The striking feature of Alexandre Richard’s music video for Mada Mada’s Autonome is its beginning. The film opens without any musical accompaniment and the character we’re witnessing begins his psychological descent. We hear the taps of feet on the floor and steady flow of his breath but nothing else. This stylistic choice gives Autonome a tactility which allows it to truly blossom when Mada Mada’s song eventually enters the fray. Hot on the heals of his previous DN appearance with Ellipse, we spoke to Richard about this choice and his decision to create Autonome as a short film wrapped in a music video.

In comparison with the character-driven story of Ellipse, I love how the narrative in Autonome is more abstract, how have you been describing it to people?

Autonome tells the tale of a self-exiled artist who’s crumbling under the weight of solitude. Set in 1954, we follow a man who abandoned everything in favour of pursuing his artistic dreams in ‘the big city’ of Montreal. Far from the warm embrace of his loved ones at a time when communication was burdensome and with the advent of the seasonal winds of depression, the walls of isolation begin to close in on him and scrape at his soul.

Autonome’s themes aren’t trying to mirror our times it’s our times that mirror its setting.

What inspired the film’s historical setting and how did you look to convey that in the environment?

The period setting came about by observing the world we live in today, that of social media, text messages, FaceTime, etc.; tools that were designed to bring a sense of togetherness that in many ways, amplified the absence of a human touch. The protagonist is yearning for a connection that is technologically and financially impossible for him to obtain.

It’s hard not to draw parallels with the themes of Autonome and the global lockdowns that have been happening, is there any connection?

The irony is that the story was conceived prior to the pandemic’s lockdown, where those very tools further contributed to an illusion of proximity that gave rise to depression and melancholia. If we look at Italy’s reaction vis-a-vis a second lockdown, their unified initial approach of playing music from balconies is long past. It’s now turned to a deep-seated civil unrest manifested by months of isolation and exhaustion. Autonome’s themes aren’t trying to mirror our times, it’s our times that mirror its setting.

Isolation, depression and loneliness have become all-too-familiar feelings due to COVID-19 and the misery left in its wake. The thought that this story of self-doubt, lost love and broken dreams rings so true today is both coincidental and a testament to the universality of its themes.

How much discussion did you have with Mada Mada about the story?

As a filmmaker, my yearning to create immersive narrative experiences perfectly complemented Mada Mada’s vision, who himself is a film composer. From our very first meeting, we knew what we were about to do: a short film wrapped within a music video.

The opening section before the music is surprisingly moving, what inspired that choice of bringing in the music later?

Yes, Autonome opens with a contemporary dance void of any musical attributes. The dance represents the character’s frustrations, loss of control, anxiety and the suffocating nostalgia once solitude turns into illness. By hearing the skin tearing, the breathing cracking, the feet stomping and the character’s held-back screams, we show his body broken in lieu of his broken psyche. This is a physical piece; one where every movement is a memory, a mistake, a regret or even a tragedy. Complementing the body’s expressionist poetry, the thunderous storm that materialises inside the artist’s space suggests the severity of Seasonal Affective Disorder on a mind adrift; itself represented by a gradual deterioration of the ship in a bottle.

This is a physical piece; one where every movement is a memory, a mistake, a regret or even a tragedy.

Did that also inspire the switch to Steadicam too?

Cinematography maestro Graham GS and I opted to maintain a grounded camera language throughout for a more intimate presentation of the artist. It’s only once his body begins to speak that the camera finds its freedom on Steadicam, a technique that further connects us to the character as he wrestles with his inner demons.

What’s the future of your filmmaking looking like?

I’m currently in development of a short film while also writing a feature screenplay where the two are thematically intrinsic. As much as the lockdown impeded the production side of things, it was a creatively rich period for me. It allowed me to explore concepts and new visual storytelling that should make my next two to three years fascinating as I complete these two projects.

In the meantime, I have no intention of slowing down: music videos and advertisements are as creatively-fertile as ever and ripe for experimentation. I’m looking forward to pushing my own boundaries both visually and narratively that although will differ from my fictional work, will still leave a long-lasting impression.

Autonome is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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