Interview with Clémence Le Gall, director of Le Chant du feu [The Light’s Song]
Friday 11 February 2022, by ,
Why did you choose a lighthouse as the setting for your film? Did you want to explore the impact of automation?
I grew up close to the sea, in Loire Atlantique. The coastline always seemed to be an interesting place to film. In this space, there is an indescribable atmosphere, like the end of the world. I like the description of the Finistère by painter He Yifu: it “makes people stop and forget their return, immersed in their contemplation”. I wanted to film the seaside because it is precisely this space that envelops and aspires to a moment of wavering, of perspective, of introspection. For the lighthouse, I’ve always been fascinated by their luminous language which strikes me as particularly cinematic. There is something in the seafaring world that is very concrete yet very magical at the same time. The frontier with the fantastical never seems very far away. What we call “the light’s song” is the sound produced by the lantern as it turns at the top of the lighthouse during the night’s watch. In the tower, they can’t see the light turn, the constant rolling tells them that everything is functioning. With regard to automation, I understood from meeting many lightkeepers that it had created a feeling of nostalgia for these buildings that had become ghosts, as if emptied of their soul. I hope this nostalgia runs through the film. Automation challenges the lightkeeper’s sense of usefulness. For Noé, the rhythm of the guards along with his nocturnal song are the backbone of his daily life. Automation upsets the balance. That’s what I wanted to address in this film.
Do you know the region well?
With the rainy atmosphere, the humidity, and the mist, coastline landscapes are often the setting of dark, strange and uncertain impressions, steeped in melancholy or a natural sadness. When I went scouting in Dunkirk, I found that atmosphere that Brittany landscapes had evoked for me. What struck me at Dunkirk is how close the lighthouse is to the factories. There is an obvious analogy between all these huge empty carcasses that light up at night. The St. Pol lighthouse, our setting, is thus the junction and the rupture between the mechanical and concrete side of the Earth with its factories and industrial society, and the relatively unknown side of the Sea with its uncontrollable, magical elements. It is the last human pivot before the Ocean, and for me this was the perfect paradoxical setting for the story I wanted to tell.
The images are beautiful. How did the shooting go?
Thank you so much! This film followed me during the length of my schooling. I spent some time writing it during the lockdown, and the filming was postponed several times because of the pandemic. During the filming, I felt the need to make the film due to the waiting (preparation, lockdown). The shoot was intense and effective, a drastically different energy from the writing and preparation stages. With the director of photography Quentin Lacombe, we took the time to prepare the color palettes, swapping numerous visual references from the films of Jean Epstein, Alice Rohrwacher or Alain Guiraudie. I had been working with original soundtrack composer Elyot Milshtein for two years. For this film, we worked on models before shooting. The shoot was charged with all this preparation and led to ideal conditions for filming. I was fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible team, especially the producer and the production manager who helped me achieve exactly what I had in mind. It is very rare for a student film. I feel very lucky.
As a filmmaker, what kinds of stories do you like to tell? What do you plan to explore in the coming years?
I like to tell inner stories. What interests me is to see how far we can go to understanding a feeling. How we can slip inside the skin of a character without the need for words. And at the same time, I like the idea of not being too contemplative, cinema also allows for fantasy and triviality. I am trying to find this balance in my writing for my next two short films, Océan Mer and Les Évanouis de White Sand. I am also working on a documentary with Shoreh Belfond about post-traumatic silence. For these upcoming projects, I want to tell stories based on female characters. Feminism has taken an increasingly large place in my life and is now inextricably linked to my writing projects. The topics I hold most dear are often linked to marginalization, solitude, and coastal landscapes. There is a quote from Baricco that often accompanies me as I write: “Such was the Altmayer guesthouse. It had that beauty that only the defeated can have. And the clarity of that which is weak. And the perfect loneliness of what has been lost.” What interests me is to see how characters charged with this feeling can reinvent themselves and change their destinies. Being above all a musician, the work on the sound and the music is also essential in my work. It’s what allows me to search for shifts in an immersive universe.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
It would surely be common to say Chris Marker’s La Jetée, but how could you pass it by! Otherwise, more recently, I really liked I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face, because the way he staged silence touched me a lot. In a very different style, I really liked Dustin by Naïla Guiguet, for the character and the sound work.
What’s your definition of a good film?
What a question! I don’t think there is a magic formula, but I’d say that the films that touch me the most are those that seem to carry an emotional courage: for me, it’s necessary to dare to make a film with one’s guts, and to trust in oneself. Afterwards, once we are on a sincere subject, we forget to what extent cinema is a collective art. It’s the energy between all the members of the team, I think, that transforms the work and makes it possible for a good film to exist. We never make a film all on our own!