How did you come up with the idea of a walrus as the grandfather character?
The idea came from a Russian friend of mine who took me around St. Petersburg and described the famous “walruses”, men who walk on the banks of the Neva in their underpants soaking up every last ray of sunlight in summer and winter in hopes of getting tan. I was intrigued by the mystery and poetry that radiated from these men – some of whom were literally burnt and withered by the sun. I found that that image was perfect for a ludicrous grandfather who behaves incomprehensibly and has an insanely evocative name. For me it was a chance to explore the disturbed imagination of a child who doesn’t quite understand everything that’s going on with adults.
Can you tell us more about where the scene takes place?
The setting for the film is a beach on the Atlantic coast just above the Landes, a vast expanse of sand bordered by high, untamed dunes. The place’s remoteness, the infinite sea, the heavy clouds, the wind, all of that contributes to the characters’ emotional state. They’re lost, shaken, without bearings, and confronted with their extreme pettiness, whether faced with death or the vastness of nature. Those beaches have always caused great feelings of restlessness and terrible fear in me. That’s why I chose the place, which I think lends itself to questions about death, to feelings of elation and to supernatural occurrences.
Are there any autobiographical elements?
Yes. To begin with, there are the beaches that I often went to when I was a child, and that my parents liked to visit in winter, when all vacationers have disappeared and they assume once again their wild, deserted nature. Then, every character in the little, disoriented group is more or less inspired by my own family. At first, I made the decision without really thinking about it. I was looking for credibility above all and the singularity of strong characters, so I naturally dug into ideas from people close to me, thinking that that was a way to avoid clichés. And that logically led me to talking about family in a way that – I hope – is very personal. I also obviously used my own relationship to death and mourning, and my childhood memories – especially to write the fantastic scenes.
Can you explain your aesthetic choices and your animation style?
My first inspiration – visual as well as emotional – came from the photographer Shoji Ueda. His solitary men between the sky and the sand as far as the eye can see, his absurd, funny and mysterious little scenes, and his magnificent black and white composition. The austerity of the settings, which are often detached from any geographic or temporal anchoring, leaves an inordinate space for the Man, who always seems to be on intimate terms with himself. That influenced my own composition, the contrasts, the position of the bodies in space… I was also very much influenced by Japanese animated films in general – Miyazaki, Takahata and Satoshi Kon – that can go from grotesque caricature to very delicate, internalized expressions and movements. The animation is clearly “Japanese” styled. We tried to avoid putting on a technical display and sought a certain economy, a certain reserve sometimes, while still being able to exaggerate and explode when necessary!
Have you discovered any advantages that the short film form provides?
I’ve never made a film longer than this one, so I really have no point of comparison, but since the financial stakes of such a modest film were practically nil, there was no external pressure on me with regards to the script or directorial choices in general. Stylistically, I think I’ve made a film that is very obviously part of a cinematographic language that you’d call “classic”, i.e. one that you would use for a feature film. Actually, I did not in fact make use of the thousand possibilities that short animated films offer since my goal was more to “train myself” to, maybe in the future, make a feature film.
If you’ve already been to the Clermont-Ferrand Festival, can you give us an anecdote? If it’s your first time, what are you expecting at the Festival?
Clermont-Ferrand was my first experience of a festival dedicated to fiction short films (I’m better acquainted with animation festivals), and at the time I was enthralled by the quantity of narrative, easy-to-watch films. It’s important to know that the range of styles for animated short films is incredibly varied, and I remember some showings that were frankly quite painful – films that are epileptic, depressingly suicidal, completely abstruse or that deliberately engage in graphic torture! I feel more affinities with the world of fiction. I recall falling in love with Vincent Macaigne’s film Ce qu’il restera de nous [What Will Be Left of Us]. A family that explodes, characters violently pouring out everything they’d bottled up for too long… In hindsight, the similarity of our themes now seems totally obvious to me! So I’m extremely flattered that my film has been selected at such a prestigious festival.