×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

  • BETWEEN TWO FERNS, 2019, PH_0027.RAF

    Film Review: 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie'

    If you’re a fan of “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” the fake public-access talk show that Zach Galifianakis has been hosting online, for three to six minutes a pop, over the last 10 years, then you’ll probably like “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” the snark-lite 82-minute road movie that Galifianakis and his director and [...]

  • The Irishman

    Martin Scorsese, Frances McDormand, Donald Sutherland Join Lineup of France's Lumiere Festival

    Martin Scorsese’s eagerly awaited Netflix movie “The Irishman” wasn’t completed on time to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, but Thierry Fremaux, Cannes’s topper, managed to pin down the high-profile movie and Scorsese himself for the upcoming Lumiere festival in Lyon next month. Dedicated to heritage movies, the Lumiere festival was created 10 years [...]

  • 'Aladdin' Star Mena Massoud Calls for

    'Aladdin' Star Mena Massoud Calls for a Broader Diversity of Storytelling in Movies and TV

    The star of “Aladdin,” Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud, called for a greater diversity of storytelling in movies and television when he spoke at the glamorous opening ceremony Thursday of the 3rd edition of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival. Massoud, whose credits include Amazon’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and Hulu’s “Reprisal,” lauded “the power of art” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content