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Interview with Victor Trifilieff, director of Les Curiosités du mal [The Hunt of the Unicorn]
Tuesday 15 February 2022, by ,
Elias is not connecting with any of the other millennials he’s on vacation with. After witnessing them perform a shocking display of cruelty toward a defenseless creature, he becomes even more alienated from the group. But dealing with the aftermath of the incident will prove pivotal in his struggle with his own inner demons.
Could you tell us how you came up with the title? What do you think of the English translation?
I like it when a film’s title has a certain poetry to it, a hint of mystery even before you’ve seen the first images in it. I’d rather the title take on its full meaning only after you’ve seen the film. In this case, I started from an exchange of letters between Alfred de Musset and George Sand where they talk about the satisfaction of curiosities. The English translation of the title, The Hunt of the Unicorn, is the name of a medieval tapestry that’s visible several times in the film. You can see a unicorn imprisoned by a thick, heavy chain in an enclosure that’s too small for it. A metaphor for thwarted purity. I’m usually very fond of titles in English or Latin, but in this case, I much prefer the French title.
What did you want to explore through the character Elias?
I wanted to continue my exploration of themes I hold dear, like depression and physical and psychological violence. In this film, I wanted to introduce them into a group setting, a mass setting. To have this young man and his inner demons face collective fever.
Your film mixes various genres and codes. How would you describe it? What prompted you to adopt supernatural elements?
I’d say it’s a fantastic psychological drama, if that means anything. For me, the “fantastical” treatment turned out to be a formidable weapon for talking about the unspeakable and the invisible poetically, without being too pompous. I was super excited by the idea of beginning with a very realistic context and world and then dropping a fantastical hair in the soup. In spite of its meticulous realism, I wanted the creature to be part of reality, which is evidenced by the kids’ reactions: they’re not surprised to meet such a strange being in the woods at three in the morning.
How was it shooting in the forest?
Cold. Particularly for Nicolas Foray, the actor who plays the Creature. Aside from the makeup and the flesh-colored underpants that partially covered him, he spent four days and nights naked in the relatively cool woods of the Hautes-Pyrénées. Big up to him! From a personal perspective, it’s a total rush shooting in a forest. It’s regressive, it’s a trip, it’s exciting. Woods are among the sets where you say you’re actually totally happy to be doing this job.
Tell us about your journey as a filmmaker.
I’m pretty self-taught as they say. I was also lucky enough to have a great group around me. I didn’t go to film school, I didn’t necessarily have any contacts in the business, in fact I don’t even have a high school diploma to be honest. I was just really famished, I had an insatiable thirst to create. I began with the music, which is what I did for ten years, then I got into directing by working on videos for my group back then. One of my best buddies then “hired” me to create several films for his brand of underpants and those went over well at festivals. I was able to make Libera Me, my first fiction short film in 2019. And here I am today at Clermont-Ferrand with The Hunt of the Unicorn. I was also lucky enough to get into SoFilm’s genre feature film residency last year. As a result, I’m working on my first feature as we speak.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
The vast majority of short films that speak to me the most are animations and they come directly from the internet. I’m a fan of artists like David Firth and Don Hertzfeltd who, through drawings that are deceptively simplistic, manage to talk about the darkest areas of our minds, our repressed drives and immeasurable sadness. In general, I go for anything that’s absurd or shady. If we’re talking about real-life images, I follow everything that Alan Resnick does. He’s a little short film genius on YouTube.
What’s your definition of a good film?
A good film is a film that stays with me for hours, days, years after I’ve left the theater. A good film leaves a ghost imprint that resurfaces from time to time to call me back to its pleasant memory. That’s what I try to do with my projects: leave a trace in people’s minds.