MEETING WITH KEVIN VOINET
THURSDAY 3Oth MARCH 2017 AT 2 PM. ESAAT
(ÉCOLE SUPÉRIEURE DES ARTS APPLIQUÉS ET DU TEXTILE)
539 AVENUE DES NATIONS UNIES – 59100 ROUBAIX
Kevin Voinet’s David film screening is linked to the online programme LA MORT VOUS VA SI BIEN (DEATH SUITS YOU SO WELL) with this film and two other realized by Akiko Okumura and Tamar Hirschfeld.
David, 2014, 27 mn
Production Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains
Kevin is trying to find out who David was. He never knew him. He knows practically nothing about him, but they have the same father. Tacking between fiction and documentary, the film explores several lines of thinking, from reality to fantasy, and from identity to absence. KV
Mo Gourmelon: The trivialization of divorces has created new bonds between children regrouped in their so-called recomposed families, not knowing each other and warding off the temporary prospect of these new unions. The half-brother, the half-sister and “nothing”, that is with no direct liaison, are the new partners to be taken into consideration. How did this project come about, involving the filmic revelation of the character David, who has the name of the stranger?
Kevin Voinet: The first name David lies at the root, the only thing I have. So a first name, and nothing else. A bit like a country which you know nothing about. All you can do is invent stories. Whence the film’s title. That was a point of departure and perhaps also, secretly, a point of arrival I was dreaming of. It involved a family story, not all that secret, more like a fact announced then forgotten. We only talked about very little. I was 26 at the moment of making the film, the age at which David died. I started by asking myself what his life was like when he was 26. Images came to me. A desire for fiction. I think the project came into being at that particular moment.
MG: So your film was made when you were 26, the same age that David died accidentally. At what moment in your own life did you become aware of the existence of a half-brother who was no part of your life. Did you have traces? Did that absence become a creative motif?
KV: We’re both 26, but at different periods. There’s a moment in the film when I say to my father that, despite that, I have the feeling of being the youngest. What’s strange today is telling myself that I’m growing older and he isn’t any more. I think there are different ways of becoming aware of someone’s existence, and that it also has to do with time. One day, coming home from school, I asked my parents what a half-brother and a half-sister were. I found the term odd. I didn’t think I’d learn so much!
I must have been about nine. That same day I also learnt that my father had been married a first time before meeting my mother. As for David’s mother, she was a youthful love, she ended up pregnant, my father was 19. He wasn’t ready to assume that responsibility. When you’re a child, you accept things more easily, it’s less serious. Above all I wanted to know his name, his age, where he lived, and if it was possible to see him. It was. Sadly, our meeting never happened. There’s never been any question of a recomposed family as far as we’re concerned. My brother and I grew up with two parents, without thinking that a half-brother existed somewhere. What is tragic and absurd is learning about the existence of someone, and then his death, without even having been able to meet him. If the truth be told, that’s not altogether right. The meeting did take place. David was there in the hospital the day I was born, and he came to see my father several times when my brother and I were small. Except we weren’t aware of it. That was before we moved to the south, we didn’t know yet.
MG: No trace of David, nor any references to his existence were made in your family history?
KV: My father had a framed photo of David in the living room. But without talking about it. An absence that I don’t necessarily see as a creative motif, even though it gave rise to a film. Once grown-up, there are things you want to retrieve. You don’t ask the same questions. You want to know. You want to listen as well. I first brought up the idea of producing a project around this story to my father. It was a way of triggering the conversation and seeing how he would react. I was hoping for some anecdotes which would help me to know more about him and about David, so that I could get some idea about the facts and the way they took place. He agreed quite fast. It’s disturbing not to know what to expect. You can be disappointed. The dialogue can be sterile or touchy. We both had a certain distance. For him, years had passed. For me, David was a complete stranger. I didn’t imagine for one moment that my father’s words would appear in the film. There was a movement, which started from a desire for fiction and then headed towards a desire for testimony. In the end, it’s through what my father said that I let a possible thumbnail sketch of David emerge. It is also a matter of memory, perforce subjective and at times random. I think that at one moment I wanted to hang on to those words, and also give them their significance, by considering that look at paternity. Even if now, when I think about David again, it is this film which comes into my mind first. The conditions it was made in, with its share of imperfections and frustrations, which I would change today in its form and in the writing. For me it’s the biggest irony. In a way, the project has erased David. I sometimes have the impression that he’s a fictional character whom I have invented from scratch. As if he had never existed. I forget what I felt before the film, when I said to myself spontaneously that my father had a son, and that he was also my brother.
MG: The film starts with your performance, playing your half-brother, a character role if ever there was, combining a filmed testimony from your father and family archives of your little brother and you, children, and in the pure tradition of family films. How did you balance the mix? How do you look at the film nowadays?
KV: To start with, I thought of working with an actor and making a fiction that would present the last day of David’s life. In the end of the day, the project went through a lot of stages, from the writing to the editing. Beside the fact of knowing who would play that role, the research dimension quickly became very interesting. Not knowing what he looked like, I said to myself that it would be more suitable to have on the screen someone who tries to appropriate the character, by thinking about what he might say and do, and trying out several things. It seemed to me more relevant to transcribe that absence by giving it substance, rather than drawing up a hypothetical portrait. It was at that moment that the decision to act in my film made sense. The balance was achieved in the editing. Starting out from an attempt at acting in order to arrive at the embodiment of the character would have been too linear, in my view. I was looking for tos and fros. A story that would be both a fiction and a documentary. This is why the film passes through several styles of imagery. The images presenting David have a more filmic treatment. They conjure up something which has to do with projection, fantasy, and a daydream about that unknown brother. Needless to say, there is a desire to make him come back to life for a moment, but keeping him at a distance, in a certain blur. It was important that those shots could exist for themselves, while linking up with the rest, but without illustrating my father’s words. For me, the conversation with my father is the most documentary part. The only go-between between David and me. It brought another viewpoint, and another time-frame, too, more rooted in the present. As for the fact of having filmed it, I think that that came from a desire to record what was going on in his face, his silences, and his way of being. And also because his place in that story is as, if not more, legitimate than mine. The use of family archives came last. They linked the fictional part to the documentary part. I didn’t want to use them as such, degree zero-like. They have a more ambiguous status. For a good part of the film you are tempted to believe that those archives are, or might be, those of David’s childhood. As my father says later on, David has never been filmed and he only has two or three photos of him. It was a way of creating a past for him, creating fiction, and having a face to face encounter between our family on the one side, and him on the other. The way the sound is treated goes in the same direction, with a lot of coming and going, off-screen, and out of sync. Some of my father’s words are interrupted, or relayed by my own. There is a scene in a car where the characters on the screen give the impression of doing a playback of our discussion in voiceover, which produces an amusing lapse. I like family films. There’s a subject that is as intimate as it is universal. There’s always something to say about the family, about that complex cell, about the relations between its different members. Many of my favourite films are family stories: Incendies, by Denis Villeneuve; Everything About My Mother; and Volver, by Almodovar, Little Miss Sunshine, by Jonathan Dayton; Festen, by Thomas Vinterberg; Fish Tank, by Andrea Arnold; La graine et le mulet/The Secret of the Grain, by Kechiche; The Return, by Andreï Zvyagintsev; Stories We Tell, by Sarah Polley… They all have a different approach, and this is the richness of film, too. For my part, I’m still satisfied with that first film, and the proposition that I made. But I certainly wouldn’t make it again today in the same way. I would probably be more radical and less talkative, by separating myself from autobiographical elements, even at the price of being less faithful.
MG: You have an undeniable talent as an actor, and in particular in Ce film est un vrai film, 2012 which is a succession of remakes in playback. You assume the image of famous actors and singers, not to say idols. Is David your first character role for which you had no illustrative sources, and which you couldn’t let anybody else play?
KV: I like acting. I already used playback in my first video, and at the School of Fine Arts I continued to direct myself in experimental videos. A body ventriloquized by someone else’s voice is fascinating for someone like me, who is interested in the issue of identity and otherness. And then the remake is a very interesting form. But I must admit that for that film, the work was different. Because there was no referent, on the one hand, and because my work had never been autobiographical beforehand. There’s more modesty in showing yourself for what you are. It’s obviously more complicated to present yourself in a family story than to wiggle your hips to Prince, at least as far as I’m concerned. More seriously, I think that I could very easily have given the part to someone else. As I said, at the outset I imagined a film which would be played by actors. I didn’t see myself in it. I was afraid of putting myself once again in front of the camera. Precisely because I thought that it was the moment to keep my distance from such a personal subject. And then, in all honesty, I was afraid, above all, of being seen as an imposter, using that story as a pretext for directing it. Bernard Faucon, who was a guest artist at Le Fresnoy and who was involved in the project, found, on the contrary, that it was more legitimate than ever that it should be me playing in that film. For him it was inevitable. David had died at the age of 26, I was the same age, the film was woven around the figure of the father and pushed me to question myself about my relation to the double and to disguise. I think that it was a kind of obligatory passage for me, and it’s an experience which has given me a lot. I possibly didn’t manage to express that story in the most relevant way, but I’m happy to have tried to, and to have acknowledged my brother through that film.
MG: I really like the scene at the beginning of David, the telephone kiosk which marks an era and the character standing at the roadside while the car drives on and disappears, like an effective separation.
KV: It’s funny that you should mention the film’s first and last scenes. Incidentally, I think it’s a matter of separation in both the sequences. The telephone kiosk does in fact mark an era, it places the character in a bygone context. My father told me that they called each other by telephone several times. I told myself that the film might open with that sequence. With a long-distance communication, each one isolated in their respective lives, but connected in spite of everything. With the faint hope of a possible meeting. It closes on a more metaphorical separation. We see the character driving and then closing his eyes. The moment when he closes his eyes refers to David’s death. In the following shot, we find him at the roadside while the car drives on without him. For me it’s a split scene. In the first part, there’s my half-brother, in the second part, it’s me who leaves him and lets him go. But I also leave the scene open to interpretation. It might be me at the wheel continuing on my way, and David at the roadside, for whom life stops here.
MG: The original music is by I apologize with lyrics sung by Jean-Luc Verna. Why did you make that choice, and how was that collaboration?
KV: I discovered Jean-Luc Verna through his work as a performer in Brice Dellsperger’s Body Double films, which are remakes of cult films in which he plays all the characters, dressed up. It’s a work which I appreciate a lot and which closely echoes my own activities. I didn’t know that he sang in a group, a girlfriend helped me discover their music. I stumbled on a remake of Trust in Me which they recorded a few years ago. A soaring and hypnotic piece, it spoke to me right away. And then they have a sound which is rather 1990s and which David might very well have listened to on the radio at that time, which I found interesting. I contacted Jean-Luc Verna on Facebook with a bit of bluff, because I didn’t know him. I sent him the link to my video, « ce film est un vrai film », talking to him about my new project about my half-brother, asking him if it would be possible to use that title for the film. He agreed. Because it was a remake, in the end we preferred not to use the piece for royalty reasons. So I then came back to him asking him if he had any original compositions. Jean-Luc sent me a live recording of the title Cunt Hunt, asking me if I liked it. It immediately spoke to me. Because they didn’t have any studio recording of the title, I suggested they come and record it at the Le Fresnoy studio and in exchange to let me have free use of it. They agreed. On the day of the recording, they offered me a more tribal version of Cunt Hunt, with no guitar, which was perfect for the film. Since the studio was booked for the day, they had planned to record six titles, and they offered me the choice of four for my film. It was an exchange of sound procedures more than a collaboration, but it was very generous of them and I still have a very good memory of that meeting.
MG: You have a project together with Pascal Lièvre… What’s the state of play with that?
KV: Pascal and I both share a love of playback. It’s by having had several exchanges about our respective work that the idea of collaborating germinated. He works in particular with philosophical writings which he hijacks and expresses in the form of performances. He told me that he didn’t feel up to directing himself in his videos, a choice which was made by default, having rarely found anyone who shared that rigour of the playback, with him. So he suggested that I make a playback on Le Corps utopique/The Utopian Body, a radio lecture given by Michel Foucault in 1966. Since 2012, that sound archive has been published on YouTube in its complete version, with a video showing two pictures of the philosopher. The project consists in replacing photos of the philosopher with me giving the lecture in playback. We wanted to make it in several sequence shots, which would span the whole of a day, from waking up to going to bed. This would clearly suggest another reading of the utopian body, with a dash of wit. Once made, we wanted to put the archive back on the Internet platform, but also present it as an autonomous video. A performance might be planned at a second stage, the performance of a lecture which I would give live with Michel Foucault’s voice. For the time being, we have an initial video which we are quite satisfied with. But needless to say, it will be something that will be planned and written as the videos progress. We are both pretty busy right now, but the project is still on the front burner. So, to be continued!