Most of my films deal with the theme of Freedom. For me, “gutter punks” are a sort of modern anti-hero free of shackles, they stand up for total freedom, with no compromises whatsoever.
Faced with the various difficulties that working with a homeless person posed, I at one point thought of getting an actor to play the role of Joey. But I quickly realized that I would never be able to recreate the tension and the strong desire that dwelt within my character.
I met Robin, my eventual actor, at a street theater festival in Aurillac, and he immediately caught my eye: he had a sort of arrogant grace mixed with the impetuosity of his youth. “Taming” him was not easy, but unlike his character, Robin was not hypersensitive, and he eventually jump into the project wholeheartedly.
My script was originally built around a guy of about thirty. But I soon realized that using a young adult, barely a teenager any longer, was more interesting from a narrative perspective.
And also, living on the streets wears you out very fast. An older gutter punk wouldn’t have awakened the viewers’ empathy quite so much.
The film basically deals with the “loving” relationship he has with his dog. Robin, the actor, had two dogs in real life, but I needed to emphasize his exclusive relationship with Hyona, his dog.
I always wanted to leave a large space for improvisation in the film. Even if I did write all the dialogue beforehand – essentially in order to get financing – Robin took over the scenes and used his words to act them out… just the way they are.
When he tells the veterinarian, “My dog is my life, she’s the shit”, those are his words, and to me, they scream with truth. Even if the first take was, in my opinion, poorly filmed, I wanted to keep it because it’s the essence of my film.
The border between fiction and documentary is a central point for me. There are a lot of “docufictions” on television nowadays, but not many “fiction-documentaries”, as I’ve called this genre: beginning with a story that is entirely fictional and adding elements of raw reality.
On that point, the confrontation between Robin and Patrick d’Assumçai, who is a professional actor, was a great learning experience. Patrick was sticking to the script for his part, and Robin was improvising in a sort of disconcerting way, which made for an explosive mix.
The character in this film is hypersensitive, but he doesn’t for a moment doubt himself. He’s an asocial type, through and through, he’s against the world around him. The only thing that anchors him is his dog Hyona that he showers with unlimited affection. When he loses the dog, that brings him back into a stream of life…
What I wanted when I made this film was for the viewer to start off feeling a certain rejection for the character, like what you experience when you feel “harassed” by a homeless person begging outside a supermarket. But then gradually develop a certain empathy toward him and his difficulty existing in the world.
In general, the adult characters around him are, at worst, indifferent – a reflection of our modern society. The veterinarian, for example, is kindly toward Joey right off the bat. He doesn’t lend him a hand because he sympathizes with him, it’s more like projection, or to get something out of it.
Is that what you meant by “the idea of reciprocity in emotional relationships”?
Yes and no. It’s not strictly speaking a film about moving from childhood to the adult world. My character is already a young adult at the beginning of the film, and the script isn’t a film of formation in the sense that it’s not clear that he’s changed by the end of the film.
Did you have any rituals in mind for the film – among men, or between man and animal? In general, do you think that cultural rituals can lead to the development of the self, or are they more of a subterfuge?
Rituals are undeniably necessary for an individual to construct himself. They generally delimit the stages in our learning curriculum. The streets are no exception to this rule. But even if they appear as a backdrop, I didn’t want to make them the subject of my film.
Yes, obviously. Films in general are wonderfully effective in questioning human relations. The specificity of short films cuts both ways: since they’re more or less unconstrained by the problems associated with financial profitability, they allow you to try different narrative forms, and especially to tackle topics that are often neglected by the media and feature films because they’re divisive or concern only a few people.
The flipside is that fewer people see them.
Punk à chien was either produced, co-produced or self-financed with French funds. Did you write the film with this “French” aspect in mind: making movie references, building a specific context (in a particular region, for example) or inserting characteristically French notions?
I had the good fortune of being assisted by a producer, Julien Féret of Ama Productions, who believed in the project from the first draft of the script. Without him, I would never have been able to complete the project.
Unlike my earlier films, which took place in Africa, Punk à chien is anchored in a particularly French issue, even a regional issue at that. We were lucky enough to have support from the Auvergne region, which is where I had had in inkling to shoot to begin with, for its spectacular natural landscapes where I wanted to plunge my character.
Viewers at the F2 screening at the cinema Le Rio at 2pm on Monday, February 8 will be able to talk with the director immediately following the showing.
Rémi Mazet will be interviewed for LDTV’s program Vu en court on Monday, 8 February at 4pm.