INTERVIEW WITH THE FRENCH DIRECTOR CLAUDE ANDRIEUX
The film addresses paternity. What led you to write about this theme ?
To be frank, I didn’t plan to write about it. It just evolved whilst writing. I reflected upon this issue. My parents are divorced and I barely knew my father throughout most of my childhood except for the ‘obligatory’ days when he came to fetch me and my brothers, one Sunday every three weeks. He was a stranger and far removed from our concerns at that time. He tried to assist us but he didn’t know how to handle it. It wasn’t his thing. And then, my wife’s parents lost a little girl when they were a young couple. How do you get over a trauma like that? Paternity and losing a loved one all subconsciously became part of my scenario.
©photos René de Angelis
Why Iceland ?
This island is part of my life. I hitchhiked for three months with a friend for my very first trip in 1980. We crossed France, England and Scotland, and we took the ferry to get to this piece of land in the Atlantic between Europe and the USA. At the time the ferry made a quick stop at the Orkney Islands, to the north of Scotland. That’s where we got on. Once in Iceland, we did a tour of the island on Route 1 that had not yet been completely tarred. This was a month of hitching with no money, eating pasta and rice and camping wherever we found ourselves in the evening. I have great memories of youth, freedom and beauty. With the sea and mountains in one place this island was made for me. And then, as the Argentinian filmmaker Lisandro Alonso put it so well: ‘Film enables me to explore this type of place. Embracing nature and striving to wrap up a film is quite romantic…’ I returned to Iceland in 1990. Route 1was completely tarred, the capital had expanded a little but the landscape remained unchanged. That was when I understood that my scenery would never change and it was therefore possible to make this film.
©photos René de Angelis
How did The Lost Elephants come about ?
I wanted a story with characters that are forced to keep bumping into one another. There is this idea of being trapped on an island with one circular road. You go round in circles and inevitably meet the person you bumped into the evening before. Enclosed in the middle of nowhere. It was the idea of departure, in contrast to ‘films in apartments.’ I have nothing against this type of film but I need fresh air, the great outdoors to express myself fully. Maybe this comes from climbing in the past or all the westerns that I saw as a kid? The idea of a double bass on the roof of a car going through these magnificent landscapes directed me to this story about a musician on the run. The rest followed while working hard on rewriting with the co-scriptwriter Jean Guillaud.
Why Bjork ?
It’s a nod to Lors Von Triers and then I loved her first rock band The Sugarcubes. Fully aware that we would not have the means to have her with us, I wanted her to be there all the same and ultimately she is permanently present like a ghost. I liked the idea of never showing the character although everyone expects her to be in a film shot. She is the elf, a compulsory presence in any Icelandic story. Over there, legend has it that some roads were designed to avoid certain areas inhabited by elves. This would explain why the asphalt in the middle of the desert is starting to disappear on the left or the right without really understanding why. Bjork is our elf, a key Icelandic figure.
©photos René de Angelis
How was filming in Iceland ?
I did some location spotting to try to find places to represent what I had in mind without them being too far apart from each other and thus avoid the team travelling hundreds of miles each day. We opted for two main places: Egilsstadir in the east of the country and a tiny hamlet with an unpronounceable name, Hrollaugsstadir, in the south for the lake scenes with icebergs and the plane ruins in the black lava desert. We left these two base camps every day with the team to reach the exact spots found within a radius of about 31 – 37 miles maximum (50 to 60 km). The weather wasn’t easy but we knew that from the outset. Filming in Iceland in the autumn obviously meant encountering difficult weather conditions. I wanted that. Rain, snow and low clouds were written into the project. The technical team and actors were amazing. Motivated by this adventure, they worked hard for everything to go smoothly in sometimes limiting conditions. There was for example the day we had to turn back in the midst of the desert on the high plateaus as the wind had increased so much and was literally preventing us from working. We were freezing. We sheltered in vehicles and after checking on the crew, I decided we should head back and cancel that day. It was one of very few that could not take place as planned. The wind restricted us more than the cold or the humidity. You’re at the foot of a magnificent waterfall, in an idyllic spot. It’s lovely weather. Five minutes later, the end of autumn icy wind turns into a storm and the location very rapidly becomes downright unbearable for a film crew. My experience as mountain documentary maker really helped me to best manage this. At least… I think it did.
But all the same you must have had some tough days being continually on the road at this time of year ?
Yes. It was tough and tiring for everyone, but being lucky enough to see the northern lights on the 1st day, the timelessness, everyone’s energy and desire, along with the slightly mad adventure all helped the team to bond and smoothed over many problems. It was essential to look after people who found the environment hostile and to understand their expectations. To avoid pointless suffering and the rest was gut feeling. An Alpine guide knows exactly what I’m talking about. He manages that throughout the year with his clients.
©photos René de Angelis
How did you bring this team of four actors together comprising René De Angelis, Johan Andrieux, Marie Kauffmann and Pierre David-Cavaz?
We did different camera tests. Johan and Marie were perfect straight away. Johan even asked to edit some dialogue intervening to add his ‘touch". He was completely involved. He greatly inspired me for writing his role. Several actresses were in competition with Marie but she immediately stood out. She is very professional, and then there’s her voice, her look and her flippancy through her body language. She was made to play Léa. I had seen Pierre David Cavaz several times at the theatre. I knew that that he would fit the role of the Italian perfectly. He is an actor with rare humanity. The only uncertainty, but a big one, was Mickey’s character. He is a completely lost, highly sensitive former lorry driver, who is also extremely violent. I had long believed that only Olivier Gourmet could play this part. I wrote the scenario with him in mind all the time. And then, Olivier was unable to commit and my screenwriter Jean Guillaud told me about René. I didn’t believe in him straight away. We met and I was thrilled. René had the physique for ‘my’ Mickey. Very simply it was him. From then on everything fell into place naturally.
Did you have any concerns taking on a non-professional actor for a shoot à priori difficult ?
An amateur on set can quickly turn into disaster, but I was not at all worried after the camera tests with René and Johan. I was certain that it would work. The little fat guy and the tall thin one, a working-class man and a daddy’s boy, the lorry driver and the classical musician, my "Laurel and Hardy" in the land of Elves. It was exactly what I wanted. Each of them is in their own world, and any interaction between them rapidly becomes extreme. It was perfect. A lot of stories are written about this sphere of contrast between two characters. This is nothing new. You just need to find the right pair.