"There is a radical desire for the unknown and of otherness": Soufiane Adel on One Day When I Was Lost
Saturday 4 February 2023, by ,
The Voyager probe is about to leave our solar system. At the same time, on Earth, Alain Diaw begins his first day of work in a prestigious automobile company. He has come a long way and is also aiming for the unknown.
Soufiane Adel’s Le Jour où j’étais perdu (the title is taken from James Baldwin’s book) is a beautiful and graphically ambitious meditation on social, physical and technological mobility, merging an individual’s own desire to reach for the unknown and the ambitions of the global space race.
Talk to us about the bond that unites the Voyager and Alain’s journey.
The Voyager space mission was started by NASA in the 70s with the goal of exploring the solar system and of sending signals of our societies on Earth to potential alien civilizations. It was a message in a bottle thrown into an immense and mysterious ocean. This desire to surpass known limits reminded me of Alain’s utopia, his vision of the future, it too hurtled toward the unknown. In both cases, there is a radical desire for the unknown and of otherness. Alain is working on a project of overhauling the automobile industry, based on an absolute approach of mobility. Having himself experienced this in his social and professional trajectory, he now wants to elevate it to the level of an industrial and human revolution. He is inspired by transhumanist thought, by his democratic current let’s say. He believes this evolution necessary to attain social justice. But the frontier between vision and ideology is sometimes very thin…and Alain is resolved to move forward no matter the cost. With this drive, he could be overcome by the mechanism that he would like to surpass. Will his revolution be in line with his goal or will it reproduce a pattern of domination? Each viewer is free to answer.
Who or what inspired this character?
During my studies in industrial design, a former student was invited to speak to us about his career. He had become an executive in a large French company. On this occasion, he related an event that took place on his first day at work. He was going around the offices to visit his new workplace and when he went to shake hands with a future team-member, that person asked him to empty the waste bin, thinking he was a custodian or janitor, simply because he was black. This story never left me and it was upon this anecdote that the film was gradually constructed.
Could you explain the choice of title?
Le Jour où j’étais perdu borrows from the title of a story by James Baldwin, an American writer that never stopped preaching love and fraternal healing, surpassing differences of culture, background, and this in spite of wounds of the past. I also chose this title because it evokes a decisive moment for me that is scary and deep all at once. Often, when one is lost, it becomes impossible to turn, to change something within ourselves, for better or for worse.
Music plays an important role in your film. How did you create this soundtrack?
The music in the film is composed of several moments that are rather varied in genre and include emotive tonalities. One of the principle pieces is at the beginning of the film, with the reinterpretation of the second aria of Queen of the Night of The Magic Flute by Mozart, created for the film by Othman Louati a rhythmic and imaginary process with a touch of sci-fi and an epilogue that evokes childhood while Alain looks at starlings. Othman is a composer who has a large knowledge of the classical repertoire, but also a taste for electronic and contemporary experimental music, as well as pop music. It was important for me to work with an eclectic composer because the film is about pushing boundaries, and the music needed to be approached in the same way. In Thomas’ apartment for example, one of the “sci-fi” moments of the film, we used Arabic tonalities, a contribution of the composer Geoffroy Lindenmeyer, with whom I worked on previous films. The universe of science-fiction belongs to a very Western imaginary. I wanted to shake up this cultural imaginary at the moment of the film where Thomas loses himself, where he seriously questions himself.
Talk a bit about the film’s cinematography and special effects.
My career in design was a source of inspiration for the film’s esthetic, which unfolds in the field of industrial creation. It is a world of shapes, volumes, surfaces, material. The dialogue between these elements is always important in cinema, but was even more so in this case. The general idea was to film machines in a way that suggested their vitality, and conversely humans as machines, alienated by work, caught up in automatic reflexes. Regarding the special effects, the main challenge was to reproduce the Voyager space probe and the planets of the solar system in a realistic way, by trying to create a sense of identification and emotion rather than distance. Beside the shots in space, which are completely fabricated images, there were other, simpler, interventions that allowed us to include elements like the moon or the starlings in the shots. It was important to me to create points of contact between nature and the film’s characters, Alain and Thomas, that their glances interrogate nature at some point, as if trying to pierce through its mystery.
What are your inspirations in cinema or otherwise?
The approach and the work of Stanley Kubrick. I’m thinking particularly of Napoléon, the film that he was not able to produce, but for which the entire process of documentation was edited: correspondence, costume studies, location scouting photos, versions of the screenplay, storyboard. Allemagne année zero et Rome ville ouverte by Roberto Rossellini as well.
What’s your favorite short?
At Land by Maya Deren or La Jetée by Chris Marker.
What does the Festival mean to you?
It’s that festival that showed my first short, Nuits closes, which was self-produced, in 2005. I really like this festival and the way it is able to fill up an entire city, mixing the professionals and audiences. I particularly wanted to come back to the festival with this film, after so many years.