PARIS — If one thing comes across in a 20-minute conversation with France’s David Moreau (“Them,” “IT Boy”), it is his passion for the U.S. movies he grew up with in the 1980s: “Stand By Me,” “E.T.” Joe Dante’s “The Explorers.” Backed by Studiocanal, one of Europe’s biggest film companies and described as a French “Divergence,” “Seuls” (Alone), which screens for the first time ever at the 19th UniFrance Rendez-Vous is a bold attempt to transfer much of the spirit of these movies – the loneliness of young teens, their camaraderie when they meet – to a French movie set in a recognisable French reality and in French. That homegrown fantasy thriller has been pulled off elsewhere in Europe – in Spain, for example, by another self-confessed ‘80s movie fanboy, Alejandro Amenabar in his “Abre los ojos” (“Open Your Eyes”) remade by Tom Cruise as “Vanilla Sky.” In France, attempts to serve a young adult audience with French thriller fare set in a bold fantasy framework are few and far between.
“Alone” starts with Leila (a energetic Sofia Lessafre, seen in “Les Trois frères, le retour”) who wakes up at her parents’ house, after going to a funfair the night before, in literally that state, in a city which has been emptied of people. She walks its deserted streets, gradually finds four other teens. They hole up at a plush local hotel, and set out to understand what has happened to them and connect with a world which may have survived beyond banks of gigantic boiling clouds which menace the city. Shot for a very good reason in cold blues and inspired by parts of the first five French-Belgium comic book series written by Fabien Vehlmann and designed by Bruno Gazzotti, ten of which have been published to date out of a projected 20 albums, “Alone” is one of the most singular French films screening at the Rendez-Vous.
What attracted you to make “Alone”?
The story: a teen fantastic story with a realistic beginning and finally an non-realistic situation. As a teen, I really connected with these kinds of movies. But most of the realistic realities at the beginning of the films I saw were exotic realities. American cinema made these films so well! I had the material to try to make a movie in France for an large audience, not a geek movie, with pretty well the right budget, and then twist that French reality. Also, if it works, it might persuade some people in the business that we can make these movies in France.
What were your main ideas when adapting the comic books?
The film takes parts of the first five albums. I tried to use a survival structure, to tell the story in a condensed way, to make it as efficient and as realistic as I could. There are elements in the comic books. the animals, for example, which are just too complicated and expensive for a French movie. Direction-wise, I used references from movies I used to see when I was 13 or 14. I didn’t want clear references but when I was cutting the movie I thought to myself: ‘The look is different but it has an ‘80s feel.’
And the films you saw as a kid which influenced you?
“Stand By Me” I loved as a kid, it really hit me. “E.T.” of course and Steven Speilberg in general up until about 1987-88. “Explorers,” in 1985, with River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke, about some kids who build a spaceship and travel through space. It was very powerful for me. The other influence I have is horror and genre movies. The end of the world is something I love as a spectator.
There’s a sense of loneliness in “Alone” which resonates from the title to the kids themselves. One of them, Dodji, writes a note to his mother telling her he’s O.K., that he’s found some new friends. Leila desperately misses her brother, who’s in a coma. This loneliness isn’t just that at first there doesn’t seem to be anybody else on the planet. The film’s about people missing fundamental affective relationships….
That was important for me. I wanted them to feel less lonely as they adapted to and understand their new condition of being alone. Understanding their situation, they feel more secure….
The cast are not very well known…
I was attracted to a film with young people, which means that you can cast near movie-virgins who are just their character. The actors are really quite close to the characters they play in the film. If you put Gerard Depardieu in a spaceship, it doesn’t work in France. I don’t know why but in France actors don’t cross over from horror movies to auteur films. Also, the choice of project gave me the chance to connect with audiences.
“Alone is in some ways a film noir, but its palette is light and dark blues. Why shoot using these tones?
Blues and small dots of red all the time. We wanted to create a cold movie, especially from the moment the kids stand looking at the fog field, to give the sense that the fog is enveloping the whole world….