Gabriel Harel Discusses Dystopic Parable ‘The Night of the Plastic Bags’

With his first short film, the animated “Yùl and the Snake,” Gabriel Harel won Europe’s Cartoon d’Or for the continent’s best animated short film, given at the 2016 Cartoon Forum in Toulouse. Now, Harel’s awaited sophomore effort, the animated “The Night of the Plastic Bags,” competes at UniFrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, and is available on a swathe of VOD platforms around the world. The short world-premiered at last year’s Cannes Festival, in Directors’ Fortnight.

Trained at Valence’s celebrated La Poudrière animation school in France, Harel delivers in his second short a dark story – with the rhythm of an ecological thriller – about 39-year-old Agathe, who is obsessed with having a child in a world conquered by plastic bags. As in “Yùl,” Harel has chosen to shoot in B&W with select objects — the devilish bags— in pop-out colors. “The Night” is produced by French Kazak Productions, behind Manele Labidi’s “Arab Blues,” and Nicolas Silhol’s “Corporate.”

Harel used “O Rohmero” as a working title for his second work – underscoring its highly disparate inspirations, running from George A. Romero to Eric Rohmer. Harel is represented by Paris-based talent agency Zelig.

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Where did you get such a strange premise – the invasion of the plastic bags.
The first inspiration to make “The Night of the Plastic Bags” was a phone call with my older sister. At the time, I wanted to make a fantasy/horror animation film with a monster. My sister was in Marseille, and during the phone conversation I was able to hear the Mistral wind through the phone and also a machine with a water jet cleaning the street. My sister talked to me about her worries — she had left her boyfriend after a 10-year relationship. Suddenly I heard a violent gust and she uttered a terrible scream. Then there was a lot of noise through the phone. After a while she told me that she had been attacked by a plastic bag straight in the face! A fucking plastic bag all wet from the disgusting gutter. I felt shocked, but I thought, okay, I have my monster!

So the film is near inspired by a real event… I think one of its main virtues is the originality with which you weave an urgent story regarding ecological and maternity issues with a thriller-apocalyptic plot…
The short is about the invasion of plastic and plastic waste. The plastic bag symbolizes plastic waste in its more extraordinary qualities – it is very light and resilient, it has a very long life expectancy and can swim, fly… So I started imagining plastic bags as a living animal species. And what fascinates me is that they imitate jellyfish (the first living beings on earth) and that they could also be the last living beings on earth. Then I also asked myself the question of their reproduction since this is the ultimate goal of any living species.

How would you define the genre of “The Night of the Plastic Bags”?
“The Night of the Plastic Bags” is a genre blender. There are realistic characters concerned by their feelings whose life as a couple seems to come from an Eric Rohmer film. The characters are then propelled into a zombie apocalypse Romero-style movie. In my initial notes, I called this film “O Rohmero.”

An unusual combination, indeed…
I watched Rohmer’s teasers without sound, accompanied by the music of John Carpenter, or music from the band Zombie Zombie or Etienne Jaumet, one of the musicians from this band with whom I collaborated afterwards. The short has a non-serious tone, although the humor is always present behind a very serious theme.

You achieve a large naturalism in the characters and their movements…
In fact, for the rendering of the film, my goal was to achieve this naturalism with the characters, in line with actors in action. I shot real actors in the natural scenery— the rocky inlets in Marseille. I used this visual material and direct sound in the animation process and then introduced the zombie plastic bags.

What are your cinema references?
I was of course inspired by “The Night of the Living Dead” from George A. Romero, and, though you might not think it when watching the film, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou.” Regarding the procreation theme and the beast in the human body, that was influenced by Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” I also had images in my head from Roberto Rossellini’ “Stromboli” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

How do you see your next films?
I still want to make fantasy movies, and to continue exploring both live action and animation. An animated film takes a very long time to make, but it is even more difficult when it comes to feature films because the market is so tight and cautious. Adult animated films are very rare and sometimes have trouble finding an audience. But yes, I still want to try, even if I have a lot of respect for shorts, I would like to risk getting out of the circuit. So, I’m putting some ideas on paper. Animation projects, a live-action project, and another project where I’ll use both techniques.

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