Fabrice Aragno sits at a desk in his studio in Lausanne, Switzerland, and looks at images of a lake in which water and sky meet in dramatic fashion.
The filmmaker and frequent collaborator of Jean-Luc Godard is preparing simultaneously to pitch his first feature film, aptly titled “The Lake”, at the Atelier de la Cinéfondation this week, while carrying out secret tests for the last two films of Godard.
“I have to paste these images on scripts,” he said, browsing the photos, adding that packing his bags and his tuxedo for Cannes will probably be a last minute affair.
Aragno knows that “The Lake”, a film he describes as a “cinematic spectacle” with very little dialogue or plot, could potentially be hard to sell elsewhere. However, when he arrives at the Cannes Film Festival, his plan is simply to “share my feelings” about the film, to share his “flame”.
Variety caught up with Aragno ahead of L’Atelier, which features 15 promising and forward-looking projects from 15 countries and runs July 8-13, to discuss his plans for “The Lake” and to tease Godard’s “final gesture”.
You have been working in the cinema for more than twenty years, why did you choose this project as your first feature film?
It’s not my first step in the cinema, it’s already a long walk through the forest. I don’t work on the main road, I took a small path, away from the highway. Everyone does it by working with Jean-Luc Godard. I have worked alone with short films, but this project is unusual because it is a feature film, it is not a documentary. It’s in between. The story is quite simple. This is a couple who want to feel again. Everyone is quite far away, the world is like that. You no longer know the truth, everything is behind the glass, the screen glass. These two people need to jump into the real, into the truth. The film expresses this, moving from fiction to reality, to humans, to animals, to bodies, to impressions. History is not the main thing, it is above all a question of expressing all that cinema can do in image and sound. I use everything I discovered with Godard, playing with the freedom of image and sound. It will be a real cinematic spectacle.
What made you want to focus less on character and more on nature?
Initially it was a film painting, a montage made for a museum exhibition near Lausanne. These were painters who paint lakes, Turner, Courbet, Swiss artists and Godard’s films on the lakes. But they still do it from the shore, from the border. I wanted to enter the picture, not see it from a distance. My characters will find out what it’s like to go within the variation of light, the variation in temperature, from the colors of monochromatic at night to full colors and daylight. They will be inside the painting, inside the feelings, it’s like a return to the origin of animal beings. This is not a documentary on the lake, the lake is a symbol. It is the idea of a lake as an enclosed space that you cannot escape from, like you cannot escape from your own life. Your schedule is set, you have a beginning and an end. A lake also has this, but the only way to stop time is in the middle. Above or deep below water. There, there can be infinity in your feelings. The lake is a symbol of human life and time.
Do you feel the need for a similar reset yourself?
Yes, I don’t believe in objectivity in cinema. Each subjectivity is different, but I need to feel alive. I don’t feel alive talking with people or in my daily social life. I felt alive the other day for example, when I woke up at four in the morning and went out on my balcony and there was a bird, then two and then three, and I was alone with the birds. I felt I was alive, just a moment. Maybe we need this today, to be in the truth, to be here and now, to forget the past and the future. I made my first short film 20 years ago, my film school thesis. It was also the story of a woman heading home with her husband and they stop at the border and she doesn’t want to go to the bathroom because it’s too small and too dark. They just want to run and pee outside, have a connection with nature. They wanted to be like a crow or like a bird. For me, it’s a strong feeling.
How do you think your pitch will go at L’Atelier?
It’s not the first time that I’ll be in Cannes, but it’s not a simple, classic film that can be said to have the following story. It’s not a classic storyline with suspense at the end, where eventually the woman says she loves the man. It’s not that kind of movie. But Cannes is a festival of cinematographic language. So I’m not here to earn a big commission, like say with TV. I’m just going to share my interests in making this movie, having this experience.
Based on your previous work, I’m sure they don’t expect a plot-based pitch.
What will they say? Fabrice, do you have a plot? Like on TV ? There are already many films that make history very well, in French and American cinema. I won’t suggest anything else, because originally cinema was more expression than narration. You can watch Soviet cinema, non-speaking cinema. It was about the scarcity of images. We have so many words right now, with news, with these cell phones, it’s just words, words, words, words, the big story, the middle story, the little story. But the characters just want to be pure. But I speak too much, too many words.
Have you started working on Jean-Luc’s latest films?
Yes, I saw Jean-Luc yesterday. We have two films to make, one of them will be 35mm, 16mm and Super Eight. The idea is to shoot in 35mm black and white, and in Super-8 and 16 in color.
What is behind the decision to use three different formats?
Jean-Luc told me that he wanted to go back to his origin. He said you knew that Chris Marker movie “La Jetée? Maybe we can do something like this. If you do it in 35mm it’ll be sped up, fast forward, but if you’re working on a computer and still playing one frame per second, you can enter film material, grain, dust, truth, real . You will not always have this digital glass where there is no origin, it is only a copy. In 35 there is a negative point, that’s all. When you work with cinema, you have to trust people, you have to trust the laboratory, you have to relate to others. You do tests, you have an idea of what it’s going to be, but you have to project yourself on what you’re going to do with the film. In digital, you just have a button and you see the result. It doesn’t mean that it was better before, but I have the impression that I miss this projection, this movement. I think it’s the same for Jean-Luc.
How does Jean-Luc approach his latest works?
Slowly. Yesterday, I told him that I was going to Cannes, and he told me to ask Thierry Frémaux to show me this film, this film. Cannes for him is something very important. I don’t think the film will be ready for next year, but we’ll see. Even with the coronavirus that stops everything, Jean-Luc uses his brain engine on books, on ideas for the film, and less in the making. After the summer, we will do tests with an actress. The problem with 35mm is that it is expensive. We need at least two weeks of testing, but we’re totally ready to shoot. The people are ready, the idea is ready. We just need to find the right energy, a non-COVID moment.
I can’t imagine Jean-Luc being delighted to have to wait.
He’s like everyone else: you have the idea for a film, and when you go to film, you have a certain tension before it. Before filming, he is like a dog when you want to give him a bath. I have to say: “Come on Jean-Luc, the actress is here, we have to go, it’s tomorrow”, and he says: “No, I have to take more time. But when he starts working, the adrenaline goes up, he’s like a boy. He once told me, “We have to wait until COVID is over,” and I said it could be a long time.
Does he know what form his last film will take?
Both projects are developing at the same time. The other project is for Arte, it’s more in a classic video style with some Super-8 images, not with 35mm. There isn’t one before the other, I don’t think one will be the last. Neither is designed to be his last film. I often say, “Praise of love” was the beginning of his last gesture. These five, or six, or seven movies relate to each other in some way, they’re not just full stops. It’s not just a painting. But you have to ask him. If it’s his last movie, he’ll say it’s his last movie, and then he’ll do a twist at the end, I think. Everyone will be waiting for him and then maybe he will say the opposite.