How did you get the idea of offering her (Isabelle Huppert) the part of playing herself?
I thought it was interesting for Marvin to meet a woman from the theater, and Isabelle was an obvious choice from the earliest writing stage. It seemed self-evident. I didn’t know if she would say yes, but I couldn’t see anyone else in the role, which is small but very important – she literally reverses Marvin’s destiny. I think she was very touched by the film.
Tell us about Finnegan Oldfield and Jules Porier, the two actors who play Marvin.
I discovered Finnegan in “Bang Gang” by Eva Husson and “Les Cowboys” by Thomas Bidegain. I had him do several screen tests – with Gregory Gadebois especially – and didn’t hesitate long. Finnegan is an exceptional person. His story is exceptional, and his beauty is, too. I liked his indecisive relationship to femininity and virility, and the way he walks, almost like he’s levitating.
And I was completely love-struck by Jules Porier. I started looking for him way ahead of time. The role was complex, and the actor playing him had to be able to express a lot of emotions as well as a certain vulnerability – all with very little dialogue. He also had to have a certain physical resemblance to Finnegan. Jules was already in improvisation classes and responded on his own to the ad we posted on the internet. He really wanted to get into film work.
How did you prepare for the film with the two Marvins?
First by trying to build up their physical resemblance in the most subtle way possible: I dyed their hair red, I worked on their flesh tones and freckles, and I filmed them together a long time. Making the resemblance work was of the utmost necessity – the viewer shouldn’t have the slightest doubt about their identity.
Next, I asked Finnegan to prepare physically, with dance and gymnastic classes, to perfect the body awareness he already had naturally. He and I worked a lot on his character,
especially the scenes where he is alone in his student housing and the ones where he is on stage at the Bouffes du Nord. He needed direction – it reassured him.
One month before shooting began Jules, Grégory Gadebois, Catherine Salée and I left to do rehearsals in the Bijou family home. For four weeks, we tested the dialogue, worked out the violent scenes and did a lot of real searching. I had already used that method making “The Innocents” and I’ve become attached to it. It allows you to create connections between the actors, get right into the subject matter and explore possibilities without the obligation of producing results. It gives you freedom.
There are a lot of characters in the film.
And a lot of actors with important roles. “Marvin” probably has the most out of any film I’ve made.
You had already worked with Vincent Macaigne on “The Innocents,” but it’s your first time directing Grégory Gadebois, Catherine Salée and Catherine Mouchet.
More and more, I like mixing together well-known and lesser-known actors. I liked Grégory Gadebois so much that we are going to be on another film together very soon. And I love the friendliness Catherine Salée projects. Even though she doesn’t understand her son at all, I wanted the audience to feel empathy for Marvin’s mother.
As for Catherine Clément’s character, she couldn’t be a run-of-the-mill principal. She’s not your Mrs. Everywoman. I envisioned a few different actresses for the role, but when I met Catherine Mouchet, I couldn’t resist. She has a fire in her eye, the same one she had in Alain Cavalier’s “Thérèse.” With the poetry, uniqueness, and above all, mystery that she brings to the role, as small as it may be, she succeeds in making a powerful impact. She is a rare actress.
There are also many non-professional actors in “Marvin” – a lot of children.
Including the young girl who does a scene with Marvin, and who is really great. I was very attached to having them interact like that with the other actors. When I chose them and learned about their lives, they brought me even closer to my subject.
You filmed in the Vosges Mountains. Why that particular region?
I didn’t want to go to Northern France, where most films that touch upon social hardship are shot. I was somewhat familiar with Belfort, from making “Dry Cleaning.” Epinal wasn’t far from there. I like the landscapes in that region, their kind of raw beauty. It adds something to the film.
Tell us how it was shooting the film.
For reasons linked to Isabelle’s schedule, I began with the scene at the Bouffes du Nord. The next day, I was in the Vosges Mountains with the kids who bully Marvin in middle school. In two days, I had gone from one extreme to the other: the stylized version and the brutality of action. That immediately gave me the film’s keynote – the right chord to strike.
It was your first time working with Yves Angelo.
I didn’t want naturalistic cinematography. On the contrary, I wanted the image to be very subtly stylized. It was fairly complicated to define. Like me, Yves likes to explore and try different things.
Did you give him any references?
I told him about the trilogy in black and white by Bill Douglas [“My Childhood,” “My Ain Folk,” and “My Way Home” — Ed.], which takes place in a community of Scottish miners and has an extremely pure vision of childhood. I saw a truth in it which inspired us enormously. We had to avoid the traps of satire and pessimism.
Yves is an extremely cultured individual. You can talk with him forever about meaning. We opted for a 1.6 crop factor, a format no longer in use, to make the framing tighter and bring in more characters. We did quite subtle work on the color and the grain, which differs depending upon whether we are in Marvin’s past or present. We also chose to use older lenses, which are more “vulnerable” than the ones currently used.
We are with the character all the time.
We stick with him at every age. The story is really told from his point of view. Even when he is not on screen, we need to feel that he is both the subject and, in a certain sense, the author of the film we are watching. That requires special filming methods, such as shooting
hand-held, but done with finesse so that it fuses with the character, the framing always slightly offset. You don’t see that it’s slightly off – the viewer has to feel it in his bones.
There is a lot of invention in the film. Those projections on Marvin’s bedroom wall when he is writing, for example.
Yves and I were looking for a way to represent the imaginary, and the act of creation, without necessarily using the text. We imagined projecting images of Marvin’s childhood on the wall of his small room – images from different generations, which we feel like we are seeing a bit backwards – by filming them live, as if he were physically in contact with his childhood. The result borders on special effects but blends well with the structure of the film, which is constantly playing with poetic allegory. It was a very exciting experiment for us to try out.
With such a sophisticated structure, were there any particular issues in the edit?
I had carried the film’s structure around inside me during the writing and the filming. I would have been devastated if we had needed to re-edit everything according to a classic dramatic structure at that point. But except for a few adjustments, we remained very faithful to the original plan.
From pop music to opera, there is a lot of music in the film, but none of it is original.
The music had to give the film energy, rhythm and movement. I wanted it to be modern and varied, and correspond to Marvin’s generation. It works like a sugar rush: we should never at any time feel like Marvin is going to get bogged down.
“Marvin” is truly an ode to art and culture.
That is what guided me throughout the film, from the choice of subject to its final form.