Fabrice Aragno Talks New Feature and Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Final Gesture’

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Fabrice Aragno is sitting at a desk in his studio in Lausanne, Switzerland, pouring over images of a lake in which the water and the sky meet in dramatic fashion.

The filmmaker and frequent Jean-Luc Godard collaborator is simultaneously preparing to pitch his feature directorial debut, aptly titled “Le Lac,” at Cinéfondation’s Atelier this week, while also carrying out secret tests for Godard’s final two films.

“I need to glue these images to scripts,” he says while rifling through photos, adding that packing his bags and tuxedo for Cannes will likely be a last minute affair.

Aragno knows that “Le Lac,” a film he describes as a “spectacle cinématographique” with very little dialogue or plot, could potentially be a hard sell elsewhere. However, when he arrives at the Cannes Film Festival, his plan is to simply “share my feelings” about the film, to share his “flame.”

Variety caught up with Aragno ahead of L’Atelier, which features 15 promising, prospective projects from 15 countries and runs from July 8-13, to discuss his plans for “Le Lac” and to tease Godard’s “final gesture.”

You have worked in film for over twenty years, why did you choose this project as your feature directorial debut?  

This is not my first step in cinema, it’s already been 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 this working with Jean-Luc Godard. I’ve worked on my own with short films, but this project is unusual because it’s a feature film, it’s not a documentary. It’s between the two. The story is quite simple. It’s about a couple who want to feel again. Everyone is quite distanced, the world is like this. You don’t know the truth any more, everything is behind glass, the glass of the screen. These two people need to throw themselves into the real, into the truth. The film expresses this, going from fiction to real, to human, to animals, to bodies, to impressions. The story is not the main point, it’s mainly about expression using all of what cinema can do in image and sound. I’m using everything I’ve discovered with Godard, playing with the freedom of image and sound. It will be a real spectacle cinématographique.

What made you want to focus less on character and more on nature?

In the beginning it was a film painting, an edit made for a museum exhibition near Lausanne. It was about painters who paint lakes, from Turner, Courbet, some Swiss artists and some Godard films about lakes. But they always make it from the shore, from the border. I wanted to go inside the painting, not to see it from a distance. My characters will discover what it is like to go inside the variation of light, the variation of temperature, of colors from mono-chromatic during the night to the full colors and lights of the day. They will be inside the painting, inside the feelings, it’s like a reset to the origin of animal beings. It’s not a documentary on the lake, the lake is a symbol. It’s the idea of a lake as a closed space from which you cannot escape, as you cannot escape from your own life. Your time schedule is set, you have a beginning and an end. A lake also has this, but the only way you can stop time is in the middle. On top of the water or deep underneath it. 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 to be alive. I don’t feel I am alive talking with people or in my daily social life. I felt alive the other day for example, when I was awake at four in the morning and I went out onto my balcony and there was a bird, and then two and then three, and I was alone with the birds. I felt I was alive, just for a moment. Maybe we need this today, to be in the truth, to be in the here and now, forgetting about the past and the future. I did my first short film 20 years ago, my film school thesis. It was also a story of a woman taking the road back to home with her husband and they stop at the border and she doesn’t want to go to the toilet because it is too small and dark. They just want to run and pee outside, to have a connection with nature. They wanted to be like a crow or like a bird. For me that’s a strong feeling.

How do you think your pitch will go down at L’Atelier?

It’s not the first time I’ll be in Cannes, but it’s not an easy, classic film that you can say the story is this. It’s not a classic script with suspense at the end, where finally the woman says she loves the man. It’s not that kind of film. But Cannes is a festival of cinematographic language. So I’m not there to get a big commission, like say with TV. I’ll just go and share my interests in making this film, in making this experience.

Based on your previous work, I’m sure they’re not expecting a cut-and-dried, plot-based pitch.

They’ll say what? Fabrice, you have a plot? Like on TV? There are already a lot of films that do very well with stories, in French and American cinema. I will not be proposing something different, because at the origin cinema was more expression than telling. You can look at Soviet cinema, at non-speaking cinema. It was about the rarity of the images. We have so many words at the moment, with news, with these mobile phones, it’s only words, words, words, words, the big story, the medium story, the small story. But the characters just want to be in the pure. But I’m talking too much, too many words.

Have you started working on Jean-Luc’s final films?

Yes, I saw Jean-Luc yesterday. We have two films to do, one of them will be in 35 millimeter, 16 millimeter and Super Eight. The idea is to film in 35mm black and white, and the Super-8 and 16 in color.

What’s behind the decision to use three different formats?

Jean-Luc told to me he wanted to come back to his origin. He said you know this Chris Marker film “La Jetée?” Maybe we can do something like that. If you do it in 35mm it will be accelerated, a fast forward, but if you work on computer and still play one image per second, you can enter the material of the film, of the grain, of the dust, of the truth, of the real. You won’t always have this glass of the digital where there is no origin, it’s only a copy. In 35 there is one negative, that’s it. When you work with film you have to trust people, you have to trust the laboratory, you have to be in a relationship with the others. You do some tests, you have an idea of how it will be, but you have to project yourself to what you will do with the film. In digital, you just have a button and you see the result. It’s not to say before was better, but I feel I miss this projection, this movement. I think for Jean-Luc it’s the same.

How is Jean-Luc heading into his last works?

Slowly. Yesterday I told him I was going to Cannes, and he told me to ask Thierry Frémaux to show me this film, that film. Cannes for him is something very important. I don’t think the film will be ready for next year, but we will see. Even with the coronavirus that’s stopping everything, Jean-Luc’s using his cerebral engine on books, on the ideas of the film, and less in the making. After the summer we will do tests with an actress. The problem is with 35mm is that it costs a lot. We need two weeks of tests at least, but we are quite ready to film. The people are ready, the idea is ready. We just need to find the good energy, a non-COVID moment.

I can’t imagine Jean-Luc is thrilled about having to wait.

He’s like everyone: You have the idea for a film, and the moment you go to film you have some tension before. Before filming he’s like a dog when you want to give it 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 to work, the adrenaline comes up, he’s like a boy. He’s said to me before, “We have to wait for the end of COVID,” and I said that could be a long time.

Does he know what form his last film will take?

The two projects are being developed in the same moment. The other project is for Arte, it’s more in a classic video style with some Super-8 images, not with 35mm. There is not one before the other, I don’t think one will be the last. Neither is designed to be his last film. I say this often that “Éloge de l’amour” was the beginning of his last gesture. These five, or six or seven films are connected to each other in a way, they’re not just full stops. It’s not just one painting. But you have to ask him. If it’s his last film, he’ll say it’s his last film, and then he will make some twist at the end, I think. Everyone will wait for it and then maybe he will say the contrary.

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