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1st July 2016
The kindness of strangers
Title of film: The Idyll
Director: Justin Anderson
Justin Anderson brings his distinctive elegant, quirky and totally fabulous vision to a Guy de Maupassant's short story The Idyll.

Your interpretation of Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Idyll” elevates the narrative to

a visual feast of intimacy and intrigue without being overtly sexual, (although Maupassant

probably didn’t intend to convey sexuality either). Could you please tell us how your script

evolved – from first reading The Idyll to when you felt you owned the narrative and were

ready to shoot it.

 

I first read this story when we had recently had a child, my wife who runs her own business

was working full time, feeding, expressing, travelling to meet with clients in Paris and

Stockholm whilst still trying to make it home at night.

It struck me how this story perfectly encapsulated the collision of nature and culture; the

world has developed with such a tremendous force but our physiology has remained as it

has for millennia. Now in the 21st century this clash between work and nurture has never

been sharper.

These themes are so deeply embedded in the story that I didn’t want to wave a flag for the

plight of the working mum; but instead present the female character as a funny

independent person who initiates conversation by gently ribbing the stranger opposite her.

What takes place is extremely intimate, but the relationship to desire, and breasts, is of

course very complicated! It is not that we didn’t want to go there but you only have to walk

around a gallery of Renaissance painting to spot that breast feeding as a depiction of

intimacy and sensuality is as old as God (so to speak).

 

What was behind your decision to refine the characters from Maupassant’s plump peasant

woman and starving Italian labourer to the more elegant duo?

 

Characters that work in literature can sometimes feel heavy handed on screen. I felt the

complexity of characters needed to be drawn certainly from a visual aspect with more

subtlety, the plump woman feeding the thin man; too much. I wanted the characters to

have balance , a kind of equality so the power shift between them could be very gentle. The

challenge was how to bring two strangers together towards an act that on the face of it

would seem extreme, but do it so gently that it seemed perfectly acceptable and human. To

do this I needed to create two characters that had dimension but in a subtle way.

 

Although the film is dialogue heavy there’s an unspoken connection between the

characters which completely draws the viewer into their world. How did you go about

directing the actors to achieve this?

 

I was lucky enough to find two really good actors who both taught me as much as I directed

them. Dougray Scott and Emma de Caunes are both vastly more experienced than me in

narrative filmmaking. We did a very intense rehearsal where we went through every line of

the script talking about the meaning beneath each line of dialogue. We did this before

any read through so before we came to perform we had, for the most part, sorted out the

unspoken dialogue. After a few read throughs we put away the script and did the film

improvised. During the improvisation they tried to make the other laugh, I wanted the film

to be about a burgeoning friendship rather than a building of sexual tension.

 

The changing light and colour palette bring a modernity to what could have been a cliched

period piece. What were your main concerns – tone, mood, framing etc that brings your

own distinctive voice to the production?

 

This is something the I worked on closely with Ricard Stewart, our DOP. We very much

didn’t want to fall into the Belle Epoch cliche but also didn’t want to feel like a particular

time or place. We invented the term ‘era agnostic’. We wanted the train to be archetypal;

two seats and a window. The compartment is like a capsule moving through space, when

you sit opposite someone you share something, most of the time unspoken. We wanted to

create this intimacy without leading towards as you put it anything ‘overt’.

 

The train travels through stunning landscapes – where did you shoot the film? We googled

mapped Ongar to find it’s in Essex and get the sense that the train is travelling from

Scotland or have we got that completely wrong? Was there some clever post involved for

the window scenes and it was actually shot in a studio?

 

We shot the train static in Ongar in Essex on the hottest day of last year. Our crew got to

push lights up and down tracks to recreate the passing light during each take. We shot the

film mostly on continuous takes running right through the script so it was some magnificent

feat of stamina on behalf of the sparks. We then travelled to Extramadura in Spain and

shot the moving backgrounds which we composited at Poster in Paris; I also asked them

to put in the Ongar sign into the Spanish station to complete the circle. Ongar is fabulous

place where they run steam engines and old BR diesels at the end of the Central Line. I

take my four year old son there a lot, which might give you an indication of how long this

process takes!

 

What were the main challenges of the production and how did you resolve them?

 

My challenge was finding the right producers, Tarquin Glass and Kate McCreery, and

handing all the challenges over to them. We are now adapting a novel into a feature film

so those challenges have grown eight legs and have several heads.

Credits

Written and Directed by Justin Anderson

Producers: Tarquin Glass and Kate McCreery

Cinematographer: Ricard Stewart

Cast: Emma de Caunes and Dougray Scott