Indie Night Introduction: Jean-Baptiste Léonetti, “Carré blanc”

Posted by Nicholas Kemp on 5.2.2012

Our ongoing Indie Night series returns tonight at 8:00pm with a screening of ambitious French science fiction indie Carré blanc, the first feature from writer-director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti, who will be in person for a post-screening Q&A.  The film is set in a dystopian future where birth rates are low and suicides common.  When a young boy ends up in a state-run orphanage, he comes face to face with a terrifying, almost Orwellian, totalitarian regime.  Associate Program Director Scott Foundas calls it "sci-fi for adults, expressing ideas while maintaining a discipline, love, and even sense of humor for composition, and an appreciative commitment to both restraint and excess."

We asked Léonetti to answer a few questions about himself and his film by means of introduction:

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a filmmaker? How did you get started and what other projects have you worked on?

I worked in advertising for 10 years. I stopped for almost two years to shoot my first short film, Les pays des ours. It was a success in France and screened in theaters for four months as if it were a feature film, which was very special. To pay the debt from that I went back to advertising for two years. Then I decided to stop again to make my first feature film.

What drew you to telling a science fiction story?

Well, my short was on the edge of reality and nightmare, with some futuristic elements.  But, to me, Carré blanc is not a sci-fi movie.  It is a love story in a futuristic context.  Not really sci-fi, just a love story in a unique context.

Making an independent film comes with a lot of freedom, but also its own set of obstacles and challenges. What do you see as the biggest advantages and disadvantages of how you made your film?

To me, if you really know what you want to do, there is no problem with making a movie in the indie system or in the studio system.  Either can be a problem or a solution, depending on what kind of movie you want to make.  The problem with Carré blanc was the ambition in the picture, the sound, the light, the shooting locations, and it is complicated because I wanted to show something very different but with a very radical purpose.  When you have this combination, it is difficult to convince people of the potential of the movie.  There is not so much commercial potential but that doesn’t mean the movie shouldn’t get made.  Sometimes you have to lose money, which I know about since I am also a producer of the film, and I was sure going into it that it wouldn’t be a big commercial success, but I was also sure that it could be a calling card for me in the United States.  All the cinema I love comes from here.

Can you talk a little about your influences?

To me this movie is inspired by American cinema from the 70s.  It’s my real culture.  Alan Pakula’s All the Presidents Men and Klute, Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor, Francis Ford Coppola’s Conversation, and the films of William Friedkin: The French Connection, The Exorcist, Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., these are the movies that made me a director.  So I had the choice to stay in France and make French movies... but if that’s not you, you have to make a decision, to make a big jump, which this movie is for me.  I didn’t make this movie just to interest American people.  I wanted to make this kind of movie.  But at the same time, even though the economic potential may not be great, I hope there is potential that a sharp, courageous person will be interested in my next film.  And those people could be anywhere, in the indie system or, perhaps, even in the studios.  It’s possible!

I think if your first feature film is not radical, which one will be?  To me a first movie is a way to show your influences and also to try to kill these influences.  It’s a fight between these two aspects.  And when you have a lot of influences, it can be a big fight.  My influences come from the 70s because at that moment the American cinema was very free.  It wasn’t a problem to kill the hero, to be problematic, to try other ways to tell stories.  These kinds of movies tried to show something very different than the cinema from the 60s.  In the 60s it would have been impossible to shoot a movie like John Boorman's Deliverance, so the 70s were a real revolution for cinema.  And that was true elsewhere too, like with Andrei Tarkovsky. 

I feel that some of that stuff would also be impossible today.  Now we want simple things.  We want to get right to the point.  But the question is: how?  I feel if we get lost on the way to the point it is not a problem, it is part of the game.  It is interesting to me to see movies that are not immediately understandable, where it is necessary for the audience to try to understand—and they might or might not succeed—the purpose.  When I was young, sometimes I would leave the theater and I would not understand everything, but at the same time it was impossible to forget those movies.  I was so young when I saw 2001 or maybe a movie like Sorcery, and I wasn’t sure what I had seen.  But these movies showed me the way.  Carré blanc is haunted by these types of movies.  It is a mirror of my thoughts because, as I said, you want to show your influences but you want to kill them, too.  And I think that’s part of the charm of Carré blanc.  I hope!

What comes next, both in terms of new projects you're working on and for Carré blanc?

I would love to make a revenge movie.  I think it is a universal theme.  In the U.S., this theme is in the guts of the people and to work with revenge is to work with guilt, redemption, violence, love and angst.  These themes are stronger than, say, social problems or romantic comedies.  I love those themes too, but they are not for me right now.  A bold, clever revenge movie sounds right to me.  And I have read some good scripts.  For Carré blanc we are hoping to find distribution in the U.S.  It has sold in Japan and people are into it there.  In Europe the process is starting.  We have some good propositions but we don’t know yet how it will work out.

Carré blanc screens tonight at 8pm as part of our ongoing Indie Night series, co-curated by Associate Program Director Scott Foundas and indie producer Ted Hope, who will moderate a Q&A with the director following the screening. We are pleased to welcome Royal Bank of Canada as presenting sponsor for the series.

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