiction even further.

The settings have a strangeness to them, an almost "postcard" feel.
I’d already worked with my director of photography Renato Berta before. This was our third film together. I talked to him about a film by Minnelli that was shot in Paris, but gave the impression of being staged elsewhere. I wanted to give this sort of impression, of Paris as this ideal and rather sumptuous setting, and for the images in the film to elude a modern yet worn air, as well as a touch of mystery. But this was something I also achieved through my choice of colours, costumes, the performances of the actors, and obviously the direction.

Is your filmmaking style, which is off the wall yet subtle, easy to secure funding for?
It’s very hard and I was lucky to meet my producer Janja Kralj. My films don’t focus on social issues, I don’t film with a camera on my shoulder running around, there’s no improvisation. But my films are nonetheless very artisanal, and I make the costumes myself for example. If you were to ask me to make a film about the suburbs, I think it would be a film about a very strange suburb (laughs). I think fiction sometimes tells us a lot more than reality, as some films that are very naturalist sometimes come off as very fake.

What projects are you currently working on?
One project I’m working on is a transgenerational comedy set against the backdrop of Protestantism with the story of a forty-something man in crisis who returns to his family with his children. The second project I’m taking forward is called Sidonie au Japon, and is the story of a writer who no longer writes, goes to Japan to promote a book of hers and meets a publisher there with whom she spends a few days, allowing her to revisit her past, mourn her deceased husband, and to be reborn and start her life afresh.

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(Translated from French)

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