Interview with Marthe Sébille, director of Que la Bête monte
Tuesday 1 February 2022, by ,
After a bus accident in the middle of nowhere, Lupa decides to tag along with another passenger, Alban, who is determined to reach the nearest village on foot. Crossing through fields and rivers, they slowly go off-course in a strange forest.
Where did you get the idea for this rather supernatural adventure?
This project has been in development for a very long time. It arose from life experience and my feminist and ecological convictions. A few years ago, I found myself stuck in a train in the middle of the countryside, and I had my driving license exam early the next morning. After waiting for 4 hours, a young man in a hurry decided to walk to the next village. Many of us followed him. The group quickly separated from us, and I found myself alone with him crossing a corn field. He told me he was on temporary release and that he had to return to prison that night. I felt a mixture of fear and fascination regarding this strange situation. Him and his determination to return to being imprisoned, and me, my recklessness to follow a stranger. I’ve long thought back to this story, the foretaste of adventure, all the possibilities that this corn field offered, and the temptation that presented itself – the urge to escape from our social obligations and find freedom. However, we resisted, we were strong. Or weak. In any case, we did not give in to our urges. So, I imagined a story where there is no village, but an infinite Homeric forest that would reveal the most repressed desires. An unexpected couple make this journey together, an impossible encounter between Lupa and Alban, testing the extreme limits of the question: how far can the desire to be free and to feel alive take us?
Can you tell us more about your choice of title?
It’s obviously a nod to Chabrol. I’ve always loved this title: Que la bête meure. Powerful, effective, disturbing. An injunction to tragedy. In the latter, Paul is the beast to be slaughtered, the symbol of patriarchy: dominant, violent, vulgar, cowardly… In my film, Lupa is the woman who must live and free herself from all impediments and let the beast rise in her.
How was shooting in the middle of the forest?
It was both beautiful and very difficult. I did the scouting in early May right after the first lockdown with my husband who is a set designer. After being confined for so long, we were captivated by the beauty of nature, the power of the forests, inaccessible by vehicle. We had to convince the producers that the forest is THE backdrop of the film, it must be pure, magical… almost primitive. During the shooting, we were lucky to have had beautiful weather because we had no interior set to fall back on in case of bad weather. The shooting was in September, so after the lockdown. The whole team wanted and needed to work again and be outside. The landscapes of the Dordogne were majestic but difficult to access. We had to think of lighter and more compact equipment with the help of the director of photography Eva Sehet, and transport the equipment by hand. You had to wear it everywhere and all the time! Everyone got involved, from direction to the actors. In fact, they were incredible. Among many impressive feats, Pauline did all of the scenes barefoot.
In your film there are moments of horror, science-fiction… Are you inspired by genre films? What were your sources of inspiration?
My inspirations for this film weren’t really cinematic. Firstly, there’s my relationship with nature, which has always been a fundamental resource for me where I can summon the invisible. Then the works of Garcia Marquez and magical realism. I was also interested in humanities, the arts, and the many myths of animality and savagery to explore Lupa’s transformation. Often it’s a deep desire for emancipation that arises. Deleuze’s notion of becoming-animal also caught my attention. Starting from the point that the wild animal is always on the lookout for food and protection, it compares this attitude of heightened awareness of the world to that of the philosopher or artist. The becoming-animal movement is about being able to notice and question the world around us and be as aware as an animal would be. I was also interested in the Siberian shamanic rites of animal transformation, the passage into animality that is made to process a real-life event, to tap into the resources of life, strength and opposition. Lupa experiences a return to primitive vigor and thus leaves a sick body. I wanted to ask questions about gender and heroism. Redistribute the cards of courage and virility. Lupa, now an Amazon heroine, finally grasps her strength. But can the Others, the humans, support such a free and fierce woman? Here, the hunters embody evil. The powerful woman becomes a beast to be hunted down and murdered. The film is a tribute to freedom-loving women, stopped in their drive by those who can’t stand it. With the director of photography, Eva Sehet, we studied films set in the middle of nature (The Lost City of Z, In the Electric Mist, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, The Revenant, Badlands…) and with the editor, Jeanne Oberson, we evoked contemporary dance, which was an influence for me in how I directed the actors, as well as the magical universe of Miyazaki.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
Two films about solitude. A Sleepless Night by Samuel Tilman (2010). I remember the intensity of the suspense, and how Samuel Tilman made me experience a night stranded high in the mountains without ever having filmed it. Stunning. Eremia Eremia by Olivier Broudeur and Anthony Quéré. Awarded at Clermont Ferrand in 2008. A refined narrative, powerful imagery, a complete cinematic language.
What’s your definition of a good film?
A sincere regard. A certain generosity. Emotion.