Interview with Aurélie Reinhorn, director of Son Altesse Protocole
Monday 14 February 2022, by ,
Grumpy, Bashful, Cinderella and Piglet are trying to re-enchant the proletariat. One upon the time there was Wanda, and her first day at work at an amusement park.
Why did you want to make a film in an amusement park? Were you inspired by a similar park that you’ve been to?
I wanted to talk about insecure employment by looking at the mechanics of oppression and domination, where cynicism reached a peak when managerial techniques adopted the idea of “happiness at work”. Those two terms used together naturally lead to the question: “Can you force a worker to be happy on the job?”. I wanted an amusement park for the setting, a business that capitalizes on amusement and dreams, which brings with it a mythology of eternal happiness. That allowed us to emphasize the absurdity of the system by contrasting the supposed joy of the magical fairytale characters with the insecure realities of the workers who play them. Disneyland is the epitome of that type of business and my park is largely based on that, but I fleshed it out by learning about more modest amusement parks. Ours had to be mainstream enough to justify using a Franco-American newspeak but also pathetic enough to bring out a form of disintegration and abandonment in its overall management.
What inspired you to create the character Wanda?
I took on a lot of little jobs when I was studying. Having the opportunity to engage with different professional circles led me to see that power relations among people are the same everywhere, like the sense of alienation that develops the moment you stay just a bit too long at one company, whatever it might be. Towards the end of my term at C&A, I felt a great satisfaction in being able to fit a coffee from the coffee machine, two chain-smoked cigarettes and a trip to the restroom all into the fifteen minutes of my break. In the film, I tried to recreate that breakneck pace and reproduce the logic of certain colleagues I met, just barely exaggerating their characteristics. Wanda allowed us to enter an unbalanced world. She acts like a catalyst for the other characters who are attracted by her novelty and who display the bitterness of their relationships to her.
How did you go about casting the different roles?
Personally, my impetus to make a film comes from a specific topic and the actors I have in mind. As it happens, they’re generally friends of mine or they move in close artistic circles. I don’t hold casting calls and I probably never will, except if I’m working with children or animals. I wrote this film with Margot Alexandre, Noémie Zurletti, Thomas Nucci and Marthe Wetzel in mind; they play the characters Wanda, Irène, Goustan and Connie respectively. For the meal scene I also got actresses and actors I know well and whose wavelengths are both varied and complementary. The same is true of all the characters in the film. Only one of the fairytale piglet actors withdrew the day before shooting began, because he’d never acted before and didn’t know anybody there. But it was fascinating to have this lyric singer who was able to show up like that and launch into Schubert.
How did you direct the actors? Did they do any improvising?
I wrote the script, sent it to the actors then I pulled out a framework of situations and goals corresponding to each scene in the film. Using the marked-up framework we rehearsed, re-improvising the scenes in order to come to grips with the situations and hone the relationships among the characters. When we arrived on set, the script was settled and we’d gone through each situation once (or almost). When I was at the conservatory in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, our professor Bruno Wacrenier often told us: “Go beyond the limit”. I see writing in the same way. I envision a text that’s very structured, seeing it like a den, a frame for fomenting an explosion – or not -, modifying, adding, adapting its acting to the scale of the irregularity of thought.
Like in your previous film Raout Pacha, which was selected at Clermont-Ferrand, the humor comes from the interactions and dialogue among the characters and from the absurdity of routine situations. Is that something you strive for in your films?
Yes. Absurdity is a sidestep that gives the viewer greater freedom, which is what interests me so much about it. In each situation, it’s like despair has come to join the actor.
What would you like to examine through the stories you tell?
I’m passionate about ideas of incompetence and learning. I’m interested in trying to build stories where failure becomes a precious, raw resource for attempting to cobble together your life.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
A year on, I’m re-re-re-watching Vivaldis by Philippe Découflé. It’s really graceful, light and funny. It helps me think about my next short film, which I’d like to shoot high in the mountains.
What’s your definition of a good film?
As a viewer, I’d say the actors and actresses. Acting can sometimes save awkward aspects of a film, but I have the feeling that the reverse is not true and that nothing can really make up for acting by actors who are lost or poorly directed. From the perspective of a filmmaker, I think a good film is the result of being careful of the way it’s made, taking care of the crew and being aware that the object we see is nothing more than the sum of the abilities of each of its members. I’m motivated by the utopia contained in that type of adventure, how much the direction a collective experience takes counts for and supplies the story that you’re in the process of building. Son Altesse Protocole was the first time I worked with a “complete” technical crew, where almost every role was accounted for. That was fundamental.