Delphine Lehericey’s “Beyond the Horizon” may be playing the New Directors section at San Sebastian, but the young director is really anything but, having spent the last decade working in live theater and making a number of TV documentaries before, in 2013, making her fiction feature debut with another New Directors player, “Puppylove.”
Based on the book of the same name by Roland Buti, and set during the European continental heatwave of 1976, the film focuses on a provincial farming family in rural Romandy, Switzerland.
Bolstered by performances from standout actresses Laetitia Casta, a French Academy César nominated actress for her work in 2010’s “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life,” Clémence Poésy, most recognizable from her turn as Fleur Delacour in the “Harry Potter” films, “Beyond the Horizon” also features newcomer Luc Bruchez in the film’s lead role.
A co-production between Switzerland’s Box Productions and Belgium’s Entre Chien et Loup, the film’s international sales are being handled by Be For Films.
Lehericey talked with Variety, ahead of the film’s San Sebastian premiere, about the shift to big screen fiction, taking ownership of an already-popular story and casting a first-time child actor in a lead role.
Your film plays in New Directors, though in truth you’re far from that, having worked extensively in theater and documentary. How have the skillsets your developed in those fields translated to your fiction work?
I started making films quite late. It’s been a bit more than 10 years so I’m still a young director! Before that I had time to experiment and be passionate about acting and directing too. Theater captures the involuntary moments that come from the actors, from life itself. Sometimes I was frustrated that moments of pure magic were ephemeral. That’s what first attracted me to documentary, telling a story by capturing moments of life. The unique and fascinating link between the director and the actor made me fall into fiction. I’m self-taught, so making films is how I learn.
The film adapts Roland Buti’s novel, but I wonder what else inspired you in making this film, especially visually. It has a wonderful aesthetic that makes it feel fresh, but at the same time as though it might have been filmed in the ‘70s.
When I read the first version of Joanne Giger’s screenplay and then Roland Buti’s novel, I felt the climate of the film. Not only the heat but also the color, the material, the weight that permeates the time and the agricultural landscape. I wanted to recreate that impression, that “nostalgia.” We looked for it with Christophe Beaucarne, the director of photography, choosing to shoot in 35mm for complexions but also for true white and the brutality of the sun. I wanted the feeling of a film that could have been made at that time. Luc’s physical appearance also influences this feeling of nostalgia. In any case I didn’t want to add warm colors like in the 70’s. We worked from our own memories for the interior decorations with art director Ivan Niclass and costume designer Geneviève Maulini. I thought that if each member of the team put a personal memory in we would achieve a feeling of truth of the time.
Your film has two skilled, professional actresses in key parts, yet the protagonist is a 13-year-old boy in his first major role. What was it about him that initially gave you the confidence to cast him and how did you approach directing a complete newcomer in such a demanding role?
Gus’ casting was a challenge, but we had to allow ourselves to fall in love! He had to be solid for the shoot, desire to play, be willing to start over again and again, trust the team, get along with the professional actors who would justifiably impress him at first. I made sure to build a real family. I work like that with all the actors I choose. I write to them and try to build a real bond with them and between them. Luc Bruchez is a sensitive and intelligent boy, he needed to understand what he was doing and how it was related to him, to his emotions in real life. We spent as much time together as possible during the weeks of shooting.
The film’s plot uses the continental heatwave of ’76 as a catalyst for familial drama, but the cracks that form in this particular family aren’t unique to that time period or region of the world. What do you think modern audiences will recognize, and take away from seeing this film?
We asked ourselves lots questions before making a film of Roland’s story in the 2010s. The themes of the novel are still relevant today. The fatality of climate change, the harshness of farming, the place of women in society, the role of men in the family, violence, homosexuality and the end of childhood are all still poignant in 2019. I like that the film is simple, or “classic” in its look, its form. It leaves room for the spectator to link with their own story. I wanted the public to identify with Gus or Nicole or Jean, to understand them. I believe emotions, human faults, are vectors of understanding in the world. Gus’ peasant family get caught up in the fatality of existence, the drama that is being played out, is not dated. It’s about the human condition.