Speechless (Canada | 2016, 13 min)
Directed by: Alexis Fortier Gauthier
A man has to annonce an unspeakable news to his girlfriend, freshly awoken from an accident's induced coma. He has trouble finding the courage.
Interview:An Interview with Alexis Fortier Gauthier, Director of "Speechless" with Caleb Dawdy
CD: There is a very distinct style and voice in the minimalistic leanings of the cinematography. Did that come up during the scriptwriting process as a necessity to the story you hoped to convey?
AFG: The starting point of the story was the hospital room. The script was originally wider in scope. Spanning on several weeks, focusing a lot more on the reeducation process. I decided to tighten the action around a single day, trying to enhance the small aspects of her awakening. I knew the originality of the film resides, not on the set-up, but on a very small detail, a white lie, an omission. The cinematography had to accompany that.
The extreme close-up were a natural extension of that idea. I didn’t want fast cutting, I wanted to take the time, immerse the audience in the eerie atmosphere.
The fact the the women is bedridden and enable to speak were ideas from the script that I had to translate into visuals and audio (or lack of). The stillness and the silence.
CD: The photography is unique in that there is very intentional framing, sometimes that even causes only fractions of the actors to be shown, what were the influences that you and your DP reached back to for this story?
AFG: It arched back to the stillness and the enability of speech of the female character. But also the boyfriend inability to speak. The story needed something graceful, a certain beauty in the bleakness. The framing was inspired by many things. Mostly trying to oppose very small things or gestures and larger shots, evoking a certain isolation a certain loneliness. The sense of loss mainly. We wanted to focus on faces, details. Capture the nuances, especially with a story so simple. I wanted dolly moves at certain specific time to add a floating sense among the stillness of it all. The choice of the anamorphic aspect ratio was made to match the horizontality of the bed. It gave also that sprawling sense of space, even in a very confined area.
CD: What were the goals of the cinematographer?
AFG: He wanted to be at the service of the emotions. We were on a very tight budget so, he also wanted to have a well exposed film…we went for a blueish tone, clashing with the pink a the hospital walls. We talked about Ulrich Seidl and his approach with his DP Ed Lachman with rich colours and deep contrast. I didn’t want something gray and clinical.
CD: Overall, what are some of your influences in cinema and storytelling?
AFG: I have a very wide variety of influences. In the case of "Speechless," Krzysztof Kieslowski was someone I revisited. I love his sense of poetry in everyday life, of complex moral dilemmas. His visual approach, uses of colors and symbolism. The above mentioned Ulrich Seidl, for his bleakness, the frankness of his worldview.
I became really passionate about films after seeing a late nights retrospective of Éric Rohmer’s movies. I’ve still very attached to the storytelling side of moviemaking. Ken Loach, John Sayles to name a few great ones.
CD: If you had to put yourself in the place of an audience member, where do you hope your characters ended up?
AFG: The ending is left open, but I wanted to show a certain hope. How can you go on after something that traumatic, that sad. I wanted to show strength and resilience. Maybe, they can go through it together. A lot of couple end up broken after that kind of tragedy. I wanted to show the figment of the trace of a hint of light. At least, a grieving process and maybe a healing process.
CD: What were the the largest struggles you faced during the writing or shooting process?
AFG: The writing had to be done in a very short time, so the scriptwriter and I had to work hard to get story where we both wanted it to be. Finding an hospital to film in for cheap was hard, on the production sides. The ladybugs were not the most cooperatives actors. In the editing, we had to cut out a lot of the humor we had put in the script. It’s hard to imagine now, but we tried the balance the drama with some bits of comedy, that we shot. But in the end, it didn’t work. The tone had to stay serious, especially for a short film and frankly; the funny lines weren’t that funny.
CD: Did this story go through any large changes before the version we see on screen; can you speak to those versions and why certain changes were made?
AFG: The film was written by a friend, who wanted to talk about the time she spent at the hospital, recuperating from a minor stroke. Her inability to speak, the stillness of the left side of her body. I brought in the accident side to it and a little of visual poetry with the ladybug.
The script evolved, like most of them do, during the writing stage up until the shoot. It was mostly the focus that was tightened and we concentrate the time frame of the story into a single day, to compress the drama and focus on smaller details.
In earlier drafts, the accident involved the parents of the woman. When I came on board, I decided to focus on an infant. I had recently become a father and I felt it was necessary to bring the story closer to home. Every parent fears for their children’s safety. That fear was very real for me. That change of focus made way for the ladybug idea.
As mention above, there was a lot more humor in the script that we ended up cutting in editing, because the short running time of the movie couldn’t sustain wide mood changes or emotional misdirection. The subject was too serious to be trivialized by our attempts at humor.
CD: For my own curiosity, can you speak towards the symbolism and inclusion of The Ladybug?
AFG: I was looking for a way to have the daughter be in the hospital room. We knew we would have pictures, but I wanted a living incarnation of her, not a ghost. Something visual and maybe unexpected. Ladybugs seemed to evoke childhood and also a certain sense of innocence, freedom. I was also thinking of reincarnation and all that. In the writing process, we weren’t sure about the idea. We feared it’d be corny and laughable.
But when the art director brought in a bag full of a thousand sleeping ladybug, I knew it would be special.
CD: Are there any projects on the horizon for you or your team you can speak to?
AFG: I just finished two new short films that I shot last summer. One is about a medium that welcomes three different clients, attempting to help them out. The other one is about a native visual artist seeking recognition in the city. So pretty different stories. They’ll begin their festival life in a few weeks. I’m also in the financing stage of a few other projects, shorts and features. Trying to keep busy, being creative!