Laurent Lafitte • Director of The Origin of the World
"It was an opportunity to talk about a lot of things, with the distance afforded by comedy"
- Cineuropa met up with Laurent Lafitte whose first feature as a director, The Origin of the World, premiered last week at the Namur International French-Language Film Festival
Actor Laurent Lafitte moves to directing with The Origin of the World [+see also:
interview: Laurent Lafitte
film profile], which screened last week at the Namur International French-Language Film Festival. This feature debut, adapted from a play by Sébastien Thiéry, tells the story of a man whose heart has stopped beating, and who must confront a boy’s ultimate taboo in order to survive: his mother’s sex.
Cineuropa: How and why did you decide to move to directing?
Laurent Lafitte: The desire to direct has been in me for a very long time. I’ve always loved staying on set, discovering the mechanical workings of film shoots. I laughed a lot when I discovered the play The Origin of the World, 6 or 7 years ago. I really fell in love with it. And then, the play continued to brew in my head, and I discovered rather different and more and more intimate levels to this story. I thought it was an opportunity to talk about a lot of things, with the distance afforded by comedy, and to ask very intimate questions via comic transgression.
How do you make a project imagined by someone else your own?
There are things in the play that I really loved, flashes of comedy that are rather crazy, and others I liked a little less. I tried to find a balance in all of that, by cutting down some scenes, changing certain characters — in particular the mother, who was very unsympathetic from the very beginning of the play, while I wanted to create some sympathy for her, to better destabilise people.
How do you insert cinema into a theatrical structure?
I’ve added quite a few scenes set outside of the apartment where the play takes place, especially in the beginning, to broaden the film’s spectrum. I also added some dream sequences. I rewatched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope while preparing the film. He goes around the adaptation problem by making his directing even more theatrical. This was an inspiration for me in the sense that I told myself I should highlight the theatrical quality of certain scenes, fully take on the shot / reverse shot structure in the bourgeois apartment, which is such a classic figure from boulevard theatre, and not try to do more, stay on the actors. This helped me not to try and artificially make more cinematic something that simply isn’t. In the end, I kept at least 70% of the play’s original dialogue.
The situations are crazy, and the acting is very serious. Does this contrast create comedy?
Personally, I find this story dramatic, atrocious even! What happens to Jean-Louis is a total panic, and the way he treats his mother and friend, what he discovers, is horrible! It’s a tragedy, and in the end, the more tragic it is, the funnier it is. For me, it really had to be played straight, the comedy couldn’t come from the acting. The film needed to have the same sincerity as a drama.
The film touches on the ultimate taboo, a mother’s sex, and therefore her intimacy.
The fact that his mother is also a woman, is the ultimate taboo for Jean-Louis. That’s why, when the character Michel tries to awaken the mother’s sensuality, that is intolerable for Jean-Louis. But this also touches on family secrets. We all have issues with our families, with this mandatory bond. Armistead Maupin talks about the biological family, and the logical family, the one we choose. A family secret makes it so that there is something almost at a cellular level that prevents people from moving forward. But how can something we don’t know prevent us?
Did this film make you want to try your hand at writing?
I would love to invent an original story, but I like stories with very strong ideas, and I don’t know if I have that talent. I think I do alright with dialogue and characters, but story, pure drama, that is the work of a real writer. Not so long ago, before the French New Wave, there was a screenwriter, a dialogue writer, and a director. At the moment, this is the kind of structure I find myself in, I don’t feel like I can be a screenwriter.
(Translated from French)
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