Loïc Phil’s Connection is an emotive love letter to that potent and all-consuming rush that comes with a powerful first romantic encounter. The French director comes from a background in documentary making and music production and Connection marks his first narrative short and exhibits his strong pull to balance sound and image to create a unique rhythm in his work. The intense dialogue free three minute runtime follows a young couple as they race through those delicious and passionate first moments together before an abrupt departure that could tear them apart. Each meticulously planned and skilfully framed scene seems to encapsulate a much more extended and weighty moment in their meeting due to Loïc’s rigorous planning in order to capture everything he needed over an intense two day shoot. As Connection premieres on the pages of DN we spoke to Loïc about taking a step away from the comfort offered by digital production, his passion for creating his own music and sound design, and how he worked to keep the urgency of the film across every part of the process.
I love the energy and pull of Connection. What inspired you to tell a love story this way?
The idea was to express the emotional energy and intensity of an unexpected love encounter. I’ve always thought that in some specific contexts, random situations or people can change our lives. With them we can experience unexpected moments and enter into a very intense state of mind where everything seems possible. In these moments, the lines between reality, our emotions, our desires and our hopes become blurry, everything gets mixed up. Then, when the moment is over and we come back to our real lives and we realise that something in us has changed. What we have experienced has opened the door to new and unsuspected energies.
Both characters are experiencing challenging moments in their lives and they suddenly experience new impulses and energies as they meet each other. At the end, the young man has to take a train and go back to his real life but we don’t know if he decides to do it or to stay with the girl and start a new life. My point of view is that it doesn’t really matter. All the possibilities he saw at that specific moment are almost as intense and important as if he lived them for real. And above all, they will change him forever.
All the shots had to feel alive and urgent while being perfectly set up to be captured in a single take.
What sort of plan did you put together for the shoot to really imbue the film with that energy and intensity?
To show this intensity in a short film we needed to create something very fast-paced, elliptical, and abundant. A series of very short moments that converge to the dramatic end of the story where both characters have to part ways. Normally, I would have directed this film using a digital workflow and shot everything documentary style by recording a lot of scenes and only keeping the so-called happy mistakes. However, I really wanted to shoot in 16mm to capture that vibrant photography and vintage look that goes well with the French countryside. However, 16mm rolls cost a lot and we could only afford a very limited amount so it was a real challenge for me to create this abundant feeling while filming as little as possible. All the shots had to feel alive and urgent while being perfectly set up to be captured in a single take. I worked together with Thierry Le Mer (the Director of Photography) and with the actors to keep this impression of intensity in every shot.
The filming lasted two long days near the city of Auxerre in France. We filmed almost everything with an Aaton XTR Prod and used a Krasnogorsk-3 at some specific moments. I am happy to say that almost every shot I initially wrote was kept in the final cut of the movie and put exactly where it was supposed to be in the editing.
Why did you make the decision to keep the film dialogue free?
My main desire for this film was to immerse the viewer in a frantic emotional race. I wanted to convey the urgency and intensity of this unexpected love encounter. Everything had to move quickly and we had to be able to grasp the evolution of the characters’ feelings throughout the night and for this reason, I thought it was more interesting to focus on the non-verbal aspect. In just a few seconds, looks and gestures tell us much more than dialogue. This allowed us to keep the film in the field of sensation, of emotion, and not of rationality.
What is it about shooting on film that made it so necessary for the project despite all of the extra hurdles?
I’ve always loved 16mm film and the roughness of its grain. There is something very spontaneous about it that makes the image come alive. It made me love films like A New Life, by Philippe Grandrieux or Sans Soleil, by Chris Marker. I found that this vibration lent itself well to the naturalness of the story we wanted to tell. Moreover, it fits well with the setting of rural France, which is a bit old-fashioned. I liked the idea that this story could take place in a time that was impossible to determine.
The digital workflow creates a comfort that can encourage us to make fewer choices during preparation, to shoot a lot while on set, and then to make decisions during the editing stage.
There was also the idea of creating a strong creative constraint which I decided early on in the project with my DOP. My generation grew up with digital technology and I think that it made us consider filmmaking in a different way than our predecessors. The digital workflow creates a comfort that can encourage us to make fewer choices during preparation, to shoot a lot while on set, and then to make decisions during the editing stage. I wanted to go back to a more upstream method of creation, where the writing and the technical breakdown really determine what the film is going to be. It’s a very different way of thinking about creation, and it requires a lot more preparation and a strong effort of projection. It forces you to make real choices. It’s scary, but it’s also very exciting.
Can you tell us more about the technical planning and the camera set-ups you needed for the shoot?
The filming was complicated to set up because we had a lot of sets to shoot in a very short time. We had to film during the day, at sunset, at night… It was a real race against time. Moreover, we couldn’t afford to shoot much because of the 16mm constraint. We had to be very fast, but at the same time very precise. We had to shoot 86 shots in 2 days. It was… intense. The urgency in which we worked was the same as that of the story of the film. In the end, I think it served us well. From a technical point of view, we also had to be very mobile so we only shot handheld, even the still shots. It also helped to keep an impression of spontaneity.
The urgency in which we worked was the same as that of the story of the film.
How did you work with Paul Balent and Betty Cafora to build the red hot intensity of their encounter?
The constraints of the 16mm film forced us to be very economical in terms of takes. The amount of roll was very limited. Ideally, the first take had to be the right one. This required a lot of rehearsal before recording. But I was also afraid that too much rehearsal would give a very rigid aspect to the images. For this reason, it was important to maintain an intensity in the actors’ performance to keep a feeling of spontaneity. This meant working with them on the contextualisation of each moment before the shooting. The goal was to make them understand what kind of moments the film was about, in order to put them in a particular emotional state. We also worked on certain sequences to see what they would spontaneously do in terms of acting. They were both very good at proposing ideas, looks, and postures. I then integrated these actions into my technical breakdown. The idea is that each of these small actions could fit into extremely short shots.
Once on set, my job was mainly to reactivate what we had seen in rehearsal while reminding the actors of the stakes of each scene. For example, for the train station scenes, we worked a lot on breathing to allow them to enter 100% into every take. When the camera started recording, they were already out of breath. I am very moved by the complicity that was created between them on the set.
What references and ideas did you come up with together with your DOP to create the luscious and vibrant scenes?
To maintain an urgency in the rhythm of the film, it was necessary to have an urgency in the camera. It was important to keep moving in proportion to the intensity of the characters’ emotions and Thierry and I worked to always maintain a flow in the dynamics of the images. In terms of references, I watched a lot of short formats to find inspiration. I found a lot of good ideas in advertising, where the time constraint means that there is a habit of elliptical narration. One of my favourite references is Ed McCulloch’s Wrangler where the pacing, camera and sound are incredible. I really liked Mohamed El Zayat’s work on Lonesome Traveller, because he gives a very strong impression of the thickness of time by choosing his scenes precisely. It gives a real power to the ellipses. Finally, I found Anderson Wright’s work on Listen admirable. The technical breakdown and camera placement are always very meaningful. In every shot there is a choice that I find very noble.
I really wanted the frontier between music and sound design to be blurry and organic.
Was this music all made by you? Can you tell us more about your process of balancing image and sound to match the frenetic energy of the film?
I really enjoy doing the music for my own films. It’s almost the most satisfying part of the process because it’s where everything comes alive. I think a lot about my projects in terms of the music and the editing. The writing is very much tied to their rhythm, and it’s always a great joy to see the images, the cuts, and the music come together for good. That’s when the magic happens. For Connection, I made the soundtrack before the film so it could give me a reference of pace while shooting. We even used it on set to cheer up the actors during some scenes. Once in post production, I edit the images and the music together so they can combine with precision.
My plan was to make this film rely a lot on sound design because it’s a quick and very efficient way to create context and off-screen narration, in a few seconds. It was extremely important for the comprehension and the immersion because of the frenetic pace of the images. I wanted to adapt the music to this constraint so that it would carry the film and blend with the sounds at the same time. I really wanted the frontier between music and sound design to be blurry and organic. The music had to sound almost diegetic at times – almost like it came from the action, like a sound effect. I liked the idea of the violins sounding like a reminiscence of old memories. For this, I was very inspired by the incredible soundtrack of the video game Half-Life: Alyx, by the brilliant Mike Morasky, which gives us the impression that the music is coming from the background. The very ‘broken’ textures of Läuten der Seele are also a real inspiration.
With such a varied background and skill set, what are you exploring next in your work?
First of all, thank you very much. I still consider myself a young filmmaker and I still have a lot to learn and experiment. My last projects were documentaries that told real stories with a will of cinematographic storytelling and photography. I really like the energy and sincerity of real things. But I also enjoyed making a fictional film like Connection. I have a great love for the exercise of technical breakdown, which is the sacred matter of filmmaking. Shooting on film was very interesting from that point of view. Also, working with the actors was a great experience. For all these reasons, I want to continue to explore as much as possible the border between documentary and fiction, to maybe find a junction point between them, one day. I am currently preparing very different projects and I hope to present them to you in the future.