• Visability FF

Marie Heyse - 'Le Varou' Director Q&A

Clocking in at a sweet 28minutes, and deserved winner of our 'Best Picture' and 'Best Cinematography' awards, Le Varou really is a colossal picture. We caught up with French director, Marie Heyse in order to basque briefly in her glory!

VFF: Without wanting to give too much away, ‘Le Varou’ has not only 1 twist, but 2! How important a weapon do you think these kinds of twists are particularly for short films?

MH: Actually I realised a bit late in the writing process that there was a twist in my story. I was more focused on the atmosphere and raising tension, following Gabi, our main character. It has always been clear to me that my film was a tale. But I also wanted it to be deeply rooted in reality. So, unconsciously, I think this contrast helped to build the twist, even if I never called it a twist.

I think I really discovered the power of a twist when the film was finished and when I heard people’s reactions. Many of them wondered: where is that story going, until the twist comes. Now I believe that twists are a reward for spectators, it is the same for features and short films. We want to be surprised. It can also be powerful to be able to say, “I knew it!”, but something must strike you in the way things are revealed, in the mise-en-scène, the images, the emotion you feel… I like open endings in movies, but I hate when there is no answer, or when you feel like you’ve been tricked. So, I think yes, twists can be powerful to tell a story, especially when there is a mystery to solve, but it is not always relevant.

VFF: The film’s rural landscape feels like a living, breathing character. How did you go about achieving this?

MH: I‘m so happy you mention it ! I must say I’m a bit obsessed with forests. Don’t ask me why. I think there is a forest in every story I’m working on!
I know it’s a commonplace but landscapes as well as homes and clothes can tell so much about characters. I wanted to shoot during wintertime, where rural landscapes are not so welcoming. It seemed fundamental to create a dark atmosphere, and to fear that something bad could happen. I was served, it rained almost every day!

It wasn’t easy to find the perfect place to put the caravan. Astrid Tonnelier – chief decorator – and her team did an amazing job. It was important to understand that Gabi’s place is part of the landscape, that Gabi adjusted herself to this environment, which is more powerful than her.

I wanted the location to be very isolated, and at a forest border. This border was very important because with Jacques Girault – chief operator – we wanted to film the forest as a magical world. As in every tale, at some point, you need to cross it, and we used lateral travelling shots as a pattern to represent it. The forest is also the place from which the threat comes from. We wanted the spectator to feel, like Gabi, that there is someone/something there, watching her. We called these shots our “mysterious points of view”.

With the Sound team, Hadrien Bayard – sound engineer – Laure Bardou – sound editor – and Antoine Pradalet – sound mixer – we worked on the soundscapes so that in every scene, the landscape tells something different. A sudden silence can be frightening in the forest, or conversely, these strange noises you can’t identify fuel your feeling of insecurity.

VFF: With a 28minute runtime, this is the longest short film in our lineup. How long did filming take and did you encounter any unexpected hurdles?

MH: We had a 9 ½ day long shoot, which is quite good for a short film I heard.

Le Varou is my first film, and it was a very long writing process. I met Carine Ruszniewski – producer – in 2018, but I was working on my own for already two years and all I heard then was: it’s too long for festivals, too expensive, impossible to produce and too much for a first film. They were half right, it was a bit too much, but we made it! Carine never talked about the running time then and it was one of the reasons – among many others! – I really wanted to work with her.

Of course, at some point, it became a challenge. We didn’t have enough money and time to shoot every scene I wrote, so we had to cut. It happened quite late, and sometimes even on set. It was hard, but I was really well supported. With Clara Gosselin – scriptgirl – we considered again and again every scene: what does it tell? Is it redundant? Can we merge scenes? Can we completely give up on a scene and tell the same story? It was intense and a bit stressful I must say, but I don’t regret any cut we made. What I liked the most is that she always said, “yes, we have to cut, but don’t only think in terms of efficiency, we need to keep this feeling of in between, to spend time with Gabi and her lifestyle”. It was also a cross discussion with Jacques Girault – chief operator. It became obvious that a scene had to exist in two shots rather than seven, to save time, but with the same visual language we wanted for the film. It was really not an easy shooting for me and for the team. I guess I learned the hard way!

VFF: There are several very well-trained dogs in the film. Are these the director’s own pets?

MH: For now, I live in a tiny place in Paris, so, unfortunately no, the dogs are not mine! We worked with Patrick Pittavino’s team, Chloé Verschueren and Benoît Tailly. All the dogs are real professionals trained for cinema. I know Patrick because he rides motorcycles with my parents and lives not so far from where I grew up – and where we shot – in Normandy. It was a really convenient coincidence for Le Varou!

Le Varou screened on Saturday 19 February at Close-Up Cinema, as part of Visability Film Festival

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