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VENICE 2018 International Film Critics’ Week

Maxime Matray, Alexia Walther • Directors

“It gets a little grotesque”


- VENICE 2018: The first feature by Maxime Matray and Alexia Walther, Blonde Animals, presented in Venice's International Film Critics’ Week, shakes up both the audience and Claude Debussy

Maxime Matray, Alexia Walther  • Directors
(© Settimana Internazionale della Critica di Venezia)

Right from the get-go, Maxime Matray and Alexia Walther’s Blonde Animals [+see also:
film review
interview: Maxime Matray, Alexia Walther
film profile
 takes the viewer by storm. An out-of-tune rendition of Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is heard as we meet Fabien, a seemingly lost man desperately munching on salmon and trying to get to Paris. Another man appears, seeming equally lost, with a strange bag. As the scenarios grow stranger (decapitated heads, large amounts of buried salmon, a silly 1990s sitcom, very dirty porn loops, black crows and a host of eccentric people), we first fear getting lost, but eventually accept the ride and go along with it.

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Fresh from the screening in the International Film Critics’ Week at Venice, Cineuropa sat down with the talkative, creative couple, with Maxime Matray providing the “final” answers: “I am the one who speaks English, and Alexia speaks all other languages.”

Cineuropa: How have you chosen to describe this film to those about to see it? Or when you pitched it in the first place?
Maxime Matray:
 This has been our main problem. We can’t really talk about a story or characters, or even anything concrete. We have a hard-drinking ex-TV star who rediscovers his own past through someone else, and who, like a salmon, swims back against the stream… Luckily, our producer Emmanuel Chaumet, who did a short film with us some five years ago, really wanted to work with us. I’m not sure if this movie would have been made if we’d had to pitch it. 

As an Alice in Wonderland-like tale, perhaps?
Like a dream, I would say, a little like Buñuel, Henri Michaux or Georges Bataille – not exactly surrealists, but interested in dreams and how to construct stories with a “dream logic”. One of the main ideas is a quote from Michaux: “He who went for a kiss brought back a head.” This idea kick-started the whole movie – we found it very cinematic. 

Have you used any of your own dreams for the film?
For ten or 15 years, we have written some of them down. Then we used some of them, yes. 

In Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty or – why not? – Monty Python, the stories flow into each other, seemingly without logic. Blonde Animals shows a similar structure.
Like an editing software program for dreams! We have tried to construct it a little like this. The pieces kind of almost melt into each other. It gets a little grotesque. 

How did the actors react when they got the script?
They were good. At first, we were a bit frightened that some strange things like poo and vomit would put them off, but no one complained. 

You direct together. Who does what, and why is it good to be two captains helming the ship?
We talk a lot. One is on the picture side, and the other handles the actors. I am more on the detail side, and Alexia is more on the big picture. She has a feel for the rhythm of the movie and how things feel. Then we switch and surprise each other. It’s good to be two people in the writing process, and we talk a lot when we write. This process has been ongoing in the over ten years that we have been working together.

The soundtrack includes a lot of Debussy, especially Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, performed electronically and in an untraditional, perhaps even controversial, way.
I hope the Debussy lovers won’t get offended by what I did; I’m a very bad musician who does most of the music for our films. But I’m thinking that Debussy himself has been waiting for this to happen with his music, for it to get shaken up a little. I even think he may have loved it. And the idea behind our choice of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is that Fabien is like a faun. Fauns in mythology are in between animals, humans and gods. One of their traits is that they forget very quickly, which allows them to be happy forever.

Because deep down, at the heart of this story, there is the basic theme of dealing with grief, right?
That’s the main point of the film – what you can do to deal with the memories of the death of someone close to you. And I think the answer in the movie is not a conventional one: that you can do whatever you want to yourself, even something horrific or wrong, as long as it leads to something good.

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