Can you tell us how La traction des pôles came into being?
I wanted to write an love story without words, an internal story, and to create a portrait of sensitive characters who hide their true feelings, a bit like in the countryside of my childhood. I also wanted the film to be detached from gender questions and to simply look at the attraction between two beings as if they were neutral particles, simply endowed with a desire, a force of attraction.
The life of a stock breeder involves a certain degree of solitude. Did you choose the agricultural world as the film’s setting in order to accentuate the main character’s isolation?
Above all, I chose the agricultural world because I have observed in the people there a great degree of modesty in relation to their interiority. I grew up in a family where we always expressed our feelings in a cryptic way, drowned in our repetitive daily actions, often silenced. But sometimes we stop to dream, to think, and it is these pauses that reveal an interior sensitivity that has always touched me. I accentuated the solitude of our main character, Mickaël. I wanted to catch him at moments of latency, of daydreaming. That is also why it was important to shoot the film in springtime, a period that offers a certain respite as the crops ripen and the beautiful season arrives.
The shots of the fields, the large, open spaces, accentuate this feeling of isolation, and also make us think of the universe of a western film… Were you aware from the beginning that the film, even from afar, came within the scope of a western?
Yes, with Léo Roussel, our director of photography, we evoked the western in a rather intuitive way during our scouting for locations. From the beginning, we distanced ourselves from my home region, Basse-Normandie, which has a landscape covered by forest, with tree lines that obstruct the view of the sky, blocking any panorama. I wanted to read the interiority of our characters in relation to the landscape. Mickaël’s moments of solitude take place among vast, horizontal areas, in the middle of fields, because the relationship between the vertical body and the horizontal panorama has always moved me. The panorama has an invading effect on the body, there is something encompassing about a view that completely encircles us, and makes us feel like we are a part of it. I wanted Mickaël to be sensitive to this, even to the point of a carnal fusion of body and landscape, notably in the rapeseed field. So, we looked for vast plains that reminded us of landscapes from western movies. The Haute-Marne region ended up being ideal because the huge cereal crops rub shoulders with other smaller farms and breeding operations, and we can feel the ambivalence between these two coexisting agricultural models. Some settings are very graphically composed and may make one think of western films, for example Alamowith John Wayne, with very saturated colors where every shot is a painting that pops out at you. However we didn’t choose the cinemascope format because we didn’t want to break up the faces or move away from the bodies. At certain moments, we wanted to capture a certain sobriety and simplicity in the way of filming that attaches us to a more pragmatic reality.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is the opposition between the prosaic reality of the breeder’s profession and the great modesty of the character. Did you want to play off of this opposition from the beginning?
Yes, these two notions were part of our intentions from the beginning. I saw my main character as a sort of sensitive and silent ball, preoccupied with the problems of his profession. But I didn’t necessary seek to oppose them. Instead I sought to have them coexist. Mickaël has his secrets, his different facets.
Are there any particular freedoms that the short film format allows you?
We often say that freedom is found in constraint… In any case, the constraint of the film’s length was a true challenge when I tried to mix several different themes and to spread them throughout the film. Very quickly, the film seemed too busy. Another liberating aspect of the short film: the small budget makes human relationships very present in the making of the film. I felt carried by lots of support, curiosity and trust, with the impression that we were creating this film together, bit by bit. I imagine that it is easier to maintain that cohesion with a small format, with a small team.