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PHILIPPE LESAGE Alliance Française French Film Festival interview


That annual taste of all things French cinema, the Alliance Française French Film Festival, begins in Perth and Fremantle this week. Running from March 13 to April 10, this will mark the 30th anniversary of this remarkable cross-cultural event bringing the best of the French speaking world to the silver screen. Screening as part of the festival the latest film by Quebec filmmaker Philippe Lesage, Genesis, is a tangential sequel to his 2015 film semi-autobiographical work The Demons (2015), that explores love in three related stories. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to Lesage about his filmmaking and the inspiration behind it.

As Genesis is the second of your autobiographical films, is this drawn more or less from your life, than your previous work?

Maybe the mirror is split in three this time. The Demons was completely based on my childhood, this (Genesis) is based on both things that are absolutely real and happened to me, and on feelings or emotions. That’s why I can relate to each of the three characters (Guillaume, Charlotte, and the returning Félix).

You’ve previously described your films as neither naturalistic or social realistic, but rather impressionistic. How important is mood and tone to you work?

For me cinema is about really creating a mood. That’s really the most important thing for me. When I think about the films I like, it’s really about going into a universe. One where I can see things reflected from life, but the film creates its own universe with the use of a very strong mood and atmosphere. For me this is the most important thing about cinematic language, sometimes more important than the story. Cinema is not only about the reflection of life. I’m not doing things only realistically, I’m very much about the reflection of mood. I’m inspired by the life I see, and the life I’ve experienced. I really want to take the audience into a little special world, where the viewer will see himself, and recognise himself in one of those characters.

“Honesty” is often a term used to describe your work, how much of your documentarian background do you see coming out in your fictional work?

Whether I do documentary, or fiction, I’m trying to create cinema. They are supposed to be serving that same god, that god of film making. For me, there’s no distinction. In documentary making I was using things from fiction (like the use of music for example) just to create mood. I also steal from documentaries in my fiction. I let the camera roll, and asked the actors to be as natural as they can be, looking for spontaneous moments. So they feed into themselves. The documentaries have influenced my fiction, and when I was doing documentaries, the fiction was an influence over the documentaries. I like it when documentaries look like fiction, or fiction looks like documentaries.

You mentioned music there, and that was obviously a big part of Genesis (with the film even starting off with a song). Was music influential to your process?

I listen to a lot of songs when I’m writing, and I was already seeing a lot of scenes with music. Two years later, it was after filming, I was in the editing suite and that music was working. I got goosebumps. These are fantastic moments of creation. It’s maybe why I still make films, because of these pure moments of joy. I tell myself, “maybe the audience will get goosebumps as well?”

I used more pop music (of the era) in this film, than the previous. Music starts to be very important in the lives of people, especially in that moment when you were a teenager and discovering music. We associate so many memories with music. We all have the soundtrack of our lives.

What about love interested you when you were writing this film?

For me it’s like the title, the mother of life. That first impulse we have towards someone, that desire. This is why I’m here, it’s probably why you’re here. The world is being driven by desire. Since I explored my childhood fears in The Demons, it made sense to write a story about characters that are just a little older. I might not have the maturity to go back to what happened recently, but I certainly have the maturity to go back 20 years past and create a film about these early emotions, and hope that my little stories resonate with other people.

And that distance gives you room for introspection…

Yeah. The films I really liked what those films that gave me space to be creative as a viewer. I enjoy films that respect my intelligence, by not taking me by the hand and giving me all the answers. It’s tough, as we becoming more more lazy as viewers. I try to leave a space where the viewer can finish a film using their own creativity. There’s nothing more beautiful than when the creative mind of the filmmaker meets the creative mind of the viewer.

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