Mélanie Laurent locked in a cryogenic capsule, this is the premise of Alexandre Aja’s new film, “Oxygen”, available on Netflix. A singular project whose shooting was unlike any other.
Two years later Crawl, Alexandre Aja returns with a new French film, his first since High tension, released in 2003. In the leading role, Mélanie Laurent plays a woman with amnesia locked in a high-tech box. When he wakes up, he has only 35% oxygen left. Panicking, not knowing how she got there and how to get out, she will have to regain her memory to extricate herself from this nightmare.
Before being the feature film that the public discovers today, Oxygen was to be shot in English with Noomi Rapace as the main heroine. Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic upsets plans. The Swedish star remained associated with the film as an executive producer, but gave way to Mélanie Laurent when production took shape in France.
Time and space
Once the health protocol for the shoots is determined, Netflix gives the green light to Alexandre Aja’s team as soon as the first confinement ends, in May 2020. Oxygen is filmed during the summer in the studios of Ivry-sur-Seine. Twenty-five days were needed to shoot the footage in the cryogenic capsule and one week for the outdoor scenes. Mélanie Laurent, who took a 20-minute break each day, had to spend 9 hours lying in this 3m² setting.
The details of the unique decor
The cryogenic capsule is a character in its own right in Oxygen. In cinema, science fiction is often synonymous with grandiose settings. For Jean Rabasse, chief decorator, the difficulty was to deal with a tiny space where every inch was important. “We were all glued to each other to design this pod to last an hour and a half on the screen“, he says in the press kit. Two capsules were used for the film.”There is the pod which receives the shroud (the opening scene, Editor’s note) who needs to have 100% access from below and the other who needs to lean 45% to be able to film Mélanie Laurent’s back.“
Training for a still role
If the actress’s movements are necessarily limited, her performance is nonetheless physical. Between screams, tears and panic attacks, she had to prepare and train with Cirque du Soleil coaches for a month before filming. “I realized that there were a lot of scenes where I was going to have to grab things, move because it was all about my abs, she explains. I cried so much all day (…) that I was knocked out in the evening. When you’re in the box, you don’t realize it, but then as soon as you get out, there’s a kind of physical fatigue where I couldn’t even cook at night. I was going to sleep straight away.“
A friend in the headset
Mathieu Amalric, who plays the artificial intelligence MILO, lent his voice even before filming began. In the box, Mélanie Laurent was playing alone, facing a pre-recorded audio tape. Alexandre Aja had given him the possibility of having an earpiece to be in contact with the person of his choice. The actress chose Morgan Perez, her faithful friend with whom she co-wrote the screenplay for her first film, The Adopted, released in 2010. “Morgan spoke to me for the dialogues, Alex led me in space, she specifies. When we left on 7-8 minutes which corresponded to ten pages of the script, alone with Morgan’s voice in the headset crying, screaming, screaming and moving cables, it was my nightmare! “
Discover AlloCiné’s interview with Alexandre Aja and Mélanie Laurent:
Renew at all costs
True behind closed doors, the feature film must take the viewer to other horizons and offer new things to avoid any repetition. It was the director’s big challenge. “In terms of staging, we knew that we had to vary and with Maxime Alexander (the director of photography, editor’s note) and Grégory Levasseur (the producer, Editor’s note), we put on the table the whole toolbox of what we could do before the start of filming“, specifies Alexandre Aja. In total, Oxygen has no less than 300 rigged plans. One of the most striking of the film is the circular sequence shot of several minutes positioned a few centimeters from Mélanie Laurent’s face.