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MyFrenchFilmFestival: Morgane Polanski on ‘The Stroke,’ Obsession, Creating an OCD World

The “Vikings” co-star consolidates her career as a budding film director

PARIS — A world premiere, Morgane Polanski’s “The Stroke,” starring fellow “Vikings” co-star Edvin Endre, bowed Friday on MyFrenchFilmFestival, the UniFrance global online showcase of French films. Polanski’s follow-up to “The Understudy,” her debut short film as a director, “The Stroke” also suggests a budding auteur.

Both films focus on obsessions. In Polanski’s debut, an unhinged understudy (Imogen Sage, a co-scribe with Polanski), who, un-admired and unseen – just as Salomé sees herself in Wilde’s play, for which she understudies – extracts a bloody revenge on the actress playing Salomé.

Co-written with business partner Serena Jennings, “The Stroke” has a way gone Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) sufferer, whose life of utter order and hygiene is disturbed when the neighbors’ black cat suddenly appears and sits – completely unsymmetrically! –  outside his window.

In both, visuals are vital and bold, a blood-red curtain, costume, coat and wine presaging the (off-screen) denouement of “The Understudy,” decor embodying the protagonist’s hyper OCD in his spick-and-span and so-carefully-aligned flat in “The Stroke.” The two shorts have a strong line in black humor, “The Stroke” is, indeed, silent comedy.

“You have to be prepared to die for this, to kill, don’t be weak,” the celebrated actress tells her understudy, scornfully, in “The Understudy.” The actress really could have chosen her words with more care. In “The Stroke,” his life in apparent ruins, the OCD sufferer simply determines to go pay the neighbors’ a visit, and take the cat out. There’s no other way to it.

In contemporary shorts, “I see a strong trend of directors trying to embrace the reality of the world and their world. To achieve this, they abolish the frontier between documentary and fiction,” Emmanuel Marre, another 2018 MFFF director (“The Summer Movie”) says in a Variety profile.

Notably, however, Polanski, like Melanie Laleu, director of MFFF short “No Drowning,” tips her hat to “Raw’s’” Julia Ducournau, fast-emerging as the high priestess of women’s auteur genre in France. With fans such as Laleu and Polanski, psychological thrillers and broader women’s auteur genre may be due for a upsurge in France.

Variety corresponded with Polanski as MFFF launched around the world.

Your first two shorts as a director are both about obsessions. Is that a coincidence, or because obsession can be portrayed well in short-formats. Or may be there’s another reason… 

I don’t really believe in coincidences… especially when writing and directing something… Obsession in all its different forms is a theme that really fascinates me.

Was your background as an actress a plus when directing Edvin Endre? And how did you direct him?

Yes, 100 percent. I don’t think I would have been able to direct “The Stroke” (and my first short, “The Understudy”) the way I did if I hadn’t had the chance to shoot consistently for a year-an-a-half. Especially with the pace of TV, I had to learn so much on the job, which taught me tremendously. Edvin is a good friend of mine and it was a pure pleasure to direct him, I’d also helped him with numerous self tapes before shooting “The Stroke” which meant I knew what buttons to press in order to trigger what I wanted from him.

The soundtrack is very important in “The Stroke.” Were the pieces chosen just for their mood or do they have a further significance? 

The soundtrack was always going to be one of the most important parts of the film. As there is no dialogue or sound, it relies heavily on the music. I always knew I wanted some already existing classical pieces. They were precisely chosen to set the mood of the tensions and emotions, thanks to the incredibly talented Susana Peric who understood my vision very quickly.

As a playful portrait of OCD, the film allows you to push out the boat on its visuals. What in general, however, were your guiding principles when directing “The Stroke”? 

I wanted to create an OCD world with the visuals. His environment needed to have very clinical cold colors, in contrast with the hot messy colors of the outside world. It was important to me that everything in his world was very symmetrical and precise. A big reference for that was Wes Anderson’s style.

Being based, I believe, out of London, do you see yourself in any way as part of a new generation of French filmmakers, and, if so, what are some characteristics you see that define that group?

I live in London but I frequently travel back and forth from Paris. I would love to have a voice in the new generation of filmmakers but I don’t know if I can say that yet, I need to do more!  I want to be part of the new wave of female directors, a French director I utterly admire is Julia Ducournau who directed “Raw”.

Do you see any trends in the shorts you have watched for this, or other festivals where you have participated?

In shorts, a trend I don’t see is fantasy, imaginary, psychological thrillers or silent comedies.  A lot of the shorts I’ve seen recently are very realistic, dramatic and          often sad about real issues going on in the world. I have more of a tendency to try and created something surreal in order for the audience to escape.

What is next for you?

Since completing “The Stroke,” my business partner and writer Serena Jennings and I have set up our own production company: Stroke Productions.  We are currently working on a third short, which is a psychological thriller, also on the theme of obsession in another form. So keep your eyes peeled because we’re coming for you!

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