CLOSE-UP Culture’s James Prestridge is joined by Montréal-based director Jérémy Comte for an insightful talk about his widely-acclaimed short film Fauve.
Q: Fauve is swooping awards at festivals across the world, including the Sundance Special Jury Award. How have you enjoyed the response and why do you feel the film is connecting so well?
A: IT is pretty unbelievable all the love that Fauve has received so far. My goal with this project was always to make the best film within my capacities and the repercussions from it are beyond my expectations.
What amazed me the most is that the film has received awards from almost every continent around the world, from professional juries to young student juries and the public. It means a lot to me that it can reach a wide audience. I guess the core emotion of the story and the genuine acting from the two boys makes it an immersive and compelling film. It was important for me to make the film rich in every aspect and I guess people are able to connect with it on many levels. But it’s always hard to judge your own film.
Q: You have said Fauve came from a childhood dream and slowly evolved into a short film. Can tell us more about this?
A: GROWING up in the countryside, the inspiration for Fauve came from some childhood nightmares I had at that time. These dreams kept visiting me throughout all my life at different moments, where I could recall the emotion and a clear scenery from them, but I didn’t mind them too much. About four years ago, I was running on a small muddy road under a light rain in the countryside and it all came back to me. I knew at this moment I had to make a film out of theses memories, exploring childhood in a raw and authentic way.
Q: Is the title a reference to Fauvism, wildcats or something else?
A: TOTALLY. It was hard to translate the title in English honestly because the word ‘Fauve’ has multiple meanings in French. First off, it means wildcats or beast which I found to be appropriate with the two boys and the tone of the film. Even in French, we can call kids ‘Fauve’ when they are pranksters. I wanted an almost aggressive and primitive sounding word.
Second, it is also a specific colour, which is close to a burnt orange. That colour ties together two strong symbols in the film. And finally, the art current ‘Fauvism’ where painters used to portray vivid countryside landscapes, brings us to the last scene of the film. That specific scene was pretty much inspired by Fauvism.
Q: You worked with two young actors – Félix Grenier and Alexandre Perreault – on the film. What were you looking for in casting and what they bring to the project?
A: AT first, we started to cast young actors in Montreal, but they were mostly too proper for what we were looking for. Like I said, growing up in the countryside, I wanted kids that are used to playing in the outdoors, with a “rough around the edges” kind of energy. We reached out to many schools around the area where we were shooting and auditioned 50 boys.
Felix and Alexandre had both a natural charisma and transparency that struck me. Their own personality and their suggestions on the project brought the script to another level and certainly to a more genuine one.
Q: As we saw in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, there is something that resonates deeply about a child’s perspective in the divisive age we live in. Was that part of the thinking for Fauve?
A: I love that film! I saw The Florida Project as I was finishing post production on Fauve and I was blown away. You are totally right. I guess there’s a great misconception about the way adults look at children. I tried to put myself back at that age, and I could feel the frustration I was experiencing when my opinions where not considered by adults because I was too young to them.
By exploring a child’s perspective in a genuine way, representing how the boys would really communicate together, even if it was crude at time, you can better sense their frustrations and how they repeat the actions of adults around them. Their behaviour reflects the teachings of their parents and we can imagine how these two boys will grow and can get stuck with trauma at a young age. In my opinion, in our current age, mental health becomes more accessible and understood but it all starts with childhood.
Q: The setting for the film is incredibly striking. Has was the shoot and what visual style were you looking to create with cinematographer Olivier Gossot?
A: OLIVIER is a very collaborative and amazing artist. We went on location together many times to discuss the whole look and tone of the film. It was important for me that the image felt dusty and gritty, almost like the lense itself was dirty. There is something about child films where they are often too clean and polished.
In the tone, It was all about trying to portray a genuine representation of a naive and cruel childhood, keeping the camera low to bring in the spectator like a child themselves. I wanted it to have a strong progression, where the visuals could feel light and free in the beginning with the help of handheld camera, and at a specific moment, the camera suddenly stabilized with longer shots, changing the mood completely. I also wanted a joyful summer vibe that would contrast with the tough story of the film, strengthening the childrens perspective of being free of responsibilities during summer vacation.
Q: I think children and a setting like this lend themselves to lyricism. Are the poetic images of film something you script/have planned in advance or are they something that comes naturally during shooting?
A: Everything we shot was mostly planned in advance because we had very a tight window of shooting. However, I did a lot of rehearsals with the boys before shooting and I let them free to explore. By observing the way they were interacting between each other and what they would naturally do on location, I rewrote the story with the boys. We mostly had a lot of fun and I could say I became a child in there for some moments. The locations were also key and we did a lot of scouting to choose some that could carry that strong feeling of nostalgia that I wanted in the film.
Q: Your stunning short film Paths spoke to your dedication to the human condition and exploring different cultures of the world. Why inspires and drives you as a filmmaker?
A: CERTAINLY, I feel Paths really opened my mind as a filmmaker. That was the first time, I felt so connected to my subjects and to the art of cinema. I’ve always been a curious person and I’ve been passionate about what defines someone and what is considered right or wrong. Exploring those different cultures taught me a lot about different perspectives and why all of them are valuable. That was the strongest demonstration to me that there’s no ultimate truth.
Q: What is next for you? Has the success of Fauve spurred you toward a feature?
A: EVEN before completing Fauve, I was starting to co-write my first feature with a Ghanaian filmmaker, Will Niava. We took a first trip together to Ghana where our story will partially happen. The success of Fauve certainly accelerated the process and motivated us even more. We took a second trip together there to get inspired. I can’t say too much about it at the moment since its still in developing stages, but it’s a coming of age story that parallels two groups of boys, one from Quebec (Canada) and the other from Ghana. I hope we’ll be able to complete a first draft very soon.
Photos by Daniela Andrade