Hearth (French title, Foyer) is an unsettling and cleverly crafted short film about a woman who is left to ponder what happened in her apartment after renting it out to a mysterious couple.
To learn more about this award-winning short film, Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to the film’s writer-director Sophie B. Jacques.
Q: I had my doubts about Airbnb and other renting apps, but I think ‘Hearth’ (Foyer) might have scared me off them forever! Did you get the idea for this film from a renting experience?
A: Yes and no!
A few years ago, I used to rent my apartment on Airbnb quite often, and one day, I accepted this one couple. The more I was looking at their picture, the more I was starting to regret having them stay at my place. So to cheer myself up, I thought to myself: what’s the worst thing that could happen? Well…that’s what Hearth is all about.
Q: As well as a renting app, the film also features rather sinister use of a dating app. Are you suspicious of technology or are these just fun modern devices for a filmmaker to play with?
A: I use Airbnb almost every time I travel and I am having fun using dating apps from time to time… I think those are both amazing tools to share and create encounters that would not happen otherwise.
Hearth (Foyer) is meant more to entertain by using dark humour than to criticise these apps. But clearly, any invention has both good and bad sides, it all depends on how we use them.
Q: In a strange sense, your film reminds me of David Lowery’s ‘A Ghost Story’ in the way it explores time and the history of a physical space. Whas that something you wanted to explore in ‘Hearth’?
A: I love how cinema enables me to tamper with time because I have not (yet) found how to do it in real life, haha.
In any specific place, time is the only thing that separates us from what has already happened there. I find it interesting to evoke the feeling of a memory or imagination in a tangible way, by staging characters in a place where several times can mix.
Q: Yourself, cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier and editor Richard Comeau do an incredible job of visually exploiting this. Can you talk about your approach to the visuals?
A: The way the script was constructed involved complex choreography with the camera.
Jean-Philippe and I talked a lot about each scene and each shot to choose the appropriate movement to convey the proper emotion to the viewer. We talked about the rhythm we wanted to create, almost as if it was a song. I also met with Richard at the scenario stage to discuss the best way to shoot complex scenes while facilitating as much as possible for the editing stage.
The dual temporality is so central to the story that it was essential to make transitions credible. It was concluded that we had to shoot everything physically without involving visual effects in order to get the right impact.
For example in the bedroom scene, right after we see Emilie (the landlord), the camera turns and the actors playing the couple had to rush on the bed and appear to be laying there calmly in a setting with the curtains suddenly closed, just before the camera ends turning while facing the mirror aimed at the couple. It has given rise to complex choreographies, but it was so much fun.
Q: The film’s cast includes ‘Marguerite’ director Marianne Farley. What was she like to work with?
A: It was so rewarding! Given her experience as a director and screenwriter, she sought to understand the story and the character in-depth. It gave rise to thoughtful and humane discussions. She is sweet and understands the whole filmmaking process so well that it was easy to communicate and work together.
Q: This film is a dark and suspenseful experience that gave me a creeping sense of dread. What do you feel it says about you and your vision as filmmaker?
A: I always liked to tell and hear about scary tales around a campfire, it’s a fascinating feeling to me. Why do we like to be scared exactly? I think that fear can be a powerful driver when you learn how to use it. I sometimes think to myself: If I’m afraid of this, that means I should do it.
Q: Can you talk about working with Ô Films? What type of content they are putting out?
A: Sophie Ricard-Harvey and Charlotte Beaudoin-Poisson have complementary strengths that make their relationships with collaborators even more fruitful.
We are friends, but they are both very critical and demanding. They always seek to make the most of a project and have pushed me to surpass myself at every step in the filmmaking process. I have an unwavering trust in their ability and professionalism that allows me to commit to the project with complete confidence.
They develop short and feature films with filmmakers who have an original and sentimental vision.
Q: What are your hopes and plans for the future?
A: I’m working on a new short film based on my high school experience during which I only studied with girls. By choosing a girls’ school, I thought that there would be no arguments or altercations since girls are sweet and kind… well, not exactly!
I am also in the writing process of a feature film that I would describe as a horror tale inspired by childhood cinematographic references.