Just After Midnight
Interview by Marie Dinolan
In your director’s note you mention Suzanne, the blind woman, taking interest in studies about witches and the devil. Was it always the plan to make Suzanne a witch? As the creator, do you think she always had this power within? Or did some dark door open when she began researching the history of witches?
For this first question, it is important to note that the first versions of the script were much longer. Suzanne always had this interest in the figure of the witch, but this pre-disposition was more developed, it was a kind of learning. Moreover, at the beginning it was more a question of learning about cruelty than about witchcraft. And then, in another version Suzanne was somehow chosen by a mysterious woman in black to accomplish her purpose and as often it is a question of money that has forced us to choose. For lack of sufficient resources, we wrote the script a week before shooting and deleted sequences, sets, merge roles ... But the most important was that the character of Suzanne would evolve into a state of nightmare where it would be difficult to distinguish reality from fantasy. It's very fair that a dark door opens in front of her. She wants to leave this state of blind woman at all costs and witchcraft will enable her to achieve this.
The story and style felt reminiscent of a modern day folk story. Where did the inspiration of Just After Midnight come from?
It gives us great pleasure that you talk about our history as a folk tale. It's really an artistic direction of the project. Initially, one of us (Jean-Raymond) had done some of his studies with a blind friend. And probably thirty years later, it was his way of trying to restore his sight ... The scenario is based on this very simple idea of a woman who wants at all costs not to be blind anymore. She seeks to steal eyes. This simplicity is the very nature of folk tales, and this predatory character refers to the figure of vampires for example. The small community of children in disguise, the music scary and in some ways melancholy, all these aspects can indeed meet your proposal for a modern day folk story. Another element close to this idea, we suggested to the chief designer to take cognizance of the graphic work of Gustave Doré, very famous French illustrator of the tales of Perrault and the fables of La Fontaine.
What was your process to create the eerie, dark visual aspects of Just After Midnight. The actress who played Suzanne, delivered a full, believable, character inhabiting the life of a person without sight. How did the three of you work to create such a authentic performance?
At first there is our common taste for architecture and especially the art deco period. And then we began to pile up a lot of photographs, paintings … Cindy Sherman was a great source of inspiration. We recreated a topography of the place, the film is shot in Paris and 500 km away in the city of Limoges. For the sequence in the winter garden we were inspired by the 19th century spiritualist meetings. There are amazing pictures of these meetings at Victor Hugo or Conan Doyle’s palaces. It is also a lot of exchanges with the director of photography Pascale Marin, especially about the hue of day for night. At first there is our common taste for architecture and especially the art deco period. And then we heaped up a bunch of photographs, paintings: Cindy Sherman was a great source of inspiration. We recreated the topography of the place, the film is shot in Paris and 500 km away in the city of Limoges. For the sequence in the winter garden we were inspired by the 19th century spiritualist meetings. There are amazing pictures of these meetings at Victor Hugo or Conan Doyle. It is also a lot of exchanges with the director of photography Pascale Marin, especially about the hue of American nights. We had made a selection of films where light pleased us, intrigued us, attracted us and Pascale spoke with us. What's fun is that you can prepare well it's sometimes on the set that you decide suddenly: these are all red sequences when Suzanne returned home. About the work with actors, we are convinced that choosing the right actress is already more than half of the work that is done. India is a great actress, she was very happy to play this role, especially because it offers a lot of good girlfriend (girl next door) role and it was totally different. She has an incredible fantasy and a way of passing from vulnerability to a kind of poisonous beauty that is hers. To be honest, we have the feeling that she chose us too ...She worked with a coach to learn to walk with a cane, the body of a blind woman ... But what interested her the most was the motivations of her character. We insisted that Suzanne is a heroine, that there was no moral judgment to bear on her actions. On the set, India saw nothing because she was wearing opaque lenses. She was very brave while it was uncomfortable extract and after several hours really painful. We could talk about her for hours: she is wonderful and our film owes her a lot.
Some of the best films came from filmmakers who work as a team, the Cohen Brothers, Russo Brothers, Wachowski Brothers as an example. The credits list you both as the directors, have you worked on past projects together before? The film looks to have one voice, what do you find most successful when working together and creating a single vision.
We are certainly not brothers! ;-) This is our first co writing and co achievement and certainly not the last. The work is very intuitive between us, there is no sharing of tasks but constant exchanges. We have a common taste for scouting, the sets always come to feed our writing. And then living together means that you never really leave the movie. In reality it's very simple, preparing a film together is like cooking, we exchange and taste our respective dishes ... And on arrival there is our recipe :-)