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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2022 Competition

Christophe Honoré • Director of Winter Boy

"I wanted to focus on emotions, on feelings"

by 

- The French filmmaker is returning with a poignant and highly accomplished work, formally speaking, with deeply personal roots and revolving around a teenager struggling with grief

Christophe Honoré • Director of Winter Boy
(© SSIFF/Gari Garaialde)

Unveiled at Toronto, Winter Boy [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Christophe Honoré
film profile
]
by Christophe Honoré, starring Paul Kircher, Vincent Lacoste, Juliette Binoche and Erwan Kepoa Falé, is now competing at the 70th San Sebastián Film Festival, which is a first for a French filmmaker more closely acquainted with Cannes (notably via Love Songs [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Sorry Angel [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Christophe Honoré
film profile
]
in competition in 2007 and 2018).

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Cineuropa: Winter Boy is based on a painful real-life event from your own youth. How did you go about transposing it into film?
Christophe Honoré: I gave myself the target of expressing certain emotions linked to a very particular time in my adolescence when my father passed away. It’s a film that I’ve often postponed making, but this time round, I don’t know why, I felt sufficiently well-equipped to project myself back into that period. But I wanted to take care not to make a nostalgic film. Lots of filmmakers have spoken about their adolescence, using it as a way to recreate an era by way of décor, costumes, music. I wasn’t interested in any of that, I wanted to focus on emotions and feelings, rather than allow myself to be overcome by a soothing wave of melancholy. I wanted to try to convey the violence and brutality of that particular time. That’s why I very quickly realised that I’d need to transpose and re-create those scenes in a modern-day setting. It’s on the basis of these two ideas that the film unfolds: to not be afraid of exploring feelings or a time in my life which was far from serene, avoiding any nostalgia or complaisance, whilst also projecting a modern-day young man into that situation and trying to paint the portrait of such a young, modern man.

The film is guided by the voice of the main character who tells his own story and who is filmed somewhere unspecified, and the story is dotted with micro-variations, memories in no chronological order. Why did you opt for this structure?
It’s what gave rise to the screenplay and it was something I really enjoyed about it. I was heavily inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Raw Youth where the narrator takes care of the story at the beginning of the novel without being able to take charge of it. It was really important to me that Lucas would recount a past which was so recent it invaded his present. And I was adamant I wouldn’t tell the story from the viewpoint of the man I am today, over thirty years later, which is often the case with voice-overs where the story being told becomes a story in and of itself, because even if we want to be sincere, we often end up putting things in a certain order. I wanted adolescence to be a part of the story itself, not just in terms of its themes, the character’s age, what happens to him, ideas over first times, etc., but more in terms of the immaturity of the story, which almost feels untamed. The voice-over is hesitant, it stutters and stammers, it says it’s going to talk about one thing but ends up talking about something else. I felt that I could use the reflections that this might create, the mirror-effect, to try to get closer to adolescence. At my age - and because I’ve got a daughter who’s the same age as the character - we have certain ideas about adolescence, which are built upon platitudes and film plots; you have to fight against all that because you only end up with clichés. This hesitant voice, this lack of confidence in the story helped me to be as close to the character as possible.

I’ve also worked on voice-overs in other films, and I hate recording them during the editing phase because I often find they no longer belong to the film. So I always make sure to record voice-overs at the same time as I’m filming. Generally speaking, I film them in order to put a little pressure on my actors or actresses, to make sure they know their lines by heart, so that they’re not so much voices of readers but voices speaking in the present. So I filmed Paul Kircher; I didn’t necessarily think I’d use this footage in the editing process, but in the 12-13 minutes it took to record his text, he quite literally embodied that voice. I liked those shots as soon as I saw the rushes, and I thought it might be interesting to keep a trace of them in the film, because the character was definitely there. Last but not least, given that, in the script, at the end of the film, I wanted the story to be taken over and voiced by the mother, I asked Juliette Binoche if I could film her and, quite naturally, she looked directly into the camera, which gives her a very different status to Paul Kircher who never looked directly at the camera. I felt that these two tendencies were highly representative of a teenage character who doesn’t know what he’s talking about and an adult character who’s very capable of talking about herself, and that maybe that’s what the transition from adolescence to adulthood or to the adult world is: being capable of being our own narrators.

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(Translated from French)

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