There’s an exciting new wave of French female directors, and Katell Quillévéré is at the very forefront, presenting her latest endeavour, the nuanced, profound drama Heal the Living – and on a recent trip to Paris, we were fortunate enough to spend time with the talented filmmaker – which can be read below…
For me it was very important this character was a surfer, the actor who is playing the part is a real surfer. It’s not only a sport, it’s a way of life attitude. There’s a very special kind of attitude towards the sea, and the sea not only has the factor of being an element, but it’s a metaphor in my film. For me the universal aspect of surfing is the strong relationship between life and death. We are just taking the wave, and it’s so strong it can take your life, and when the wave takes you, you can’t breathe anymore and wait for the moment the wave ejects you again and your lungs open and you breathe again, it’s like a type of rebirth. It places the viewer in this situation where the stakes between death and life are strong, and that is determinant of the attitude during the whole film. I’m very strongly believing in the importance of the first 10 minutes of the film.
Your previous film was also about family – what is it that attracts you to this theme in your work?
Motherhood is a strong problem for me, it’s something I am very interested in. In my previous film Suzanne it was about a girl losing her mother, and in this film we have a mother losing her child. My films have this aspect of how we deal with loss, how we can reconstruct ourselves and restart our life after loss. It’s the circulation of the living, in this film I didn’t start with death, it happens in the middle of the film – I wanted to show the connection between life and death and how death can come in the middle of life.
France passed a new law recently about organ donation, which now means if you haven’t declared anything, your organs can be donated. What came first, the law or your movie?
The law. It was proposed and discussed while I was writing the film.
Now you’ve been working on the subject – what do you make of the law?
It’s a very complicated debate. The lack of organs in France is incredible. It’s a very complicated subject that we should talk about in schools, from when kids are 10 or 12 years old, but it’s very taboo, society does not speak about it. In Belgium it’s much more open, they discuss it.
Why do you think it’s a taboo in France?
It’s complicated, and certainly related to our Christian culture, and the representation we have of the body. While the Catholics are very pro-donation, it’s a bit mysterious. Jewish religion is very attached to the entireness of the body, it’s very important in the passage from life to death, so in Israel if people die they get all the parts together, as much as possible. The Catholic religion is much more easy with it, and still we do not know why it’s such a difficult subject.
Did you speak to any parents who have been in this same situation, facing the same decision?
I didn’t properly conduct interviews with these families, but I met them. I met the families of the donator, and the families of the recipients. So I did a lot of investigation before I started writing the film.
Was there any information that surprised you during this research?
I discovered the subject for the film and it was incredibly surprising, especially when I went to the hospital, and I watched a heart transplant which was an incredibly strong experience for me. The whole thing was very frightening for me, but at the same time I couldn’t consider to film such a surgery without having seen it close-up. I wanted to show the truth of it, and it just was not possible being there experiencing it for myself. The strongest moment was when they wait to see if the heart starts beating or not – this moment of incredible suspense, and that was the strongest moment I was living through during this whole experience, and the feeling I remember is one of incredible modesty, because whatever science can do today, we understand, especially in that moment, the mystery of life, and this makes you very modest.
You end the film with David Bowie’s Five Years – why did you choose that particular song to close the film?
I didn’t choose it from the beginning, I was editing and I didn’t know yet which music I would have at the end of the film, what song would be the final song. But it was chance, I was sitting in a cafe with my editor and suddenly we heard this music and we thought, why not this? So we went back to the studio and put the music on the end and it worked. It either works immediately or it doesn’t, so it was chance. The content of the song is a very chaotic, apocalyptic world with a strong presence of death, and at the same time the tonality is very happy and lively. So I’m very pleased to have this song at the end.
Heal the Living is released on April 28th. You can read our review here.