France’s Baptiste Petit-Gats is an hyphenate that keeps himself plenty busy editing, photographing, writing and directing. The bulk of his editing gigs up until now have been in documentary film work, evident in the way he shot and edited his own short film, participating in the MyFrenchFilmFestival, “Flowers.”
In the film, Petit-Gats tells the heartbreaking story of a widowed mother and her adolescent son over the course of a rainy All Saints Day, an originally Catholic holiday dedicated to remembering the dead. Berenice is obsessed with finding the flowers she was meant to have bought to place on her husband’s grave, and drags her adolescent son Sacha from shop to shop to find the right ones. Sacha has other priorities however, and the two struggle to stay on the same page.
The film’s story is told from Berenice’s point of view with close ups and out-of-focus backgrounds. Can you talk about that creative choice?
After writing the script, the idea was to make a film that focused on the main character. In other words, I wanted the viewer to follow Berenice and quickly adopt her point of view. She is obsessed with finding the right flower for the grave, and sees very little of the world around her. The environment around her is unclear; we see glimpses through the car windows. It was important to direct the film and build the images around this point of view because the challenge of the film is to try to understand, or at least get closer, to Berenice’s character.
You’ve done a good deal of editing as well. Is there a job you prefer, and how important is it to you that you stay busy like this?
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Yes, I have been an editor for about six years and my approach to filmmaking began with editing. It’s not a question of which activity I prefer because it’s very different to edit someone else’s film compared to working on your own personal project, accompanying it through all the steps of the directing process. I like editing films because it’s a moment when we can “write” the film. It also allows me to come into contact with other narrative or creative approaches, different from my own, and I find it highly rewarding.
What have you learned as an editor that has helped you as a director?
First, from a technical point of view, editing has unquestionably allowed me to gain a relatively precise vision of the film while I’m shooting. Maybe if I wasn’t an editor I would have had more difficulty in breaking down a scene into individual shots, and adapting this breakdown to the actual filming process. But beyond that, I think that editing has taught me how to write for film, wherein this writing doesn’t just involve the script itself, but also working with the actors’ bodies, the rhythm of the sequences, the breaks, the silences, etc.
Can you talk about some of your cinematic influences? Which works did you go to for inspiration on Flowers?
During my preparation for the film, I obviously thought a lot about the Dardenne brothers whom I admire, especially “The Son” and “Rosetta.” The work of focusing and tracking the characters in their films has always impressed me: Not having the choice, to follow the characters at all costs. The opening sequence of “The Son” is one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of cinema for me. Otherwise, I also think a lot about the beauty of the faces in Cassavetes’ “Faces” or the Safdie brothers’ “Mad Love in New York City,” or the car as an environment in “Louise Wimmer.”
What was the casting process like for “Flowers”? With only the two characters you needed strong performances.
There were two very different processes for the two characters. I had Catherine Salée in mind since writing the script. I was sure that she had that sweetness which could complement the rough side of Berenice’s character and bring depth. I thought she was great in “Chantou” and “Keeper,” so I decided to contact her directly, explaining why I thought of her for this role. This happened naturally between us. I felt very lucky.
The search for Sacha was much more complex. With the casting director, Marlène Serour, who I’d really like to thank for her support, we saw about 70 teenagers, including actors and non-professionals. This lasted about four months. She found Victor Rivière in a spontaneous casting session in front of his high school. There was a real risk because Victor had never performed in a film, or even a stage play, before, but we felt his strength and energy. So I worked with him about two months before the shoot and I was very happy with him on set.
I see you will also be participating in the national competition on Clermont-Ferrand. What does that honor mean to you?
I’m delighted and very happy with the selection! I never imagined, when preparing this film, that I would have the opportunity to screen it one day in Clermont. It also touches me that a lot that people appreciate my film, to the point of selecting it for such an important festival.
Martin Dale contributed to this article.