If you have ever felt like you can’t endure your life or the people around you any longer you will truly relate to Anne Fontaine’s psychological drama, Reinventing Marvin. The film follows a troubled lower-class boy with repressed homosexual desires, who attempts to transform his life and his identity despite being treated like an outcast and painfully overlooked by his degenerate family. I spoke with Anne at the London Film Festival to find out why she decided to tell the story in a non-linear narrative, her strong views on women’s cinema and gender, how she works with actors to bring out their best performances.
What inspired you to tell the story of Reinventing Marvin?
Initially, it was a book The End of Eddy a biographical novel by Eddie Bellegueule. The book was focused only on his childhood, a childhood I found fascinating – living lower class in France as an outsider. It was interesting to see how he changed his life and constructed an entirely new identity with the aid of the people he met who were able to view his personality differently to those back home.
I then tried to imagine how this young boy would find himself and his purpose in life when he had begun life so poorly. I wanted to depict an artist transformation of growing up and the connections between childhood and our adult life we make as human beings, how we can connect with our roots even when it is a huge struggle and we are not accepted for our true individuality. It’s about how society fails you if you are different, if you’re gay, if you’re women or black.
I wanted to depict an artist transformation of growing up and the connections between childhood and adult life we make as human beings.
The film jumps between past, present and future. What lay behind the decision to structure the film in this way as opposed to a linear narrative?
It was a choice for the beginning and shot in that order. It was a way of expressing onscreen how his older self could reflect on his childhood, to reflect on how he had changed and conversely the younger version could imagine what he might become. I also believe that in this instance it was a more poetic way of storytelling.
The real challenge was to build the relationship between the two boys, to make them feel as though there was a connection between them, between their younger and older selves. I tried to make them look the same, dyed their hair, etc. but we also spent a long time in rehearsal running through the scenes together. You also need to consider elements such sound and music.
How do you approach working with a young actor when bringing to life a complex script with adult themes?
The actor playing young Marvin, Jules Porier, was very intelligent and wanted to be an actor, he was not pushed by his parents. He saw the ad online and the first time I met him was at a large casting. I was impressed by his ability to show and change his emotions, he was very sensitive and he could express loneliness and the difficulties in life. He liked the story and he was very much like an adult in a lot of ways.
I treat the violent scenes like choreography, as though it is a dance scene or a gymnastics display, using their bodies but in a very technical way to take away the drama of what is occurring. I have used this method a few times and it always works well.
You’re often viewed as a progressive filmmaker and have been quoted as saying, “To be a filmmaker as far as sexuality is something that is really desexualised and that women’s cinema should be more about the filmmaker’s and not the gender.” Can you talk us through your perspective on this issue in more detail?
Absolutely. For example, it annoys me when people say “I want this to be a women director.” I say “why?!” It’s ridiculous to think that a female director will make a film which is more sensitive than a man, it is not black and white, there are no films for men, films for women, films for gay or films for black and ethnic. It’s segregation to make films like that. It’s a cultural problem, there is a sexuality crisis and there’s a bare minimum amount of female directors. The issue is worldwide. I am frequently asked “Can you do this film being a woman?” It’s the personality of the director, artist vision, originality. When you are a director you are putting yourself in many different sexes anyway, you are writing the roles or men and of women, you are so many different people at the same time.
Before you worked in film you had a career in theatre as an actor, how do you think having a career in theatre has shaped you as a filmmaker?
It has developed my skills in working with actors. When working with actors it is something very complex, very special and fragile. When I was younger I didn’t want to be an actor but I ended up acting after beginning my career as a ballet dancer. I was always more interested in other people’s performances. It’s interesting to create characters and to pick actors for parts whilst being beware of how difficult it is to act.
The issue is worldwide. I am frequently asked, “Can you do this film being a woman?”
Can you talk to us about the methods you use to bring out the best work in actors?
There is no particular method. Each actor is different, you have to gauge it by the actor, how much support they need, how much they want to be spoken to and what method they use to act. It is their own choice, some actors don’t need a lot of guidance. It’s difficult because it’s not rational, it’s more running with instinct. Three weeks before the shoot I start rehearsing and do plenty of research with the actors – that’s a good way to gauge the actors and their methods, you should never think that you know something.
What equipment did you use for the shoot?
I made the decision with my DoP to use old lenses so it looked fragile and old-fashioned, less clinical. I shot in 1.66 to make the film feel more claustrophobic and to feel closer to the characters. I always use a different DoP. We talk about colours, texture, how you want the film to feel.
Is there a message you want the audience to take away from the film?
That everything is possible if you have faith in yourself and surround yourself with people who have more faith in you than you do for yourself. You can always change if you really want. I think it is a message of hope.
Is this something you experienced when you were younger?
It’s almost my life. I have a lot in common with this experience. I am always closely connected to the films I make, even if this is hidden within the narrative.
Snow White, it’s going to have seven stories with seven different men of different ages. It’s an erotic initiation of these seven men.
For more, be sure to check out DN’s full 2017 London Film Festival coverage.