MyFrenchFilmFestival: ‘No Drowning’ Writer-Director Mélanie Laleu Discusses Her Competition Short

With another short in pre-production and a feature script well underway, writer-director Mélanie Laleu took time out to discuss her short film “No Drowning,” building a world with limited time, and trends in contemporary French cinema

'No Drowning' Filmmaker Mélanie Laleu Discusses
Mélanie Laleu

2018’s My FrenchFilmFestival kicks off this Friday, and among the shorts which have made their way through the festival circuit and to the online event, is Mélanie Laleu’s second short, “No Drowning.”

The film has already screened at a dozen festivals across the globe, including TISFF and Palm Springs. It was co-produced by Paris-based companies Offshore and À Travers Le Miroir, with international sales being handled by Manifest.

The film is a journey into a fantasy, coin-operated world, dominated by a Big Brother type voice which instructs people how to go about their lives. In this world, society’s respect for the individual’s intellect has all but gone; so much so that it has become necessary to remind people that drowning is strictly prohibited.

The world of “No Drowning” is drenched in perpetual darkness, often exacerbated by the fact that some characters don’t have the necessary funds to activate their house lights. In spite of the gloom, little bits of brightness seep through the cracks for Paula and Dagobert, as they find one another amidst the monotone crowds which inhabit the streets and cafes.

Paula is an exotic dancer at a peep-show, who is never without her duffle bag with the tails of her mermaid costume hanging out, while Dagobert makes his living diving for coins tossed into a wishing well adorned with a sign that shares the film’s title, No Drowing.

Not quite a love story, while drama and comedy intertwine, the protagonists of “No Drowning” tread water until Dagobert convinces Paula to make a wish of her own at the fountain, and something truly magical happens.

“No Drowning,” like all MFFF competition shorts and features, is available to stream over Jan. 19-Feb.19. The shorts are free to watch, while features are available for a small rental fee where available, and free in some territories.

Can you discuss where the world of “No Drowning” came from?

“No Drowning,” rather than No Swimming, is an absurd interdiction on the public fountain, which implies that society doesn’t trust people to know what is good for them anymore. Here it can evoke a terrible happiness, a mandate where giving up is absolutely forbidden, or simply a message of hope.

How did you balance the darkness of the world, and these characters lives, with the levity of the humor in the film?

In the end, my films spotlight loneliness in our modern way of living, and how we deal with it. But, I try to bring fantasy into dark places. I love to take one step to the left in presenting reality, and use absurd situations and a bit of humor to get my point across.

What were your guiding principles when directing “No Drowning”?

In a way it was “No Drowning”! There were a lot of sets and a very short time to shoot in each, so we had to believe it was possible and do it fast.

I knew a big part of the crew from my first short and I trusted them, so I tried to stay focused on the relationship between the two characters, Paula and Dagobert, and the acting.

Do you see yourself as part of a new generation of French filmmakers, and what are some characteristics you see that define that group?

I don’t know if I’m part of a new generation of French filmmakers, but I do see a lot of young French filmmakers inspired by many different cinema cultures from all around the world (Belgium right next to us, but also from Nordic countries or Korea…) and I think that’s a good thing.

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

Maybe a trend to revisit genre films with an auteur vision, like Julia Ducournau did with her feature “Raw.”

What is next for you?

I have a third short movie in pre-production and I’m writing my first feature film.

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Melanie Laleu