The film deals with, among other things, a student’s crisis of identity. Up to now, she has been defined, not to say devoured, by her social class and the demands of her family. How did you approach that aspect of the film, in terms of staging?
Lola: Milène’s character is at a turning point in her life, a transition to something else. In her mind, everything is mixed up. Her brain processes all information simultaneously. Some of her forgotten memories resurface chaotically, and this act of recollection allows her to take stock of the situation in a way. The present overflows with new perceptions that are moved by her hyper-sensitivity. And of course, all of her apprehensions are turned toward the future, which is the only place they can be resolved. Milène has a foot in the past, present and future, and this temporal confusion allows her “breakdown” to come to light.
Yann: The eruption of Milène’s family archives within the story marks her crisis of identity, it’s the principle staging mechanism that contributes to the temporal confusion. When she leaves the chaos of her family, Milène is suddenly thrust in the Cantal region, in a present that’s extremely stretched, encompassing both the past and the future. Paradoxically, the deepest past erupts precisely into this expanded present; the present is where Milène finds the serenity necessary to face up to a future that has suddenly been freed from the protective figure of her mother. That is why she suddenly interrupts her race forward to wander in the Cantal region and spend her time. Meeting Nina, Momo, Alex, and through the other, perhaps herself. Automne maladestages mourning through flight.
The film is very much based around Milène Tournier, who is at the film’s center. Many of her personal documents (images and videos) are included, which reinforces the overlapping of fiction and documentary. Is it correct to assume that you and Milène worked very closely on the film?
Lola: I’ve always been surprised to see how much actors have been willing to offer of themselves in a film. My thought is that the more an actor puts of themselves into the role – even to the point of agreeing to forget sometimes the border between reality and fiction – the richer, more complex and touching their character becomes. That sort of risk on the actor’s part is the best safeguard against the two-dimensional, disconnected fabrication of reality and life. Milène agreed to act with the greatest possible synthesis of her person and her character. When we asked her to include videos of her as a child, to nurture and lend credibility to her fictional family, she gave us two hard disks of videos filmed by her father, and gave us the green light to do absolutely anything we wanted with them in the film. We were immensely touched by her trust in us, and also her family’s. The story of the character Milène is fictitious, it is not her personal story. And yet, nothing the film shows of her is completely false either.
Yann: Our desire to make a film often starts from a desire to work with someone, to observe them and understand them, to film them and show them off. The rapport we developed with the actor/character almost resembled a documentary approach. From making a fictional film with the actress Milène Tournier to making a documentary about Milène Tournier there is only a small, almost formal, step. Automne malade is a fictional film, but we could just have easily turned it into a documentary. Milène’s investment in the film would have been the same. Our collaboration with her was more than close. The film is as much a part of her as she is of it. We wrote the role for her prior to making the film. And then with her during filming. Her personal archives represent part of her contribution to writing the film, but are far from her only contribution.
The scenes where Momo and Milène talk are grippingly authentic. How did you work on them, and prepare them, to achieve that effect?
Yann: All of the dialogue in the film is improvised. There is not a single word that the actors did not come up with during the take. We sometimes suggested ideas, or directions, but it’s them thinking and speaking. They had to invent the path. Improvisation helps to preserve the present time, the uncertainty, the digressions, the impulsiveness that are all characteristic of how thought moves. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. And it often takes a long time. We were prepared spend a lot of time to get a few minutes of that precious “authenticity”.
Lola: In concrete terms, we were often far from them. We rarely talked and never cut them off. We never had them rehearse. We simply redirected the discussion from time to time. We didn’t impose any structures on them. It was the camera that adapted to them. That way, we let them steep in the scene until they gave up, they stopped producing and began to experience an authentic moment together, in real time. Afterwards, obviously there’s the composition, the editing, that completely creates a representation of authenticity. In the end, it’s mostly like the friction between the real time experienced on the set and the rewriting we did during editing, with compressed, streamlined time, that gives this feeling of “authenticity”.
Those urgings to excel, which had been internalized, now appear to Milène in all their absurdity when she comes into contact with her hosts and with nature. What role does this untamed nature (the Cantal region) play in the violent, painful process that Milène experiences?
Lola: In the film, Nature, the animals and the people she meets act as a way of measuring her internal landscape. The changelessness of the Cantal pushes Milène to look at her own unsettled internal landscape, her doubts, her guilt. That is also a new form of time that is not part of the human world, but which follows its own rules and cycles and for which life and death do not represent any intellectual or moral idea.
Yann: Milène needs to clear her head of the agitation of her family context in order to see her own internal turbulence. The Cantal makes her disorder rise to the surface, it plays the role of a sort of catalyst or antagonist for Milène.
Lastly, could you tell us a little about Réalviscéralisme, which you launched in 2015?
Yann: Réalviscéralisme is a way of qualifying our tight collaboration, our common way of making films. It’s not Yann, nor Lola, but a synthesis of the two. Réalviscéralisme is the product of an act of creation where 1+1 equals 1, like when you become parents. We each used to have individual artistic activity in theater. And strangely, we took up filmmaking when our daughter was born. Neither one of us had any background in film, we had to learn everything on the job. From the beginning, we decided to create and think together, as equals. We write together, direct together, compose together, edit together. And in the end we don’t know who did what. We named our daughter Anouk and our brand of cinema Réalviscéralisme. The names are arbitrary. Chance, desire, common references that we liked when we chose them. They contain their own meaning and mean nothing more than Us.
Lola: Over the years, Réalviscéralisme has developed its own identity. We’ve noticed that no matter what stories and projects we come up with, they always delve into the porous boundary between reality and fiction. We write documentaries that we shoot like fictional films, and fictional films that we shoot like documentaries. Distinguishing between the two makes no sense for our work. We take real things and turn them into fiction and fictional things and make them real. It was an empty concept at the beginning, a blank page that we fill out little by little.
Have you discovered any advantages that the short film form provides?
Lola: None whatsoever. Except the element of constraint – you have to reinvent your way of being free. You’re free in any circumstance but… You’re free but you have to make a short. Or you’re free and you have to make a feature. It’s just that when you’re starting out like us, it might be better to make a short rather than a feature. In all honesty, that’s more a strategy of production and distribution than anything else.
Yann:Anecdotally, we generally like to make features so we filmed Automne malade thinking that were making a feature. And we naively edited a first version that was two hours long. When we showed it to our close friends and best artistic advisors, they politely told us that the film, as it was, was crap. I mean, not crap, but very nearly… It was too uneven for it to be so long. The film is self-produced, filmed with relatively amateur material. We really didn’t have the means to match our ambition. But they also told us vehemently that what we had could be re-edited into a short film which had real potential. We trusted them. And to be quite honest, that lifted a weight from us.
Automne malade was shown in National Competition.