Making his third appearance on our pages this year after bringing the world to an end in Contrails and condemning blind obedience in Ice Teens, Thomas Vernay’s latest music video Flesh sees the Parisian director provide visuals for his electronic alter-ego Sirop, as a smoking, drinking teen undergoes a slow transformation of self, spurred by the increasingly layered evolution of the track. DN asked Thomas to share how his interest in gender transformation and the breaking down of societal prejudices brought about this contained, yet volatile expression of self-metamorphosis.
The idea of the music video came quite simply. When I composed the track, I immediately wanted to work on a gradual rise, something related to the metamorphosis. This is about progression, using the succession of instrumental layers. It is an extremely simple and repetitive track with a very evolutionary aspect.
So to work visually on this minimalist aspect it was necessary to start from a minimalist situation: One character and only one location. The name of the track clearly expresses the metamorphosis of the flesh. I wanted a character who has a reaction due to listening to the music, so each new musical instrument represents a deeper stage of his inner state.
I’m very interested in gender and our physical conditions. This naturally meant that I decided to talk about gender transformation. The main character makes a rejection of his body, and in a second state, he wants to return to his true condition. The rejection he maintains with his own envy represents the eyes of others, the gaze of society.
For this role I chose to work with Robin Migné, an actor I met following my second short film Miss Chazelles which is currently in post-production. I needed a special physicality close to androgyny. Particularly, I wanted someone with whom I could maintain a relationship of trust to let him feel as comfortable as possible.
We shot over the course of 5 hours chronologically. Robin was constantly in this room, with the music. We had a long discussion about the need to experience the character’s malaise thoroughly. And Robin agreed to drink alcohol and smoke drugs – something I don’t necessarily advise on a shoot. The last scene, once he has put the dress on, was filmed in a single sequence for the duration of the track. We did 4 takes with different values and each time Robin proposed new things. I tried to give him as few directions as possible during the shots, to let him completely entered into a trance. I only gave some direction in relation to the general timing of his condition: Dancing, shouting, crying, getting upset, etc. in order to reflect the narration of the music.
We immediately agreed on the main role of the set: this is the inner prison of the character.
Production design had a considerable importance in this film. With Corentin Harlé, the set decorator, we immediately agreed on the main role of the set: this is the inner prison of the character. There are a lot of details about the ambiguity of their gender. Everything is very suggestive and it is up to the spectator to find them.
Ambiguity is also highlighted by the two dominant colors of pink and blue. The goal is to destroy inherent prejudices. Blue is not necessarily masculine, just as pink is not necessarily feminine. The two colors live in harmony and mix in a natural way.
With Kevin Laurent, the DOP, we discussed how the image needed to be vibrant and organic. At first, we were talking about reducing the frame size as we went along to support the confinement. But once in this room, we thought that the scope format was the best framework to contextualize the character and give him a real place for his movements and his energy. We used an Alexa mini, with Leica Summicron optics.
Kevin was also the camera operator so he was in an organic way, responding to Robin’s movements and his improvisation. They started a kind of dance. The framing responded to Robin’s body, and Robin’s body responded to my voice and also the music. Everything was connected.