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Interview with Arthur Cahn, director of Jeudi, vendredi, samedi
Monday 14 February 2022, by ,
The factory where Romain and Adémar work has caught fire, so they decide to enjoy three days of idleness together in the mild summer.
The relationship between Romain and Adémar is very touching. How did you come up with the idea for this friendship between colleagues?
I’ve always been interested in the way adult artists call on their childlike sensibilities to take on youth. I’m a person who needs a lot of tenderness and I like reading illustrated books. A few years ago I found an article by Arnold Lobel’s daughter that talked about her late father’s work and how his Frog and Toad collection of children’s stories had been a way for him to explore his secret homosexuality without ever mentioning it. What’s very tender in Frog and Toad, and which is what I wanted to retrace in my film, is that the love between them has no label: you’re free to see it as friendship or as a feeling of love. Nowadays there’s a tendency to want to use words to circumscribe everything that makes us up. I liked the idea of a feeling that doesn’t need a label.
Why did you choose to use the fire at the factory as a starting point?
In Frog and Toad, the main characters don’t have jobs. That sort of a world without work was very reassuring to me and seemed full of possibilities. I wanted my film to be an ode to idleness. So it begins with the end of work as symbolized by the factory. The fire that burns through it is mysterious; we don’t know why the machine suddenly starts to smoke. It has something a little poetic or even symbolic about it, it’s the fire of a spreading desire. I like telling myself stories that aren’t visible in the film I’m making but that sketch out guide lines for the staging and character development. So on set we often said that Romain started the fire so he could spend time with Adémar. I also told myself that the snail at the beginning of the film was magically responsible for the fire: he gets all the way to the factory to cast a spell on it and free his two friends. Those types of stories, submerged like the base of an iceberg, help me to create.
Can you tell us a bit about your cinematographic choices (drawings, splitting the story up into three days, and so on)?
Splitting the story into chapters harks back to the literary origin of my initial idea. I like the idea that each day has its own little adventure. We worked with a graphic designer, Vincent Defosse, for the cards that separate the three sections. I told him about my sources of inspiration (which I’d already communicated to the director of photography, Benjamin Rufi, and the production designer, Pauline Alcala): not just Arnold Lobel, but also Maurice Sendak and Ernest H. Shepard’s illustrations, Beatrix Potter’s books as well as the animated show Over the Garden Wall that retraces that slightly primitive, outdated style. Vincent had the great idea of writing the cards on the backs of envelopes foreshadowing the famous letter Adémar is waiting for from the beginning of the film. Another source of inspiration that led me to film the natural areas and animals around our two characters is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya which is sprinkled with inserts of the flora and fauna and the passing seasons. For me it was important in Jeudi, vendredi, samedi to make sure we also filmed non-human time.
How did you go about casting the film?
The film quickly received some initial financing. I’d written the script for my own pleasure and to comfort myself. When I realised it was going to get made, I wondered how I, with my urban, middle-class background, could dare to make a film about two rural laborers. I had to tap into sensibilities and realities different from my own. I had to use “real people” since we couldn’t afford to feel a sense of unreality from the context. So I looked for non-professional actors. I wanted the reality of a body that’s no stranger to work; I wanted to film that sort of beauty, another beauty, less formatted and less common to the big screen. For Romain, I was at a big family get-together when I suddenly saw my cousin, Quentin Fébié who’s a construction worker. I saw how sunny he was. I said, “That’s him!” He’d never acted before but I knew he’d be incredible. When he called me to tell me whether he’d agree to be in the film, I was as stressed out as if I’d been waiting for Isabelle Huppert to call! It had become obvious to me that I couldn’t make the film without him. For Adémar, things took longer. The description of him was of a very plump man. So we held a huge open call but we didn’t find the right person. One day in the subway, I realized I had to think beyond the description and I thought of Pierre-François Doireau who I knew by sight and who’s a theater actor. Adémar had to be embarrassed by his plumpness. As it happens, Pierre-François is not plump but he has a disability in his legs that contributes to our understanding of the character. And Pierre-François is also a redhead with blue eyes, which I like – I’m also a redhead and a weird thing happens chromatically when you try to put redness on screen! So we did some trial runs with Quentin and Pierre-François and the two were really touching together; there was immediately something between them. It was also Pierre-François’ first time in front of a camera. Since he was coming from the theater and Quentin was coming from construction, they required two different approaches; we had to speak two languages, but we made it through. For the young people at the lake it was sort of similar: Claïna Clavaron has a theater background, she’s totally impressive; the camera loves her and I love seeing her onscreen. Her two accomplices, Fama Koita and Komett Boussamba, had no experience at the time. All of this was accomplished with the assistance of Sophie Thurin.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
Yes, since we’re talking a lot about childhood, I’ll mention Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon, and also Diane Jackson’s The Snowman, taken from the book of the same name by Raymond Briggs. It’s marvelous, the graphic work is sublime, everything was done with pastel pencils. But it’s much too sad a film for me to see again; it makes me cry too much.
What’s your definition of a good film?