×

Switzerland’s Blaise Harrison on Directors’ Fortnight Player ‘Particles’

Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison is bringing his fiction feature debut to this year’s Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.

Known for his documentary work, Harrison was selected for competition at the 2013 Locarno Festival for his film “Harmony,” about a marching band in the small French town of Pontarlier.

“Particles” follows P.A., a teenager in his final year of high school in a small rural town on the French-Swiss border. Famous for little else, the town is home to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

P.A.’s coming of age story, and the monumental shifts that come with the throes of growing up, are mirrored by a series of seemingly fantastic phenomena the young man observes in the world around him.

The feature is co-produced by France’s Les Films du Poisson and Bande à Part Films, the Swiss company formed in 2009 by four of its most celebrated directors: Ursula Meier (“Sister”), Lionel Baier (“Longwave”), Jean-Stéphane Bron (“The Paris Opera”), and Frédéric Mermoud (“Moka”). International sales and distribution are handled by Les Films du Losange.

Harrison answered a few spoiler-free questions for Variety in the lead up to the film’s Cannes world premiere.

This was your first fiction feature. How did you find the experience, and where there any challenges you didn’t foresee?

I tried to forge it in continuity with my previous documentaries, to avoid a complete break from my previous work. For me this meant that I shot it in real locations, with natural light, non-professional actors from the region, that I re-enacted real situations, and that I occasionally pulled away from the screenplay. One of the greatest challenges of this project was preserving and implementing my working method I am so attached to in the new and more restrictive context of fiction. From writing the screenplay to editing the film I was always trying to find the delicate balance between the more naturalistic documentary approach I am familiar with and an approach more typical of fiction storytelling.

The film’s narrative is interspersed with recordings of scientists explaining pretty lofty physics. Why did you want to include those clips in the film?

The scientists in the film are physicists who work with the LHC, CERN’s particle accelerator that runs underground through the whole Pays de Gex region. That content is real, and “Particles” relies on the relationship between what happens on the surface, with the teen gang, and what goes on under the ground to tell a more “likely” fantasy story about P.A.’s anxiety in facing of a world changing in front of his eyes. Through their researches, physicists try to solve some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. They echo my character’s anxieties and speak, in a metaphorical way, about his difficulties.

I imagine you learned quite a bit making the film. Is particle physics something that has interested you for some time? Or was it just a narrative device when writing?

I was raised in the Pays de Gex but must confess that when I was a teenager, although I was aware that the particle accelerator existed, I wasn’t that interested. I started to dig into it when I began writing this project, really quite recently. At that point, I had the opportunity to visit CERN and LHC and meet engineers and physicists working there to try and understand what they do. I researched in order to have a complete overview and understanding of quantum physics, without ever feigning a specialist’s approach. It wouldn’t have served this project and I wouldn’t have been able to. I simply tried to put myself into the shoes of my protagonist, using the sources of information available to him, to try to feel and express the thrill that might overwhelm us when we discover this amazing world.

CREDIT: Les Films du Losange

Music and sound seem as important to this film’s narrative as dialogue. How did you use these elements to enhance the strange phenomena that P.A. observes?

Sound, image and music contribute to the gradual shift of the film towards fantasy and a feeling of oddness. They allow me to talk about the progressive deregulation of daily life and how my character experiences it by relying more on feelings than his brain. The music is like his inner voice, it expresses the emotional states of this rather discreet and private character who has a hard time letting his emotions out. The sound allows me to give life to what is invisible, hidden, and concealed. We know the LHC exists, but we don’t see it. For P.A. it is a disturbing and threatening presence.

Do you know what you’d like to do next? Do you have anything specific planned?

I have no specific project in development, but I have quite a few germinating ideas. One thing I am quite sure about is my profound desire to keep on talking about adolescence. I find that age so beautiful to film and it touches me deep inside.

CREDIT: Les Films du Losange

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix

    Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix Documentary Reveal, Pop-Up in Houston

    Travis Scott just revealed his new Netflix documentary in the most organic way possible: a social media post to his 18.5 million followers on Instagram. The photo consisted of him holding a series of VHS tapes, which turns out to be the trailer for his forthcoming documentary on Netflix titled “Look Mom I Can Fly.” [...]

  • Overcomer

    Film Review: 'Overcomer'

    No matter the setting or circumstances, the solution to every dilemma found in Christian Evangelical films is getting closer to God. That certainly holds true with regards to “Overcomer,” the latest bit of bigscreen proselytizing by writer-director-star Alex Kendrick (“War Room,” “Courageous”). The story of a high school basketball coach who’s forced to take over [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Inside the Spider-Man Split: Finger-Pointing and Executive Endgames

    Spider-Man’s neighborhood has been decidedly unfriendly this week. A private and contentious battle over the onscreen future of the beloved Marvel superhero has spilled out into the public square over the past few days. After making nice for two wildly successful films, Sony Pictures, which holds the licensing rights to the Marvel character, will go [...]

  • Variety Announces 10 Actors to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Actors to Watch for 2019

    Variety has announced its 10 Actors to Watch for 2019, an honor the publication has bestowed since 1998. Past honorees include many future Oscar winners and nominees, such as Mahershala Ali, Timothée Chalamet, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Brie Larson, Lupita Nyong’o and Melissa Leo. This year’s honorees will be feted in the Oct. 27 issue of [...]

  • August Maturo

    Film News Roundup: August Maturo to Star in Horror Movie 'Slapface'

    In today’s film news roundup, August Maturo gets a starring role and “Death of Me” and “Fatale” find homes. CASTING “Girl Meets World” star August Maturo has been cast as the lead character in the upcoming indie horror feature, “Slapface.” Maturo will play a boy who deals with the loss of his mother by creating [...]

  • Taron Egerton, Lucy Boynton to Star

    Taron Egerton, Lucy Boynton to Star in Virtual Reality Project 'Glimpse'

    Taron Egerton and Lucy Boynton will star in “Glimpse,” a new virtual reality experience that will be unveiled at the Venice Film Festival. Written and directed by Benjamin Cleary and VR creator Michael O’Connor, “Glimpse” will be entered in the Venice Virtual Reality Interactive showcase. It’s set in the imaginative mind of a heartbroken panda, [...]

  • Dan Trachtenberg

    Tom Holland's 'Uncharted' Movie Loses Director

    Dan Trachtenberg has exited the director’s chair for Sony’s “Uncharted” movie starring Tom Holland, with the studio taking meetings with top filmmakers and production starting early next year. The studio confirmed Trachtenberg’s departure Thursday. It also said Sony-based PlayStation Productions — headed by Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan — had come on to produce alongside [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content