Passing through the Croisette, where his film was presented in the “Cannes Première” section, Mathieu Amalric came back with us to “Serre Moi Fort”, his new, moving production full of pretenses.
Four years after Barbara, Mathieu Amalric paints a new portrait of a woman with Serre Moi Fort: that of Clarisse (Vicky Krieps), who seems to abandon her family in the first images of the feature film, as the very short synopsis also says.
Presented in the Cannes Première category on the Croisette in July, Serre Moi Fort was one of the peaks of emotion of this 74th edition of the Festival. And it was the day after his official screening that his director came back with us, and a lot of intensity, on his new production, adapted from a play that had never been staged.
PLEASE NOTE – The story of “Serre Moi Fort” is based on a mystery and revelations that we had to discuss with Mathieu Amalric to discuss his film. The interview below therefore contains spoilers and we advise you, if you do not want to know anything before having seen the feature film, to go your way (or to stop very quickly), to better come back later.
AlloCiné: What made you want to make a film of this play?
Mathieu Amalric : It was a friend who was to edit it, Laurent Ziserman, who is an actor and theater director. Claudine Galéa had written it fifteen years ago but it had never been performed, so he wanted to do it, but life meant that he had to give it up. But he tells me about it, I buy it, and it’s like he’s passing the baton to me. I did feel something. I read it on a train, with this desire to hide in your coat, because you are ashamed to cry like that. It was this nerve that was affected.
I didn’t think it would go that far at all. But I gave it to Laetitia [Gonzalez] and Yaël [Fogiel], Les Films du Poisson, but without thinking too much about an adaptation because it is a very literary text. We tell ourselves that this is not possible, that there is no cinema in it. It plays on the spelling, there is sometimes like an ancient choir, it plays on the difference, there are superimpositions of voices, there are two times, there is imagination.
But what caught up with me was what she invented. It’s that thing. I don’t want to say more so as not to take away the small pleasure of discovery. And that’s why I can’t find any other summary than “It seems to be the story of a woman who leaves.”
And that’s literally what you see and feel in the first pictures.
SPOILERS START HERE
Is the piece constructed in the same way, with these questions that we ask ourselves until the end?
With her it is until the end. I had written the screenplay with this final revelation. And since the film called for different seasons compared to the mountain, it needed snow but also something that happens between winter and the spring thaw. It allowed me to climb between the two, and to react as a spectator. And I realized that if the narrator or the person making the film was ahead of the viewer, it took us away from the beauty, from the imaginative gesture of Clarisse.
Because it is ultimately Clarisse who is making a film. She’s the one who makes the film. It is she who has this delirium. As in the melodramas, even if it was precisely a question of not necessarily filming the tears that one can imagine, but rather this woman who has beautiful tactics. She finds stuff.
And not to put a final revelation – because after twenty-five minutes, we feel that there is something strange – allows the public to be like her: in denial and belief. Like a spectator who believes what he sees when he knows it is not true. But at the same time it’s so good to believe it. What matters is this reversal. Like when she says “By being away, I bring them back to life”. This about-face grabbed me and I told myself that the melody was almost in a match, when she dialogues in the head of her husband played by Arieh Worthalter.
All this until there is no more imagination, at the very end when she sells the house – which is good – and gets back on the road. The first words of the film are “We start again”. And the last is “We start again”. It’s an embrace in perpetuity. I told myself that it is also a shareable and common gesture because we are crazy. We are as crazy as we can be during a romantic separation.
People got to see it twice, and that was one of the big questions: do we cry more knowing or not knowing.
There is also a form of denial in this situation.
Totally. And we become little pieces of time, stuff and details. We review everything. And then the absence, the lack of the other means that we close our eyes and hug each other. It’s delirium, it’s hallucination, it’s phantom, ritual. As in the film by Jean Rouch, on the way in which African tribes summon the absent. It could be Pixar’s Coco, it could be The Leftovers, this extraordinary series. I return to Manoel de Oliveira’s house. Imitation of Life, which could have been the perfect title for me, but which Douglas Sirk had invented.
You talked about the fact that Clarisse makes films for herself, and I had the feeling that “Serre Moi Fort” is about directing and the way you tell a story. We tell a story, with images, sounds.
I did not think of staging or mise en abyme. I really thought about those moments that we all went through when we are really not ourselves. Well, that’s what we say because I think precisely that it is in these moments that we are ourselves, because we lose everything.
We shot the film in three stages: in May 2019 for the sequences that take place in the spring, then in November and finally in January 2020. Up between each session. And the third time, I even said to Vicky: “We’re going to forget that story that you lost your family. We’re going to do something else. You’re going to sing, watch men.” And luckily there was that. It’s a reaction as a spectator. Clarisse is not a “mater dolorosa”. She is not a saint. And life is like the grass that grows between the cobblestones.
Has the film changed a lot, because of this fragmented shooting, thanks to the distance that you have been able to have between each part?
Yes. There were these spectator reactions. Around this final reveal story, because we’re not in Usual Suspects with a twist coming out of nowhere. No, it was not the lifeblood of the story, but rather to be synchronized with this woman and her gesture of imagination, of invention, which stops at a moment towards the end. And curiously, it’s in the very last shots that we cry. Because there is nothing more.
People got to see it twice, and that was one of the big questions: do we cry more knowing or not knowing. Because the film is not about a secret. At all. Even if the people who advise it always try to avoid saying too much. But those who see it a second time, and notice the signs, are taken in another way.
I imagine that we must be moved from the start. Because we know straight away what is going on, and that there is something disastrous behind it all.
Yes. And after that it is according to the paths of life of each one. But coming back to the changes, I also added sentences. It was due to the confinement, to the fact that the films weren’t coming out. So sometimes I would just stroke mine to see if it was still alive. Then I would call the editor, ask Vicky to record a little voice on her iPhone and send it to me. To add elements of complicity with the viewer.
Did editing the film during confinement favor the feeling of confinement of Clarisse that we have? Even isolated, because she is often alone in the shots, we do not see her with her family.
No, we don’t see her with her family. There were so few shots where Arieh and Vicky were together. There are three: in the nightclub in particular, when she remembers the meeting. And this moment of onanism. I also thought a lot about this scene from L’Atalante by Jean Vigo, which had been censored for this reason in the 1930s.
Coming back to editing, I realized that you couldn’t edit a film without being physically in the same room with the editor. Because it goes through onomatopoeias, through noises. It doesn’t work with TeamViewer or things like that. It doesn’t work to send each other links, to watch and to react. It’s too slow, there is no emulation, there is no gesture.
We just did bullshit during that time. I only made Francois do bullshit [Gédigier] because it became theoretical, whereas in editing, you react immediately, physically, to something that you see. Especially in a film like this, with the superposition, the overlaps of images and sound, of sensations, of time, of memory. Of denial itself.
I hesitated for a long time between “Serre Moi Fort” and “Serre Less Fort” for the title
All these overlaps you talk about, does that mean that you already had a precise idea of the cut when it was time to stage? Where did this shape come from next?
In writing, already, there are things that come to me. Something related to the matter of ice or snow. Of white. That we find in the bubble bath, the ice cream from the fishmongers, a sheet… Something can rhyme, since it is she who does it because everything is linked to what she has seen.
The true and the false also had to come from the same material. I was thinking about things of hyperrealism. There is not, all at once, a particular shade to distinguish the true from the false. Because it does not happen like that.
Why did you choose this title, “Serre Moi Fort”, instead of keeping the title of the play?
“I am coming back from far” that said too much. And then there was a side “It’s better” in this title. But that’s not really what it was. “Imitation of Life” fun too, but I went into the songs. And it is often there that we can find very simple things. For the nightclub scene, when I was wondering what they were going to dance on, I chose “Indian Swimming” by Etienne Daho.
And the chorus that follows the second verse says: “Oh, hold me tight, if your body gets lighter / I can save us” Because it’s a kind of drowning here. I hesitated for a long time between “Hug me tight” and “Less Strong Greenhouse”, because there is this idea that it hurts too much. That I want to love you less because it is unbearable.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Cannes on July 15, 2021