This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now made his directorial debut, “The Seventh Continent.” Few films in MyFrenchFilmFestival, which launched yesterday.
In it, Emile, a rotund-girthed private investigator is asked by Thybaud to find his girlfriend Claire Soares, who has been abducted by billionaire John Rapoport, or so Thybaud says. The first person Emile down his local club says she knows Rapport very well – he comes to cry on her shoulder every night; the second announces he’s going to a party at Claire’s place, just nearby. But Emile really shouldn’t take MDMA, when he’s on the job.
An eco-themed film noir on speed, “The Seventh Continent” features a damsel in distress, two heavies who rough up Emile; Emile himself, an outlandish gumshoe with a habit, who lives in a car-share booth, blows his pay for the job on the horses, trips on duty.
But Emile also has an amazing ability to join the dots on a larger picture involving a sinister multi-national. All tis might seem just great fun if it wasn’t also related to a fact: Floating around the Pacific is a mass of plastic, something like three times the size of France. Debré talked to Variety about his crazed and crafted short, produced by Lionel Massol and Pauline Seigland at Pais short film production powerhouse Films Grand Huit, and co-produced by Moonshaker (“Le Brio”).
I get the feeling you wanted to talk, or found you could talk, about something which is completely serious – plastic waste threatening our planet – via something which seems on paper to be unlikely as a vehicle: a modern film noir spoof on speed. But maybe that wasn’t the case?
It is the case indeed. I see film noir as an intricate means to talk about the infinite and sometimes ridiculous complexity of the modern world. I think environmental issues, whether they be global warming or the plastic waste issue, are incredibly hard to represent and dramatize in cinema because we are all collectively at fault. At some point I realized the paranoid genre of film noir could do the trick!
“The Seventh Continent” allows you lovingly to deconstruct film noir, and its hallmark beats: the damsel in distress, the low-life gumshoe seemingly ill-equipped to take on the case; a secret world of debauchery; a Machiavellian large corporate interest. Could you comment?
Well the idea for the film came while reading Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice.” I had seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s film which I had loved and in the meantime found a bit inoperative. Anyway, as I was reading Thomas Pynchon, it appeared to me that this hallucinated detective role would be perfect for my actor friend Thomas Blumenthal. I wrote the film for him. Thomas’ very unique and peculiar lunacy allowed me to go into that territory.
At the same time, much of the fun comes from “The Seventh’s Continent’s” breaking the rules. “Zodiac” it is not. The first Emile asks about person asks about John Rapoport says she sees him every night, the second says Claire Soares is growing a party just around the corner…
I was really trying to work in the vein of “The Big Sleep”, “The Long-Goodbye”, “The Big Lebowsky”, “Inherent Vice”, which are all basically the same film. To me, these films are a critique of screenwriting in its claim to present the world as a logical system of causes and consequences. The real world is not like that, it’s full of coincidences and life doesn’t work as a meaningful story. In those films, events are incidental, which is sort of a capital sin of screenwriting. That’s why I think they are so cathartic to watch.
What were your guidelines for directing?
I liked the idea of having a very deep image. I mean having both the foreground and background in focus – which is not easy with this kind of setting! I thought that would convey a lot of information in a single frame, too much information to process both for the protagonist and for the audience. For the resolution of the film, I was inspired by contemporary art videos I wanted to use making a short film to experiment.
Were you inspired by any of the directors you worked for as a writer?
Sure. Not necessarily in terms of style per se, but in the way I had seen some of them managing their teams and the set. To me, great directors are first and foremost people who admire their collaborators. I’ve seen that with Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Kim Chapiron etc. Your first job is to pick your collaborators very carefully and give them the space to express themselves inside what you’re trying to achieve. I decided to work mainly with technicians who hadn’t worked on features because I wanted them to feel invested in the film. It was a very happy set.
Could “The Seventh Continent” be a dry run before a debut feature as a director?
I’ve just directed a second short-film, very different from the first one, almost the opposite in terms of form and emotion. Very realistic, sort of an intimate comedy, inspired by the work of Maren Ade or Kore-eda. So I’m finishing post-production on that one and then we’ll see!