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‘A Taste of Ink’s’ Morgan Simon: ‘There Is Clearly a New Energy in France’

The French director talks about his debut feature, seen at Toronto and now San Sebastian

“I’ve lost my head. I’m so afraid. I’ve lost my head. I’m lost. Can someone take me away?”

The first lines of the song which Vincent (Kévin Azaïs, “Love at First Fight”), the lead singer of a hardcore punk band, bawls out on stage in the opening scene of “Compte tes blessures” (“A Taste of Ink”) sum up much of his early-20s angst. He’s stuck in a dead-end job as a body piercer, hasn’t the money to move out of home, then discovers that, with his mother dead just a few months before, his father’s already taken up with a much younger woman who’s moving in to the family flat. Soon he finds himself falling for his father’s lover.

Written by Morgan Simon, “A Taste of Ink” is a vision of disaffected, disoriented and disenfranchised youth. Sold by Versatile Films and distributed in France by Rezo, “A Taste of Ink” is produced by Kazak Productions, an enterprising young Paris production house behind Clement Cogitore’s “The Wakhan Front,” a Gan Foundation winner at last year’s Cannes Critics’ Week.

Simon studied screenwriting at Paris’ prestigious Femis film school. His screenplay for “A Taste of Ink” has won an impressive string of prizes and development lab selections, building expectations for his feature debut. Variety talked with Simon before “A Taste of Ink” world-premiered at Toronto. The film competed in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition, winning a Special Mention.

Your short, “American Football,” turns on a tattooed singer who fronts a band; another, “Try To Die Young,” on a conflictive father-son relationship. Would you see “A Taste of Ink” as the culmination of themes you’ve been developing in your shorts? And what is it that attracts you about the alternative rock scene and family dynamics?

As my short films were more personal, I felt they were the beginning of something bigger where I could fully explore those themes. This first feature film can be seen as the outcome of that journey. Alternative rock music has been part of my life for more than a decade; it is very natural to me to talk about it. It gives me a sense of liberation, a cathartic experience. Family dynamics allow me to dig deep into relationships and feelings; my kind of cinema stems from there. I am in constant search of contrasts and complexity which are for me what a human being is made of.

The main character of “A Taste of Ink,” Vincent, is living a paradox which I think we have all experienced in some kind of a way. He is able to perform and scream in a mic in front of a packed audience but can’t even open his mouth in front of his father. The contrast between the restless music scenes and the calm moments at home built the film’s vibration. They ask a question: Is a post-hardcore gig more intense than a family scene around the dinner table?

Vincent fronts a hardcore post-punk band, financed via a sponsor. He sings stories of youth angst, but there’s a sense that their [protests are] going nowhere, that they are a commodified part of youth culture. Would you agree?

As I know well and love this type music, I have noticed through the years that the political aspect is almost no longer part of the scene. It is like nobody wants to share an opinion or, worse, nobody has an opinion….The film raises the question of an alternative culture. What does it mean to be alternative today? Is it being tattooed and screaming in a mic as the son does? Or is it waking up at 4 a.m. to go to work in a market like the father does? Vincent’s rage comes from a real place and goes beyond a political message. But he can’t fully get away from the capitalistic system. Even if this kind of music remains “underground,” it is also based on modern mainstream codes and habits. Therefore the border is blurred and this duality brings up the notion of “integrity” for the main character. So is Vincent a sellout, or is he just trying to do his best?

There’s a notable number of films at San Sebastian which…portray, from multiple perspectives and countries, visions of a disaffected, disoriented and disenfranchised youth. Do you sense that this is one of the grand themes of movies now being made by younger directors, that you are contributing to a vital and urgent film debate?

Rebel and disoriented youth is an eternal theme. Remember, films like “Rebel Without A Cause” or “The Wild One” were made in the fifties. What we see today on screen reflects the world we are living. There was a time when we were angry with regards to politics; we knew what heads needed to be chopped off. The French Revolution targeted those who starved the population for centuries. In the ’90s, Public Enemy sang “Fight The Power,” but who’s got the power now? Society is more and more unfair, all our values are questioned and we don’t know who is in charge and who to fight. So we’re fighting each other, ourselves. The new generation feels frustrated on all levels. We need and seek a father figure to trust. We need love. Like Vincent, I’m guided by this fire inside. Doing this film was so vital for me. It came from my heart and guts, the only place to light the fuse.

Do you feel part of any kind of new generation of filmmakers in France?

There is clearly a new energy in France. Films like Virgil Vernier’s “Mercuriales,” Yann Gonzalez’s “You and the Night” or Julia Ducournau’s “Raw” are challenging French cinema that is slightly becoming, like everywhere else in the world, ‘TV film land.’ As young directors, we don’t necessarily know each other, but conformity seems to be our common enemy.

When Variety profiled you as one of the up-and-coming filmmakers with a short selected for My French Film Festival, we mentioned just some of “A Taste of Ink’s” prizes and development lab selections: the 2014 Prix Junior Screenplay Grand Jury Prize, Cannes 2015 Cinefondation Atelier, Jerusalem International Film Lab. What are the value of these awards and development initiatives? 

The labs were fundamental to improve the script. In Jerusalem, for example, we were a dozen directors from different countries like László Nemes or Boo Junfeng helping each other to develop our films. It was a key moment for me. I initially met my main actor Kévin Azaïs when “A Taste of Ink” was selected for a French workshop called Emergence which allows young filmmakers to direct two scenes of their film. All these initiatives were artistically very useful and helped me to move forward. They also highlighted the project in order to find funds, as it is hard to be trusted when you are doing your first feature film.

What are you working on now?

After finishing “A Taste of Ink,” I have tried to take a break. In five years I have made five shorts and one feature. But it seems I can’t stop this fire inside. I would love to work outside France, for example, even if I am well aware that doing a second feature film won’t be an easy task. Subjects relating to the margins of society always attract me. There are many topics I wish to tackle and things I am angry about. We’ll see.

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