Those who have been keeping a close eye on the short film programs of international festivals will have seen a select number of titles popping up all over the world in 2016. Particularly noteworthy for the numerous awards they both collected are Tim Egan’s Curve and Quarxx’s A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky (Un Ciel Bleu Presque Parfait).
The former is a harrowing edge-of-your seat nightmare about a woman who desperately tries to prevent herself from falling off a reclining surface into a pitch-black abyss. Coincidence or not, its potent combination of visceral thrills and metaphoric exploration of a mental illness is also what makes the latter such a singularly impressive work.
Quarxx’s short focuses on Simon (Jean-Luc Clochard), an unstable man who tries his best to take care of his disabled sister, Estelle (Melanie Gaydos), while awaiting the arrival of otherworldly beings with whom he believes to be in contact.
So far A Nearly Perfect Blue Sky has been accepted into more than 70 festivals across the world and took home top prizes on different continents. Yesterday, news broke that the French short has also been selected for Sundance 2017. (For the complete list of Sundance short films, click here).
I had the opportunity to sit down with writer-director Quarxx for a Skype interview session.
Read our conversation below and find out why the upcoming feature film version is something to be very excited about.
ScreenAnarchy: Before anything else can you perhaps briefly introduce yourself to anyone who is unfamiliar with you? You are actually a multimedia artist, whose works have been displayed all over the world, not just at film festivals but also in art galleries?
Quarxx: That’s right, that’s right. I started quite some time ago as a photographer and after a certain period of time I felt myself a little bit stuck in this medium and I wanted to express myself in different ways. So from photography I went to painting. As I started doing some paintings I guess it was through a combination of chance and maybe a little bit of talent that I met really the right people and especially the right galleries.
For the past eight years now I have been working with an art gallery here in Paris that is showing my work, as you said, worldwide. I’m doing a lot of exhibitions in China – Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong – and we are now also opening a branch in Thailand. I’ve also exhibited in the States, in London. Things were working quite well for me as a painter but after a while I felt frustrated and I wanted to do some more. I didn’t want to be stuck in one single medium like painting and so I went on to filmmaking. To my surprise, it’s also working quite well.
UN CIEL BLEU PRESQUE PARFAIT premiered at Gérardmer and has been on a roll ever since, winning prizes at the Paris Short Film Festival, Screamfest, at Fantasia …
That’s right. [Laughs.] I can say that I’m quite happy with the result and how it’s been going. In the beginning we were really not sure but as you said the premiere took place at Gérardmer. I was actually still editing the day before. Until 2 o’clock in the morning the film was not finished and we just made the DCP in the morning, took the train and just made it to the premiere in Gérardmer.
At the time I really didn’t know, I mean, I didn’t know any more if my film was good or not good. I had seen it so many times and I was not really sure what was going on here. But after we saw the reaction from the audience at Gérardmer we felt quite confident that the film was gonna have a nice run at different festivals.
Can you talk us through the creation of UN CIEL BLEU PRESQUE PARFAIT, from when you first conceptualized the film and what inspired you, through the actual process of getting the film made?
Actually few things inspired me on that one because with my previous films I was always inclined to have references to different films that I loved or other filmmakers […] On this one, from the beginning, I really didn’t want to go down this path anymore. I wanted to do something really personal without taking any ideas from anybody else. And I wanted to make a film that doesn’t look like anyone else’s.
I didn’t have anything in mind actually at the beginning and I just wanted to make a very dark drama dealing with siblings – a relationship between a brother and a sister. I didn’t really know where the story was gonna take me and so I worked on the script for about four months. It took four months to write from beginning to end. At that time, after writing it, that’s when the real trouble began actually …
What sort of problems are you referring to?
The problem of being produced and finding the right amount of money to make the film because the script was quite scary for a lot of people. The story is hardcore. It scared away a lot of people […]
Since the beginning I actually wanted to make a long version. It was supposed to be a feature film. I didn’t write a short story actually, I wrote a script that was 100 pages long. But we couldn’t find the right people to finance the feature film. I thought to myself ‘ok, fuck it. I will reduce the story to a medium length short film that’s 36 minutes and I will do it myself’. This, in order to ease the producer into it and to be able to do the feature film version afterwards. And that’s what we are doing right now, actually.
That’s terrific news. That was actually going to be my follow-up question because the duration of UN CIEL BLEU is somewhat odd: it’s halfway in between being a short and a feature film. And so I was wondering whether that was a deliberate choice because that’s the length the story required or whether at one point you had hoped to turn UN CIEL BLEU into a full length motion picture. And as it turns out it’s the latter.
Exactly, so I’ve answered both of your questions at once [laughs]. But yes, that’s exactly how it happened. From the beginning I had pictured a full length film but even now that we have all this success and won at several festivals it’s still quite difficult to find the financial means. I wanted to work with big producers, not a small production company that maybe wouldn’t be able to complete the film […] But now I feel I’m in the right hands and we’re actually gonna start shooting next August.
Will it also be with an entirely French cast or are you going for a more international production?
Well, it’s still gonna be a low-budget movie because in France we got the CNC [the National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image] and they gave us an NC-17 rating and that’s perfectly ok for me, but it’s also scary for financers. So it’s still gonna be low-budget, but enough for me to be able to express myself and work in good conditions.
It’s gonna be the same film because we’re gonna keep, I think, – it’s not 100% sure yet – but the information I have at the moment is that we’re gonna keep the footage from the short. We’re keeping those 36 minutes but we’re pushing in an hour more, which will bring us to a feature film of an hour and a half … So it’s gonna be the same story but deeper.
Earlier on you talked about wanting to tell a very personal work, and a film that is its own thing. But UN CIEL BLEU blends sci-fi touches with body horror and some of the more grotesque shock images that many international audiences may associate with New French Extremism (films like MARTYRS, À L’INTÉRIEUR, or HAUTE TENSION). These were not actually visual reference points when making the film?
Right, I didn’t affiliate myself from the beginning with those films and didn’t want to become part of the New French Extremism. But I guess it must be a little bit in my genes also. One of my good friends is Gaspar Noé – I’m sure that you know Gaspar – and of course I love this kind of movie, but I didn’t think about it when starting out on the film. I just wanted to make a striking story and also I don’t like my works being tagged with any specific genre. Now people tell me, ‘well your film is definitely a genre film’, and I don’t really agree with that.
I think all kinds of films are ‘genre’ films but to me Un Ciel Bleu is a blend of genres. As you said, it has a touch of science fiction which actually, for me, is not science fiction because we’re still dealing with reality here. Those aliens he’s thinking about are just a reflection of his psychological disease or his form of schizophrenia. We’re not talking about real aliens. It’s just a mind game and how he sees the world, how he’s confronted with beings from elsewhere but they don’t actually exist. So basically, I wanted to make a movie with a mix of genre elements, but I also wanted to stay rooted in a realistic environment.
You’re taking the words right out of my mouth because I was going to talk about celebrated horror directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven who have all commented on horror by saying that the things which terrify us most are recognizable fears: loss of limbs, being confronted with our own mortality, being incapacitated or losing our sanity. In one way or another UN CIEL BLEU contains all these elements. It is otherworldly yet rooted in reality for presenting us with a disabled character and her caretaker who is consumed by guilt over her condition. That psychological dimension makes it very intense for audiences.
Exactly! You’re totally right in pointing that out. I think that’s also where the success of the film comes from. Because it’s actually believable, these are real characters. It takes place in a surrealistic world but is rooted in a realistic environment and for me this was very important. I didn’t want to deal with zombies or actual aliens coming from elsewhere; doing sci-fi was never my point. I also really wanted to do sort of a social movie … but a crazy one, a really fucked up one.
So if it’s not intended as a sci-fi or horror film that only exists for shock value, what do you hope audiences will get out of the experience? Is it a confrontation with our deepest fears or is it an exercise in style principally?
Well, for myself my movie is still entertaining. It’s here to question people about reality and also about being locked up. […] You can be locked up in a room or you can be locked up in your own mind. I wanted to talk about imprisonment as a subject. But I still want people to be entertained by my movie, shocked also, of course.
For myself, when I go see a movie, I want it to make me feel something. The thing that I tend to avoid most is being bored. People can either love or hate my movie, that’s fine, but I don’t want to leave them lukewarm … with a feeling that they don’t give a shit. I wanted to really create feelings. I’ve been to so many film festivals and what I understood from seeing all those films is that with a lot of them, if not most, I felt myself getting a little bit bored. I wanted to avoid that like the plague … That’s my main focus.
The title, UN CIEL BLEU PRESQUE PARFAIT, which translates into English as A NEARLY PERFECT BLUE SKY, seems quite ironic if you consider the shocking and harrowing things that happen to Simon, Estelle and innocent bystanders. What made you decide on this title?
I thought the title really represents the film quite well because it doesn’t say too much about it but at the same time it was really relevant to the story. We’re talking about the sky, which is where our main character wants to go, thinking that he’s gonna be saved by those aliens. The title is a comment ‘it’s a nearly perfect blue sky’ because there’s also a lot wrong with it … Our main character is totally crazy.
But I wanted to have a sort of sweet title, sort of a gentle, sweet title compared to the roughness of the film. I thought that combined together, the title of the film and the film itself, it worked quite well. […]
I also really like coming up with titles. The best time when I’m writing a script I always start thinking of the title of a movie before actually writing the script. And, now that you’re telling me this – actually I forgot about this story – but I first started with the title Un Ciel Bleu Presque Parfait and I thought this sentence was pretty cool, so let’s make a movie by that name.
That’s interesting because with most people I hear it’s the other way around. First the story comes, then they start storyboarding, and the title is something they end up deciding afterwards.
It’s true, it’s true. But with nearly all the movies that I’ve written and directed it came from the title at the beginning, and that helps me. It guides me towards the story, actually.
Quarxx is currently making preparations to shoot the feature film version of Un Ciel Bleu Presque Parfait in August 2017. The teaser below will provide a sense of what’s to come later that same year or in 2018.