Interview with Justine Treit Continued from Page 1
Q: In terms of mirror images, the presence of the children is striking. What role do they play in the story?
A: The children are very important, but they are sort of hidden characters in the film. The child in psychanalysis, Daniel, is a strange presence, not necessary to the story, but always there when Sibyl remembers her past love. Daniel is like a ghost of the child she made with Gabriel. In the beginning, when Daniel and Sibyl are playing Monopoly, he tells her “you’re going to lose.” This is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When I wrote the script, I was told there were too many characters, that I wasn’t making a series, that Daniel wasn’t necessary. I felt, on the contrary, that he reflected a key element of the main story. To me, he is covertly a very important character. As for Sibyl’s daughters, initially they’re in the background, but gradually Selma comes into focus and we understand that she is the secret core of Sibyl’s life.
She inherits it all, without knowing it. She is both a trace and a prolongation. The film needed to end on her. She speaks her own mind and truly sees her mother for the first time, hence beginning to exist just when Sibyl has decided to pretend her life is fiction and that the people around her are characters. The child unknowingly comes along and contradicts her mother.
Q: After a very urban first part (as in your first two films), SIBYL heads for the light and the wide open spaces of Stromboli. Why this place, so loaded with symbolism and cinema?
A: The island’s history has been transformed by cinema. Shooting there was somewhat of a mystical experience, and beyond the reference, the volcano evokes all the emotional and sexual metaphors. Though SIBYL is in no way a rereading of Rossellini’s legendary film, we had fun filming a German director imagining herself shooting a love story on Stromboli. The idea was to use the location to make the film erupt. It was the first time I’d ever shot in a natural landscape and I loved it! (I have one thing in common with Sibyl, I spend more time in fiction than in reality, and filming elements like the sea, the wind and the sun was a new challenge.) Stromboli provides such a contrast to the Parisian apartments that it seems almost unreal. Sibyl calls her sister from the island and tells her she feels she’s no longer in any reality, which is ironic, because this is where she is the most proactive, where she really dives into life.
Q: The film is bursting with characters, stories inside stories… How do you kick off such complexity? Did you and Arthur Harari set challenges for yourselves when writing the script? Or were you seeking to expand upon the vein of VICTORIA? VICTORIA was fairly complex in terms of interconnecting stories, but it was quite down-to-earth, whereas here there’s a more cerebral dimension: we’re in Sibyl’s head.
A: Challenges have nothing to do with it. We explore a lead, and for this film, that immediately implied complexity and overlap, because there are multiple levels of reality: the present, Margot’s story, Sibyl’s past, the writing of the novel. It was complicated to organize because I don’t do much theorizing. I need a kind of chaotic accumulation that I then make sense of, taking things out, clarifying. That continued in the editing, where we had to once again ask questions, break it all down and reorganize it. At that point, the editor Laurent Sénéchal and I had to decide how all these elements might add up to a particular tone: straight-up comedy, drama, or a mix. I realized that we shouldn’t systematically aim for comic efficiency, that it wouldn’t work with this film. It’s a drama, or maybe a dramedy. A film like James L. Brooks’ TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is a great example of that. Genre goes out the window, it’s a hybrid.
Q. How did you approach the love scenes, which are relatively explicit?
A: It was new for me and I tried to film them like action scenes. I asked myself, should I approach it with a fear of lowering the camera, or should I see it as a mechanical thing? We directed these scenes with mechanical precision, especially since Virginie had no desire to improvise. She asked me to tell her exactly what I wanted her to do. It was pretty comical. I spoke to them as if teaching them to ride a bike or rebuild an engine. It was concrete.
Q: This is your second film with Virginie Efira. VICTORIA was a career milestone for her, and it seems like you two are starting to form a cinematic bond.
A: With this film, I felt I was discovering new faces of Virginie. She understands everything I’m looking for, we worked quickly. The ice was broken, I could ask her anything and she trusted me. She abandoned herself completely. And she doesn’t limit herself to the primary logic of the script. She’s prepared to explore all facets of her character down to the illogical contradictions. I took an almost physical pleasure in filming her, molding her like clay. I wanted to rough her up, but in a good way: see her cry, fall apart, stumble and get up.
Q: Did you choose Adèle Exarchopoulos based on her work in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR?
A: Not at all! Though I loved her in that film, I wasn’t thinking of her when I wrote the script, I had an older actress in mind. She came to the project later on. She auditioned and was amazing. Adèle has an incredible power, a rare grace. You look at her. The role is tricky because it could be played just technically (fall apart, cry, panic, etc.). But Adèle never relies on technique, she actually puts herself in the emotional state the scene requires, and that’s how she becomes the character.
Q: Did you get the idea to cast Sandra Hüller after seeing TONI ERDMANN?
A: Of course! But I actually met her 10 years ago at a festival, and she really struck me before I’d even seen her work. She has a rare intelligence, and she’s also a theater actress in Germany. To say she works a lot is an understatement! You feel she can do absolutely anything, and every time it’s incredibly fleshed out and original. She brings a lot of burlesque, but always mixed with seriousness. She really impresses me.
Q: The ending is beautiful, highly ambiguous and very open, at once happy and unhappy… As Sibyl gazes at her daughter, we think of Truffaut’s words in another context, “Looking at you brings both joy and pain.” Joy at seeing her daughter, pain because she is reminded of Gabriel.
A: Yes, that’s right. The end of the film is impure. We can read in liberation or appeasement, but the wound has not healed. Sibyl doesn’t show her daughter her tears, and we feel the child is a bit lost, wondering not only where she comes from but also who her mother really is. We don’t know who she is either. Her life is brimming with lies. But they are not malevolent, they are arrangements with reality, loving lies. To keep love in her life, she lies.
Interview With Justin Treit – Courtesy of Cannes Press.
Sibyl premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 24th May 2019.
MK2 films own worldwide distribution rights.