I was told I’d have 10 or 15 minutes with Katell, which put me a little more at ease, and I was ushered into the conference room where two women had been sitting with the other journalists. As I was introduced to Katell I was shocked to discover that she was the younger of the two, the woman I had assumed was the translator because she looked so youthful.
Katell was petite, and though she’s just 30 she looked a good deal younger. Shoulder length dirty blonde hair framed a classically pretty face with a friendly smile. If she noticed that when I was introduced I initially went to shake the translator’s hand she either found it funny, or was simply polite enough not to mention it.
I made a hash of the beginning of the interview, as my nerves prompted me to try and stretch by asking an opening question that I hadn’t written, and a follow up that was an attempt to be chatty but which, I realized the second I asked it, could easily have been taken as my asking for Katell’s qualifications. I learnt my lesson fast, and stuck to my notes thereafter, at which point Katell seemed to be much more at ease, and the interview began to fly by.
Our 10 to 15 minutes actually ran to 20, and so full were Katell’s answers that I didn’t get through all my questions. For the most part I think she understood my questions, but she answered, most of the time, in French.
My questions are in bold type.
24FPS: LOVE LIKE POISON is your first feature film as a director, so I wanted to ask you about how you got into film in the first place and what you’ve done before, because this will be the first time that a lot of my readers will have come across one of your films.
KATELL QUILLEVERE: At university in Paris I studied philosophy and Film, and I made three short films before this one.
24FPS: Did they also play at LFF, or other festivals?
KQ: There are shorts at the London Film Festival, I think. The first of my shorts did actually do quite a lot of festivals.
24FPS: Okay, so moving on to LOVE LIKE POISON specifically, it is a very intimate film in a lot of ways, and it feels like a very personal piece of work to me, so does it draw on any personal experience?
KQ: Yes, it’s a very personal film indeed. I wouldn’t say that it’s literally autobiographical, but there are some bits that are inspired by my own personal journey, especially, for example, her journey with regards to her faith, the young girl’s faith and her doubts and losing her faith. I grew up religiously, in a catholic family, and I lost that faith when I was around 14 years old… 13 or 14, and that was a very fundamental moment really. I find it very inspiring, this moment that we all go through as teenagers, this moment when you sort of topple into the adult world when this change happens, when certain illusions are lost and we enter a rather violent conscious world of awareness of the world around us. At the same time there is this loss of this perception we have of being an adult, as if the adult age is empty, as if there’s no such thing, that’s the realization that comes to us.
24FPS: So obviously the role of Anna is very personal to you, and that was one thing that really struck me in the film was that Clara Augarde – I hope I pronounced that right…
KQ: [In English] That was good
24FPS:… is a real discovery, so can you tell us a bit about the process of casting Clara as Anna, and about how you worked with her on set to get that rather remarkable performance out of her.
KQ: I did what is known as ‘wild casting’, where I don’t go to specific agents. [Katell and the translator burst out laughing]
Translator: It’s just, it’s an answer I know.
KQ: [In English] She knows my answers, so…
KQ: It took about four months to find her, because I put an ad in newspapers and I saw about 400 young girls. It also took time for me to know what I was looking for, that’s maybe also the reason I saw so many girls; to help me find out what I was looking for. When I saw Clara Augarde, there was a sort of obviousness there, no doubt also because now I was ready to see her, and now I knew what I was looking for, because casting is very much about a meeting of two people, two minds. In her physique she had that duality in that she was just between childhood and adulthood, and there was a contrast in that her face was still very childlike, and her body was already that of a woman. She had within her a natural ability to act; very correct, very right. Most of the work with her was then to push her, to get her to go towards more subtle things, or more intense things depending on what was required. What’s really quite particular about working with a teenager is that she is at that moment actually going through that change herself, so it’s sometimes quite complicated as an adult to get what’s going on in her head, because so much is changing and everything that’s happening around her has a bearing on her acting, on what she’s doing. Sometimes there would be a scene where she was just stuck, she’d just clam up and it wouldn’t work, and two hours later I got it, and it was because just before shooting somebody had said something to her and, you know, it was all going round in her head. So there’s something there as a teenage girl where she’s unable to separate when we’re shooting and when we’re not and it’s real, so she’d sometimes barricade herself into some sort of protection. You can’t do very much against that, that’s in her nature as a teenager, so the work is more about being patient and maybe accepting that we have to do something again a bit later. There’s a lot of mystery, and a lot of things that you can’t be in control of, even less so with an adolescent than with another actor.
24FPS: Were there a lot of scenes that you had to come back to with Clara, or did that just come up once in a while?
KQ: It happened only really once, but also, from a concrete point of view, because we didn’t have much money, I didn’t really have the means to do a lot of scenes again, so I had to find tricks to go around the problem.
24FPS: Another interesting thing, I found, in the film is the use of music, particularly given that the main character is a teenager and most of the music is choral, which isn’t what you might expect. So, were there certain pieces you always heard in the film, and how did you go about choosing the music for the film?
KQ: I worked with somebody called Frank Bouver, who is a musical researcher, so he was really there from the start, when I was writing I’d given him the script to read so he’d given me certain things to listen to and led me, guided me towards certain things. It’s through him that I discovered American religious folk music; Barbara Dane, Collie Ryan. So a lot of the things that he made me listen to I had chosen before even shooting, but at the same time I had to remain open, I didn’t know that they were definitely going to feature in the film, but I had chosen specific pieces. I also worked with a composer at the editing stage for the church scene; the lyrical songs and the organ music.
24FPS: I assume you also worked with the composer writing Pierre’s song, which struck me as one of the funniest moments of the film, and one of the most true about him as a teenager, because it’s so awkward.
KQ: Yes, that wasn’t the scene that was in the original script. It was supposed to be another scene, which I wasn’t able to film for financial reasons, because it was too expensive. [Laughing] So I had to invent this scene that happened just in the one room. So I had this idea of this song, and my DP, in his own free time, is also a little bit of a singer-songwriter [Laughing] and he’s also somebody who hasn’t completely quit adolescence, he’s still a bit of a teenager. So I asked him to write a song for Clara so he said “yeah, alright I’ll try” and two hours later, it was a Sunday, he came back and I listened to it and I thought it was perfect, because there was something that was really at the border of something ridiculous and really very serious, and that really is what adolescence is about.
24FPS: So, can I ask what was the scene that that replaced?
KQ: [I didn’t need this sentence translated] Non, c’est pas tres interessant.
24FPS: Fair enough. The film also deals with Catholicism in quite a lot of detail, particularly at the end with the reading of the letter to Galatians, which given Anna’s experiences in the film seems like quite a pointed criticism of Catholicism [KQ nods]. Is that something you’ve had a lot of controversy about, the way the film mixes a religious and a sexual awakening?
KQ: Originally, Paul’s letter to the Galatians wasn’t in the first script. Roughly a week before shooting I was actually present at a confirmation that was happening in that church, because I wanted to see what was happening for real, the real bishop that was there etc, and they read this text. I found it so violent and anachronistic for 2009, and it gave me this desire to integrate it in the movie. I wanted to put it in the film partly for me, in terms of my position towards Catholicism, but also because I felt the film needed it, because I felt that at this point something had to be said – something we feel from the beginning – but this difficulty to… apprehend the body, the flesh, and it was necessary for the spectator to be slightly surprised or shocked into something. So the film positions itself in a specific way; on the one hand there is a certain amount of love and respect for certain figures of faith, through, for example, Father Francois, who is a modern priest, generous. But also [the film] quite clearly is against Catholicism as an institution, which I find really aging, and out of touch with society today, and is still selling the guilt which you should have towards your body and flesh, that’s what it’s still promoting. I find that that’s really quite dangerous for teenagers.
24FPS: We have to finish up, but just before we do, one quick question: Aside from your own, what’s the best film you’ve seen lately?
KQ: [Laughs, then in English] OF GODS AND MEN, I really enjoyed it. I’m sorry to choose a French movie.
24FPS: No, that doesn’t surprise me, having seen your film actually, because it shares quite a lot of…
KQ: [Still in English] I have to find something else. I liked THE SOCIAL NETWORK too.
24FPS: So did I.
KQ: [Still in English] I saw it two days ago and I really enjoyed it.
24FPS: Well, thank you very much for your time. I wasn’t going to tell you this, but that was my first interview, so thanks for making it so easy for me.
Speaking to Katell was a pleasure. I was nervous that I wasn’t prepared for what seemed like it might be a longer slot, but honestly I could have gone on and on talking to her. LOVE LIKE POISON is being released by Artificial Eye after playing the London Film Festival. It’s an intriguing film and marks both actress Clara Augarde and Katell Quillévéré as names to watch in the future, check it out when it comes round your way.