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CANNES 2019 Competition

Justine Triet • Director of Sibyl

“I like to laugh at dark, tragic things which also sometimes happen in life”

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- CANNES 2019: We sat down with French helmer Justine Triet to find out more about her competition title, the dramedy Sibyl

Justine Triet  • Director of Sibyl
(© Yann Rabanier)

There’s high drama, droll comedy, a fair proportion of psychological thriller and a candid peek into the sometimes stranger-than-fiction world of filmmaking in Sibyl [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Justine Triet
film profile
]
, the third feature by France’s Justine Triet, which was entered into the competition at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. We talked to the director about the more or less chaotic aspects of filmmaking as well as her sometimes hard-to-pitch brand of cinema. 

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Cineuropa: A significant part of the story in Sibyl plays out on a film set, on the island of Stromboli, of all places, where all sorts of madness unfolds. On a scale between realistic and absurd, how would you say it is depicted?
Justine Triet:
 I do admit to some exaggeration – at this point in the film, things kind of have to blow up both metaphorically and in truth – and of course with this very significant location, our aim was to make it particularly explosive. At the same time, though, there are usually one or two days on any shoot when things really go over the top. 

So there may indeed be a moment or two taken from your own experience, including some highly charged emotions on the verge of bursting out?
Quite possibly… But we do have to make it to the end, don’t we? I try to contain my emotions more than the director in the film does, luckily. But sure, there will be insane moments on set – quite indescribably insane, no less.

You also play with the notion of languages and linguistic confusion on this film shoot, with a German director, French stars, an Italian crew… A nice piece of Europudding intercommunication – or a lack of it, perhaps?
Yes, we really needed to think about how everyone was going to communicate together and make it all make sense. Mostly they communicate in English, a language that no one has as their mother tongue. Sandra Hüller, who plays the director, brought in the idea that sometimes she would be speaking French or suddenly say something in German, all at random. It got quite interesting, amusing and chaotic. Our language situation in Europe is quite chaotic, non?

The film made on Stromboli is called Never Talk to Strangers, a deadly serious drama, far removed from your own style, which seems to fit in with the hybrid of drama and comedy sometimes known as “dramedy” – a label already attributed to you through your previous movies Age of Panic [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
 and In Bed with Victoria [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Justine Triet
film profile
]
, and which certainly fits the bill with Sibyl.
It’s actually the kind of cinema I’m most interested in, both as a filmmaker and as an audience member. I’m always looking for situations that go off-balance, with some serious characters and some funny ones, and even some tragic ones – I like to bring it all together. 

Dramedy is sometimes a bit hard to pitch because people want to put things in boxes of either comedy or drama, but this type of format is coming on strong in series like Girls, which did really well. Then, of course, there are people like James L Brooks with Terms of Endearment or As Good as It Gets, who for me is the inventor of this unusual tone that can really nourish both drama and comedy, and even tragedy – like life, really. I like to be shaken up when I see a film; I like to laugh at dark, tragic things which also sometimes happen in life, like when someone cracks up with laughter at a funeral. And I think that, little by little, we will see this as a genre of its own. There’s also Toni Erdmann [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Maren Ade
film profile
]
, of course, which I adore, and which played a big part in my casting of Sandra Hüller here.

You have also cited Woody Allen as an inspiration, and with the psychological thriller elements here, there could also be some Chabrol, Polanski or Hitchcock among the older auteur inspirations, right?
Yes, especially Hitchcock. He probably started this whole thing for me; I used to watch his films at my grandmother’s house at the age of eight. He made me so fascinated with cinema. And I love Polanski and Chabrol as well.

If you could describe yourself as an auteur director, what are the common denominators in your films thus far?
I feel I have a few. I’m looking at women trying to hold things together, trying to figure out what their destiny is and trying to figure themselves out. I’m looking for their little flaws and the ways in which they falter.

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