Director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet On Barthes, Technology and Love

CHARLINE Bourgeois-Tacquet’s charming and intelligent short film Pauline Enslaved brings Ronald Barthes into the age of smartphones. Close-up Culture are delighted to welcome Charline onto the site to delve deeper into her film and work.

Q: Pauline Enslaved begins with a quote from the ‘waiting’ chapter of Ronald Barthes’ Fragments, A Lover’s Discourse. What led you to this story and how much of an influence was Barthes’ text?

A: IT has been a long time since I wanted to make a movie based on Fragments, A Lover’s Discourse. This piece always felt incredibly intelligent and pertinent in its description and analysis of love, which is something I am passionate about. (Love is to me, THE big subject).

One day, after a one-way relationship, a whole summer spent waiting for news of someone and endlessly talking about it with my friends, I read Barthes again. I completely identified with the writing, I even cried re-reading it and I thought it was time to do this movie.

I took in everything in the text about the waiting and loving obsession, it was a guide to build my script. For example, I used the hypotheses phase established by Barthes when Pauline tries to figure out rationally what caused her lover’s silence. It is also Barthes who explains the phase of the nostalgic memory of happy moments (who inspired the scene where Pauline remembers the fiery text messages of Bruce from their early relationship).

In the script I used to put Fragments‘ quotes in the middle of the scenes, and then tested the idea in the first weeks of editing. I really wanted the words to be physically present in the film, at the heart of the images. But I realised it was repetitive and I gave up the idea.

Q: The film brings Barthes into the age of smartphones. How do you think technology has changed our romantic relationships?

A: ABOUT love obsession, which is the subject of my film, it has always existed, obviously, and it was as intense in the decades and centuries preceding the apparition of smartphones. At Barthes’ time, for example, one waited hours for a phone call, stuck in front of a fixed phone, unable to go out, refusing propositions and meetings to finally finding oneself waiting for a phone call that would never come.

But as for technology, I think mobile phones and text messages brought a trend to over-interpretation, an unstoppable exegesis that I show in Pauline Enslaved. A text message is spotty, it is impossible to know on what tone it is supposed to be heard. So, we try to give a sense to every comma, any small linking word. There is also the plague of apps like Whatsapp, where you can see if people are online and if they have read your message.

We are in an era of surveillance and paranoia. In this perspective, I think technology makes us mad!

Q: Pauline is an intellectual, but she finds herself weakened and tormented waiting for a text message from her lover. To quote Barthes, it leaves her ‘immensely pathetic.’ Can talk to us about Pauline and what inspired this character? 

A: Pauline’s character looks like me and many of my friends.

I found it interesting making her an intellectual, a young lady always thinking about her books and this was for two reasons. On one hand, you can think she has been “perverted” by her studies, that literature researches pushed her to over-interpretation (or at least she has a taste and prerequisite for it). On the other hand, you are right to underline the pathetic dimension of the situation. She is upset about the miserable and humiliating feeling of being the slave of this obsession about an inert and stupid object, even more for an intellectual.

I wanted to play with the double tragic and comical dimension of the situation. To Pauline, it is a tragedy but for us looking at it, it is trifling, ridiculous and funny.

Q: There is another quote from Barthes that reminds me of the rhythm of your film: ‘The anxiety of waiting is not continuously violent; it has its matte moments.’ I really enjoyed the pacing of your film, how did you go about creating this energy?

A: IT was important for me that the film has speed, with a hectic pacing concerning the words, speed of dialogues, moves, staging and editing.

In this film about waiting, I didn’t want anyone to be bored. I wanted the spectator to share Pauline’s madness, her never resting obsession expressed by her huge and excited speed of speech. Surely, I wanted it to “calm down” sometimes, to share with her these sad, dejected and empty moments specific to the wait. I tried to get an alternation of feelings close to what I have experienced in my life.

Q: This short gave you the opportunity to work with two wonderful female actors – Sigrid Bouaziz and Anaïs Demoustier. What did they bring to the project?

A: YES, I have been very lucky to work with Anaïs and Sigrid.

Anaïs is an extraordinary actress. She is extremely technical and precise, she understands the directions in a fraction of the time and at once, she is subtle, nuanced with a sensible cleverness which fed Pauline’s character. It has been a pleasure to work with her. I guess she made human Pauline’s character, giving her a likeable side despite of her egocentric chatting. Thanks to Anaïs, we can identify to Pauline and share a bit of her pain. Otherwise, Anais is a great comical actress with an outstanding sense of rhythm.

I think the pair she forms with Sigrid works very well. Even physically: a small anxious brunette and a lethargic tall blonde. Sigrid brings to Violette’s character a funny nonchalance and detachment. Moreover, she embodies the spectator inside the film. She had this difficult task to give a gentle but also ironic look at Pauline. And she did it marvellously.

Images courtesy of Année Zéro 

Q: I believe this is your second short film. How was the overall experience?

A: IT was the first time I made a produced movie, and it changed everything! Even if we had a small budget, I felt like a millionaire because I was not the one making everything anymore, from recruitment to budget management. My producers were always there to help.

It was wonderful. As you said, I worked with incredible actresses, but as well with a talented camera operator. We got along well and I am very happy about this collaboration that seemed fruitful.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and what has influenced your style?

A: I HAVE a literary background. I studied at the Sorbonne and I wanted to be an actress for a long time. By chance, I worked three years in a prestigious publishing house (Grasset), then I left to “make cinema”. I started to write short films and one thing leading to another, I here I am now.

My influences are numerous, but I can try to list you movies and books that matter the most to me – I am convinced literature played a big part in the constitution of my sensibility and my writing, even when it is screenwriting. So, Proust, Racine, Madame de Lafayette, Marguerite Duras, Marivaux, Crébillon, Annie Ernaux, Barthes obviously.

And then Eric Rohmer, Agnès Varda, Alain Resnais, Woody Allen, Alain Cavalier, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. I deeply love Bergman, Truffaut, Pialat, Cassavetes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, but I am not sure you can feel it in my movies.

Q: What can we expect from you in the future?

A: I have to rewrite the script of my first feature this summer, which I would like to shoot in the summer 2019. It is about the unexpected love life of a young lady in a relationship with a married man, but falling in love with the man’s wife. Anaïs Demoustier will play the main character again. I am looking forward to it!

Also, I have two documentary ideas, a fictional project about a woman and another one about love hitches of a doctoral students group. And also the desire to adapt a classical play in a film.

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