What made you want to focus on the world of video games?
I have always loved the images in video games. Without necessarily being a gamer or having spent hours on gaming networks, I love seeing the images, worlds, drawings, characters and stories that come from this imagination, and have since the games of the 1980s. When we play, we are somewhere between cartoon, film, and theater, in the sense that we are playing a role in a limited amount of time with a script that is more or less fixed. We take part in a form of fiction, we are ourselves the screenwriters of the film that is taking place before our eyes in real time.
… And the idea to focus on Camille’s face?
It’s hard to say where an inspiration comes from. Le visage owes as much to cinema as it does to figurative painting, cartoons or video games, which have been using the faces of celebrities, actors, and sportsmen to play roles in their sagas for many years now. In the beginning, it was the emotion that I felt as a cinephile seeing faces in films or in Japanese mangas, but it was also the esthetic emotion that I felt faced with the icons of figurative art or video games. Also, I have always loved watching people and trying to guess what they are thinking behind their eyes. I wanted the viewer to feel this emotion: to get lost in the contemplation of a face and to see details, nuances, and expressions arise, to spend some time on this path, suspended in time. To take this journey with the viewer towards that which makes up the very heart of humanity, and hence beauty. I want the viewer to experience through my camera the same esthetic emotion felt by Masato, the Japanese creator, when he sees Camille/Solène. If at any time the viewer comes to share the same feeling of fascination, then my film will have been a success.
How did you go about casting for the role of Camille?
I’ve watched lots of short films and have discovered an entire generation of actresses between 20 and 30 years old. I had to find both a face and an actress at the same time; that combination is not as simple as it sounds: we needed an actress who knew how to act, whose presence appealed to me, and who embodied Camille, a young assistant in a contemporary art gallery; at the same time, she needed to have a face that easily lent itself to the imaginary world of video games. The faces in video games are often similar to those in Japanese mangas: round, small nose, large forehead, perfectly symmetrical. And I wanted to accentuate this and make Camille a sort of icon. This is where the field of possible actresses for this role shrunk considerably. In addition to this, Le visage tells the story of a troubling encounter laced with desire and fascination between the two characters. It was impossible to choose the actress without seeing what kind of “cinematic couple” she would form with Akihiro Hata, who plays the role of the video game creator.
I have long been familiar with Solène Rigot’s work, but I also knew that she embodied another kind of film, more naturalistic, more incarnate, and a bit far from the world that I wanted to portray. It all clicked the moment we met. Solène trusted me and played along, putting herself in Camille’s shoes, taking pleasure in readily offering her face to the film, to my eyes, to the camera and to the machine that pixelated it. She also formed a great couple with Akihiro: I knew right away that their presence in the same frame, their silences, their bodies, would tell the story of the delicate encounter of Le visage without much need for the spoken word.
Is the character of Masato Kimura based on a real person?
The character of Masato Kimura is inspired by Hideo Kojima, a star video game creator who became famous for inventing the world-renowned Metal Gear Solid series. But whereas Hideo is funny and talkative in his interviews, I wanted Masato to be more quiet and mysterious. Thus, we don’t know what he is thinking, what is going through his mind when he lays eyes on Camille; to what extent his desire is real or virtual, to what extent his projection is cast upon a person, or on a character that he is imagining based on that person. In my film, he who looks is as important as she who is looked at: we look at Solène’s face, but also at Akihiro’s face as he looks at Solène… Thus, Akahiro gives his character the air of a painter before his model, both intense and profound, far from the hip, media-hyped gamer that Kojima is.
Can you tell us more about the gaming elements in the film?
After meeting with several graphic design companies, it was the Angoulème-based company Solidanim to whom we gave the job of creating the video game imagery. The last scene took several weeks of work and was minituously created by a fantastic designer, Gilles Aujard, and his small team. First, we story-boarded the entire scene. Then, we created Solène’s character by using motion capture and digitizing her movement and above all her face, so that her expressions, traits, and her regard were as realistic and true as possible. For the final scene, it was essential that Solène was perfectly recognizable, all in seeing that it was a virtual character. I wanted this artificial dimension to be troubling, that we feel the discomfort of her situation. Is she in the game? Has she become someone else? Does her video game character still have a part of Camille in her?
What sort of freedom would you say the short format allows?
The short film format allowed us to be truly ambitious in the creation of this film. Without a doubt, I would not have had the same free conditions if I were making a feature-length film. I would like to thank my producer, Mathieu Bompoint, who let me work as I pleased, and who placed his trust in me as he does in every director he supports. He secured the consequential means for us to meet the graphic design demands of Le visage, notably for the video game scenes, which required a lot of time and an entire team to rise to the challenge set by this film’s ambitions.