QUENTIN ET ZUM
Clarisse Hahn took part in La Saison Vidéo in 2005, where she screened two of her films, Les Protestants, 2005 and Karima, 2003. Today she is also teaching at the ENSAD, the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. Since her arrival, students who are candidates for La Saison Vidéo have been using her teaching as a reference. It is striking to see the degree to which the issues raised by Clarisse Hahn’s films about communities, clans, gender, resistance and struggle inform the works of the students she has helped, while at the same time putting them on a path to their own worlds. This is without any doubt the condition of a successful form of teaching. So the film by Camille Holtz might be likened to Les Protestants, and Ombline Ley’s Cavernicole can be compared to Karima, while both define their own field. These are two end-of-course films. At the ENSAD, Camille Holtz and Ombline Ley eventually created the collective Nou Films and introduced it to us.
L’inutile, 2014, 32 mn
Production : ENSAD, Paris
Grendelbruch is a village on the edge of a forest where manual labour and physical strength are models of masculinity. Quentin, aged 19, is ill at ease when he comes into contact with this traditional environment, which does not suit him, and even oppresses him. He is a dreamer looking for another existence than the one proposed by the people around him. CH
Cavernicole, 2014, 29 mn 51
Production : ENSAD, Paris
The word cavernicolous—cave-dwelling—is used to describe species which are little known and only survive in subterranean environments. Through the portrait of a character called Zum, the film travels through three worlds apart, on the sidelines of normality. A stroll in the darkness which has no goal, except the quest for a certain form of freedom and individuality. OL
Mo Gourmelon: In the credits for the film L’inutile/Useless, all the protagonists have your family name, Holtz. How did you construct the screenplay of your film?
Camille Holtz: In L’inutile, I film certain members of my family and the village where I lived before I moved to Paris. Quentin is my young brother and his father is also my father. The character who drives a truck (Matthieu) and the character who hunts (Xavier) are my younger cousins.
To begin with, the film was meant to be the portrait of a childhood friend who hunts. The day when I was getting ready to film a beat, with my brother as assistant, the hunters played a lousy trick on us by leaving us in a raised hide for four hours. So it was impossible to film the hunt. I started filming my brother’s face, and his hands rubbing his feet frozen by having to wait, and then I filmed him walking awkwardly in the forest wearing my father’s raincoat which was too big for him. When I looked at the rushes, I realized that I wanted to film him, his fragility, his discreet resistance and his quest for freedom.
In order to show that Quentin is a young man who absorbs shocks, and who, as best he can, stands up to those who keep established rules in place, I added my two cousins who, in a way, represent the possible stand-ins for pragmatic grown-ups who are intentionally absent in the film. Fortunately, Matthieu and Xavier are sincere and touching, and I think that viewers are at liberty to identify with them, and enter their world as much as the world of my brother.
The boys knew that I wanted to make a film about the different ways you can become a man in a village. We discussed this by SMS and Matthieu and Xavier made me concrete proposals for presenting their interests in trucks and hunting.
In the scene where Matthieu drives a truck, it’s he who had the idea of training to make checks of safety rules, just like what is demanded of people on the day of their driving licence exam, and quite by chance our grandfather arrived to scold him. That was fine by me because I wanted people to realize that he was serious and that he had already assimilated the gestures of a truck driver who is conscientious about his work, even though he is only 15.
Xavier built the shelter where he takes photos of deer especially for the film. Then he told me about the large cabin he was in the middle of building in the forest. I followed him to it, not knowing that his cabin was so ambitious and that he was so at ease in nature.
For the scene with the gun, I borrowed a rifle from my uncle and asked Xavier to explain to the others how the weapon works. I thought that they would try to find some bullets to practice shooting, just like in my father’s stories where he told me that as a boy he fired straight at the wall of the cellar and at objects close to the workshop where the trucks are parked. My cousins and my brothers are better behaved. I didn’t manage to get them to do anything silly.
With the vehicle which the group pushes, I was very lucky. When my father and my brother wanted to move the Maserati to put it in the garage, my cousins arrived on their bikes to help them.
MG: So the cousin’s riposte: “We’re gypsies”, is completely spontaneous?
CH: The riposte: “We’re gypsies” is totally off-the-cuff. I didn’t write any dialogue in advance. I gave the boys suggestions about the actions I wanted them to carry out, then I let them talk the way they would normally talk. Knowing that I choose situations and places where I know in advance (because I know them well) what they are going to talk about. The scene with the Maserati is special because everything happened in a wonderful sequence, the gestures and the dialogue. I was lucky, and I was ready with my camera!
In the end, every scene is a mixture of my observations, my instructions, and what the people involved want to do and say. Because even if they belong to my family (or because they belong to my family) they argue.
MG: Unlike Camille, you do not film your nearest and dearest, but you film Zum, an unusual character whom we follow in his subterranean wanderings, but also in a very strong relationship with his mother, moments when we can empathize with him, even if we are not familiar with the surroundings in which he presents himself.
Ombline Ley: I met Zum on a walk in the old quarries of Paris. The way he looked and his way of being made me want to create a character out of him. I discovered his way of living: the darkness of his apartment, sometimes total when the power had been cut, his relationship with his family back in Martinique, his outfits matching the different circles he moves in: from the “Skinhead” T-shirt, to the latex skirt and thigh-high boots. I had already filmed scenes imagined on the basis of what he had told me about himself: the tattooing scene, nail varnish, the dyeing of the Mohawk cut of his hair, for which he waited for me, and the final scene of the bunch of flowers, which I thought of after tasting his rose-flavoured rum. Then I decided to film his worlds as they were, interfering much less with reality, and providing my own vision of them at the same time as I was discovering them and questioning them. I had to simplify my system during the shooting so that it would not be too intrusive, in the catacombs, for example, where I was alone with the people I was accompanying.
I am particularly interested in the realities of substitution represented by role-playing and changes of skin, of an almost carnival-like type, when the banker takes off his royal poodle costume, and the school teacher removes his wet thigh-high boots.
The project came about as the result of a certain fascination with this organized resistance against normality, this refusal of standard uniformization, which in the end always involves an identification with another group and its parallel world. Hermetic environments where the rules are different, in which you have to manage to make yourself accepted in order to be able to show your own existence. I see this film as a questioning process about the difficulty of finding your place in the world, through physical ritual and social behaviour.
MG: As far as this style is concerned, it just so happens that I find it very surprising that Zum, who allows himself plenty of freedoms where his appearance is concerned, comments on his mother’s rather staid carnival costume, and at the same time talks about nail varnish with her. You talk about scenes enacted and then lengthy immersions; how do you situate yourself during these Skype exchanges?
OL: There are several ways of interpreting this scene, and I really don’t know what Zum thought about his mother’s costume. But I found that she showed two different ways of looking at dressing up, on the one hand as a reflection of personality and belonging to a certain group, and, on the other, simply a sudden and fleeting change of skin, like those that you see in a carnival, safety valve of society.
MG: Both your films were made in your last year at the Advanced National School of Decorative Arts. They are both markedly imbued with a documentary style, even if you point out that certain scenes were staged. Were you influenced by the way you were taught?
CH: For the video teaching and writing the dissertation, we were both supervised by Clarisse Hahn, she helped us to construct our films in the early stages, and structure them, and above all edit the rushes. I think I would have been attracted to documentary filmmaking whatever the influence of my teachers, because my own imagination seems to me to be less rich and subtle than that of the people in the places and plots which exist, and whom I can observe around me.
OL: Our two films include scenes shot like fiction, because this is another way of talking about reality, through the memories and ideas that we make for ourselves about it. So at times we often stray away from reality, and then suddenly realize her right we were, once the film has been finished. So having had Clarisse Hahn as my teacher, I had to keep up with an influence in my relationship to documentary film.
MG: Both films are the product of the Nou Films Collective: can you tell us about it?
CH: The Nou Collective is a group of artists, photographers and filmmakers. It was created by four former ENSAD students with shared interests: Caroline Capelle, Camille Holtz, Anaïs Bachmann and Ombline Ley, who are working together on the development of new forms of film styles.
Each film made by the collective fuels research about a certain vision of reality. They are often shot with a small crew, and are the reflection of a questioning about the individual and an understanding of what defines him in the present-day world, whether it be a group of teenagers from Alsace, a young grown up finding his way between different underground circles, a teenager spending a weekend with his father, or a forlorn Heavy Metal fan…
Today, the Collective includes new artists: Sébastien Pons (composer and musician), Stanislas Cadéo (director and cameraman), and Juliette Angotti (photographer and video-maker), and organizes shared screenings of their different films, as well as exhibitions of their works.