Only one entirely French short film made it into competition at Cannes 2021, Adrian Moyse Dullin’s “The Right Words.” Not finished there, the short has enjoyed an award-winning festival run which caps off this month at the Sundance Film Festival and Unifrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival.
Unraveling entirely on a crowded public bus after school has let out, disparate groups of children play out mini-dramas of teasing, betrayal and unrequited love as the city passes by their windows. There, 13-year-old Madhi, egged on by his older sister Kenza, works to build up the necessary courage to approach his crush Jada, a girl who may not even know he exists.
“The Right Words” is produced by Punchline Cinema and Salaud Morisset handles distribution. The film is available to stream globally as part of the MyFrenchFilmFestival, and will take part in Sundance later this month.
Moyse Dullin spoke with Variety in the build up to MyFrenchFilmFestival about adolescence, working with a young cast and releasing and the international festival experience during a global pandemic.
Shooting your entire short on a bus created a dynamic atmosphere where everyone shared the same space, yet each group felt isolated in a way and your characters sometimes miles apart. What challenges and opportunities did shooting in such a confined location provide for you as a filmmaker?
This bus played a big part in all my teenage years. A space in time, a trip between high school and home that became a scene of violence, statements, and cruelties. It was the height of our days. For me, it was the perfect setting to stage a little theater of amorous and erotic banter. A space that reveals the logic of domination that is prominent in schools. A place where you must battle the cliques so they don’t crush you, and therefore, a place where masks fall, and desires are revealed.
Moreover, this closed space meant I could stage the cinematic setting that I wanted. This confined area was a promise to put forward different points of view on the same situation. Depending on where I placed the camera, I could change the point of view, and thus, the reality of the story. I could play with different levels of reading, create a dramatic irony and play around with what you see.
Were there any real-life experiences that inspired the story in “The Right Words”? Or was the film’s narrative a completely fictional creation of yours?
I was inspired by my bus trips as a teenager. I wanted to go back to this time of my life, it was very intense, painful, and conflicting. Adolescence is a fascinating period. We’re stuck in a state of transition and in a body that’s undergoing major changes, mutation that we don’t understand, and it scares us. We’re full of desire, and at the same time, we’re embarrassed by everything, especially of ourselves.
Besides, what interested me in this story was the difficulty the characters have with being sincere, being themselves, unveiling themselves. To not be affected by the way people perceive them, to distance from the others’ look and the effects of social networks. They go on a journey towards themselves, towards their own desire.
How was the experience of working with such different age groups in the film?
I loved it. I found these young people in a street casting. We worked hard to make sure they were comfortable in front of the camera, that they understood the characters’ emotional states, and above all, they came to the stage free and confident.
Nevertheless, aside from working with young people, what really counts is working with mature people. Choosing actors with true emotional intelligence, with the capacity to feed the role and go beyond what was imagined in the script. These qualities have no age, it’s all about personality.
Congratulations on being selected as the only French short in competition at Cannes last year. What did that kind of exposure mean for you and the film, and were you able to travel to many events to screen your film over the past year?
Cannes was an intense emotional experience; the spotlight was on the film and on the work of all the people involved in this project. I’ve been to many festivals in France since Cannes. The film will also be in the Sundance international competition at the end of January.
What I will remember from this entire festival adventure is the unique movie theater experience. I have seen theaters filled with people with the desire to come and see movies, to discuss and share. Movie theaters are a unique experience. Plus, I’ve done a lot of school screenings, and conversations with teenagers are always exciting and very lively. They react to every shot, in a very vocal manner! I loved this experience.
What are you working on now? Any plans for a feature in your future?
I’m working on a short film script, as well as a feature script. I’m very excited about moving forward. I can’t wait to film and move on to the next project.