Anne Sirot and Raphaël Balboni (selected at Cinema Jove 2019 with the short Avec Thelma) make their debut in feature film with a bittersweet story with spread agile dialogues and touches of humor. Madly in Life reflects the difficulties of family life when one of its members falls sick. A situation that the filmmakers couple uses to portray personal stability, the search for happiness and how to deal with life setbacks.
HOW WOULD YOU PRESENT MADLY IN LIFE, YOUR FIRST FEATURE FILM?
This film is an opportunity for us to reflect on sickness, on the way we treat this aspect of life in our daily routines and, in a more general way, in society. There is this saying: “The most important thing is not what happens, but what we do with what happens.” Madly in Life follows Alex as he evolves from the moment, he confronts the painful news that his Mom has been diagnosed with a fatal neurodegenerative disease. At the beginning, he’s cornered all the time, he gets snowed under by the difficulty of the task. Finally, he ends up changing his approach and decides to embrace his mother’s condition as part of the adventure of life and let joy return to center stage.
WHAT TRIGGERED THE FILM?
The desire, coming from real life experience, to pass along the rich and joyful journey that the care of a sick person can be – beyond sadness and fatigue – in our lives and in our reflection on life. When you finally manage, after a few falls, to sit on the saddle, instead of being dragged in the mud by the running horse, the boot still stuck in the stirrup, a feeling of exaltation builds up, a real intensity, and you can even feel privileged to have been given this experience to live through.
JO DESEURE IS VERY MOVING IN THE ROLE OF SUZANNE. HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR “STAR”?
The first time we saw Jo on screen was in Emmanuel Marre’s short film Le Petit Chevalier, in which she plays a judge. Her altogether sincere and distant way of acting made an impression on us. Then, we met Jo to try out some scenes and decided she would be Suzanne very quickly. Jo arrived on the project with a pure wish to work, and absolutely no prejudice. We spent some time building her character around the strength and the will Jo already shares with Suzanne from the start.
HOW DID YOU WORK WITH THE ACTORS TO GET THIS CONSTANT TRUTHFULNESS AND LIVELISNESS?
First of all, we worked with great actors. Jo, Jean, Lucie and Gilles have been very generous with the project. We are very grateful for that. They were asked to participate very early on. We had small rehearsal sessions in the course of the writing process, so the script really fits the way the actors spontaneously appear and behave. The writing of the script is tailored for them.The four actors have also created an atmosphere among themselves of mutual attention, and have been very good listeners for each other in spite of the eventually tough rhythm of the shooting. It’s really something big to share the electricity of the set, it’s a very intense experience, in the intimacy of the project, something special to live through together.
IT’S A DARK TOPIC, BUT THE COMICAL SITUATIONS BRING REAL FANTASY TO THE STORY AND TURN MADLY IN LIFE INTO A TOUCHING FILM THAT MIXES MOMENTS OF JOY AND MOMENTS OF SADNESS, LIKE IN REAL LIFE…
Suzanne’s disease, which makes her lose all sense of inhibition, allows her to do crazy stuff that even the drunkest of our friends wouldn’t dare embark on at the end of a party at 5am. If we take a few steps back, everything Suzanne allows herself to do makes us consider how much we restrain ourselves, how much is forbidden. Suzanne is a constant reminder that the social framework we live in inhibits us constantly. Suzanne is in a kind of permanent and involuntary transgression, which is light and joyful, with absolutely no desire to provoke. What she is, naturally overflows all the time.
WE KNOW OF THE ORIGINAL AND BURLESQUE WORLD OF YOUR FILMS, WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The works of many artists : Kontakthof by Pina Bausch, May B by Maguy Marin, Crowd by Gisèle Vienne, Songs of the Second Floor by Roy Andersson, Infidèles by TG Stan, Martin Parr’s beaches, Bovary by Tiago Rodrigues, Germinal by Halory Goerger et Antoine Defoort, La Maison des Bois by Maurice Pialat, the scene of the party in La Grande Bellezza by Paolo Sorrentino, Marcel and Albertine, La Sorcière et le Grand Inquisiteur by the Rita Mitsouko, the Brazilian choreographers Malene Monteiro Freitas, Alice Ripoll and Lia Rodrigues, Dalva by Jim Harrisson, Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July, The Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella by Joël Pommerat, Press Here by Hervé Tullet, The Countertenors Alfred Deller and Klaus Nomi, and many others.
WE FEEL IN ALEX’S CHARACTER REAL HARDSHIP TO ACCEPT HIS MOTHER’S MORE DARING PERSONALITY, THREATENING THE BALANCE OF HIS RELATIONSHIP AND HIS OWN LIFE…
Yes, it’s the nerve of the story. Alex’s first reaction when he faces his mother’s condition is to carry it all, sacrificing everything, his own family project, his happiness. Everything becomes heavy, everything turns into an obstacle. He’s heading towards a dead end. To take care of his mother, he dries up the fun of existence, cuts the air out of it. But what Suzanne needs is precisely the opposite. She needs people to be lively around her. And as matter of fact, everybody needs that. Noémie is getting bored in this daily life that is turning into a waiting room for death. Alex is choking in the silence he has ended up generating around him. In the end, in Madly in Life, taking care of Suzanne doesn’t mean forgetting about oneself, quite the opposite.
IT’S THE THIRD TIME YOU ARE WORKING WITH JEAN LE PELTIER (ALEX), WAS HE AN OBVIOUS CHOICE FOR ALEX?
From the beginning, we knew that Jean Le Peltier – with whom we’ve shot two short films before, Lucha Libre and With Thelma, would be Alex. But we didn’t know at the time if Alex would be the son or the son-in-law of Suzanne. We finally decided to give him the part of the character who is confronted the most directly with Suzanne’s illness and to give the complex part of the companion, participant as well as witness of the situation, to Lucie Debay.
NOÉMIE’S CHARACTER, FEATURED BY LUCIE DEBAY, BECOMES GRADUALLY VERY CENTRAL SINCE SHE BRINGS ALEX TO CHANGE PERSPECTIVES…
Noémie is central because she carries the film’s point of view. It’s through her relationship with Alex that we understand the slippery slope that this panicked son is taking as he faces his mother’s transformation. Noémie gives us a special angle to look upon the situation. Lucie Debay maneuvered this acting performance, which is psychological and analytical, with skill, while giving us good insight into the joys and frustrations of Noémie’s position.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA OF TRANSLATING SUZANNE’S CRAZINESS INTO THIS FLOWERY PATTERN?
We were looking for a way to picture the way Suzanne’s condition creeps up on their intimacy. We decided to use, as a starting point, the sheets Suzanne buys for them on top of the expensive mattress, while she – as we later understand – is completely broke. The pattern of the sheets gradually starts eating up the props – clothes, objects – of their bedroom. When Alex finally turns around, he copes with the situation in a completely different way, he accepts Suzanne as she now is, and makes the experience his own. The pattern then gets out of the room, on the clothes that Alex is wearing outside. It’s the costume designer of the film, Frédérick Denis, who came up with this dark but colorful pattern, with all its vegetation and small animals, which evokes something both obscure and luxuriant, mysterious and abundant.
THERE IS A JUICY SCENE IN WHICH ALEX AND NOÉMIE INTERVIEW HOUSE HELPERS. THEY FINALLY HIRE KEVIN, PLAYED BY GILLES REMICHE…
We had already worked with Gilles in our short film With Thelma. When we were writing Kevin’s character, he already existed a little, he was Thelma’s babysitter. The part in this film was more challenging. We spent time with Gilles in search of this very balanced character who always interacts with Suzanne in a simple and respectful way. Gilles also did some research. He spent some time with professionals to get the hang of Kevin’s practice.
YOUR FILM COMES FROM A LOW-BUDGET PROGRAM LAUNCHED BY THE BELGIAN FILM CENTER. HOW DID THIS TYPE OF PRODUCTION INFLUENCE YOUR WAY OF DIRECTING?
This low-cost program allowed us to work on our first feature the same way we worked on our short films, by starting the rehearsal process with the actors very early on, because this system guarantees the shooting of the film. Liberated from the uncertainties of the mainstream production system : long-term fund raising, eventual coproductions, “bankable” cast, we had the possibility of immediately establishing the pillars of the project, two sets, four actors, and to start the making of the true stuff of the film immediately.
WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COMPLIMENT THAT COULD BE MADE TO YOU AFTER WATCHING MADLY IN LIFE ?
Hervé Le Phuez, programmer of the FIFF festival, said that “watching the film makes you feel like enjoying life and taking care of others”. Maybe we’ve already heard the most beautiful compliment about Madly in Life.