Denis Côté’s CURLING is a film that stays with you. Winner of Best Director and Best Actor at Locarno, Côté’s inclusion in New Directors/New Films will mark a return to MoMA, where his feature film debut, DRIFTING STATES (Les états Nordiques) screened in the Canadian Front cycle. Five feature films in five years later, he has delivered a portrait of a father trying his best to shelter his daughter from a harsh outside world, fraught with threats imagined and real. However, no one can escape their environment and just as she discovers and connects with that world in a macabre, yet poetic way, he is forced to face and make some peace with those things that haunt him as well. Again, CURLING’s images and themes will play and replay more than a few times in your head afterward. And that thought will likely please its director quite a bit.
1) The father and daughter at the center of CURLING are two equally enigmatic and fascinating characters. Did you have difficulties during the writing and directing process in balancing the focus on them both (as opposed to weighing it more heavily on one at the expense of the other)?
I think with the daughter, the story has to start at ‘zero’. She’s a receptacle, she’s open to anything because she is at level zero of her openness to the world. In the film, she finds a new and mysterious connection with it.
The father is much more complex because he has this very complex relationship with a world he refuses to be part of. Father and daughter are at both end of the social spectrum. They really must meet somewhere in the middle, build or rebuild a connection with life and hopefully connect with the living. Those were the challenges I had to face when writing.
Emmanuel Bilodeau plays the role of 'Jean-Francois' in CURLING.
2) The father and daughter in CURLING are played by real-life father and daughter; Emmanuel and Philomène Bilodeau.How did that help you and where did it present an additional challenge in directing them?
Emmanuel proposed his non-professional daughter. At first, it made no sense since the character was an 8-year old girl. The idea became more and more concrete and I decided to re-adapt the script for a 12 year old.
Philomène and Emmanuel were two different energies. He was a 24 hour-a-day coach for her and it was wonderful and less stressful for me. Of course Emmanuel is the pro and we had to work around the sensibilities and nuances he could bring. I think Philomène is wonderful in the natural detachment she unconsciously imposed to the character. As a non-pro, she can’t do miracles but she totally gave Philomène this sense of ethereal energy the character of ‘Julyvonne’ needed.
Philomène Bilodeau plays the role of 'Julyvonne' in CURLING.
3) You have mentioned Victor Erice's THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE and Charles Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER as films that you returned to as inspiration for your work on CURLING. Can you give some details as far as what you were able to draw from those two films that found their way into CURLING (or at least, your head while you were making the film)?
I also think a lot about a half-forgotten film by Uruguayan director Narciso Ibanez Serrador: WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? I really like those stories where adults make sure their children are safe from the world and as soon as their backs are turned, the kids discover their own world. It can become very poetic and morbid fairytales. You won’t find traces of these films in CURLING but I got very inspired watching that trio of films. I’m no fan of fantasy films or films made from the point of view of children (various films by Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam, for example). I prefer films where adults are overprotecting their kids to the point of uneasiness. Children must take their revenge at some point!
4) You are an ex-film critic. How does that experience color your reaction to reviews of your own films?
I look at my work in a very cold and detached way. I don’t get angry reading a bad review and there’s no celebration for a good one. Definitely, it has to do with my critic’s past. Films are works of art we should be able to discuss and put in in a social, political, poetic or historical perspective. I easily forget I’m the director of a film!
Denis Côté (Director of CURLING)
5) You have said that you will know within 3 minutes if a film is for you. Bearing that in mind, do you write, direct and edit your films with that in mind (assuming that you believe there are others out there much like yourself in that regard)?
You can’t fake a strong signature or an original personality. These things will explode from the first 3 minutes of your film. Is there someone behind the film I’m watching? You can answer that question in 3 minutes – even if the film is just pure entertainment.
6) Originally, you intended to shoot the film during the summer. However, you ultimately decided to shoot the film in Quebec during the winter. Can you specify some of the hurdles that decision ultimately presented to you?
The answer is boring. We got the financing in summer and didn’t feel like waiting a whole year to shoot. We’re all afraid to shoot in winter up here, for technical and human reasons! But at some point, you must sit down, imagine winter as a character and build your story around it. Winter is terrifying in CURLING. It has a paralyzing force.
7) CURLING has played at or been confirmed to play in 55 film festivals since its debut at Locarno. Other than the explanation “it’s a good film”, why do you think it has proven to be so popular and coveted on the film festival circuit?
That’s tricky. There’s a whole ‘festival world’ out there. There’s a whole ‘festival-crowd’. It’s something we should assume and not be ashamed of. Is it the only territory left to show our personal films? Sometimes, looking at the impossibility to sell my films to other territories for theatrical commercial releases, I really think so.
CURLING is one of those ‘survivor’ films you can only see in a festival. It’s sad but I don’t cry about it anymore. Some people are condescending and say I make ‘festival films’. Festivals are not for the intellectuals or the elite. Festivals are these safe zombie-free islands and if that’s where I belong and can make a career out of it, I will.
CURLING speaks a cinematic language that is different from mainstream storytelling. A lot of films belong to that category and authors should stick to and support the festival world.
8) What is the best thing about having CURLING screened at New Directors/New Films?
Of course, it’s opening doors in the U.S. I did 5 films in 5 years and I’ve been totally ignored by the big neighbor, U.S. so hopefully I can work on some sort of revenge now! New York is New York!
9) Be honest, what’s more fun: Bowling or Curling?
Curling is really, really exciting to learn and try. Honest!
10) Popcorn or candy?
CURLING will screen at MoMA on Saturday, March 26 at 6:15PM and Sunday, March 27 at the Walter Reade Theater. Denis Côté will participate in a Q&A following both screenings.