Interview with Lucile Hadžihalilović, Director of Evolution

Evolution director Lucile Hadžihalilović was kind enough to answer some questions in advance of the Vanguard premiere. She talks about some of the influences on the film, Narciso Ibañez Serrador, Giorgio de Chirico, collaboration, the challenges of filming underwater, and the movement of weeds in the current.

Carol Borden: In interviews discussing your previous feature, Innocence, you’ve mentioned Frank Wedekind’s “Mine-Haha,” Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, and Magritte as influences and references. Who or what are some of the references and influences on Evolution?

Lucile Hadžihalilović: I didn’t have any particular film in mind, apart from Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s Island of the Damned (aka, Who Can Kill a Child?) for its white village inhabited by children, as well as the idea of a dark but sunlit fairy tale.

When I had already written Evolution, I discovered Serrador’s lost TV drama Los Bulbos in which aliens introduce their ‘alien-worms’ into children’s bellies. I saw only two short extracts but I loved the soft magical-realist mood. I can say that Los Bulbos had a kind of “retrospective” influence on the film!

Less consciously, but with hindsight, I was clearly influenced by classic horror or sci-fi stories I read as a teenager – Lovecraft or Philip K Dick. For instance, Dick’s short story, “The Father-Thing”, in which a boy discovers that his father is not his real father, and is not even human.

Visually, I had the painter Giorgio de Chirico as a reference, for the enigmatic, sunlit southern European settings.

Also, with regard to the composition, certain Japanese films from the ’60s shot in Cinemascope – films by Wakamatsu or Teshigahara, or Nakagawa’s Jigoku.

Chirico. “Gare de Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure).” 1914.

CB: Your films have a really strong sense of a human relationship to and separation from nature and, perhaps connected, a strong sense of the relationship between/separation of male and female, adult and child. What do you find interesting or artistically inspiring in these semi-permeable barriers?

LH: I can see that that’s the case but it’s very hard for me to answer why.

I guess building up barriers is an attempt to put a bit of “order” in the world, to control it. It’s also a way to make visible the interactions between different human groups, or territories… When you remove one element from the environment, its absence reveals a lot.

Since my films are usually “magical tales”, this defines more easily the challenges and trials that the characters have to go through.

CB: What was the process of writing the film with Alanté Kavaïté like?

LH: I had written a few versions of the script I wasn’t satisfied with when Alanté and I begun to work together. At first, she read different versions of the script, and made very sharp, deep and constructive comments. Little by little she got more involved in the writing/rewriting. Mostly, she helped me with the internal logic of this enclosed world. Thanks to her, I could build the right story to express the feelings and images I had in mind.

I also collaborated with Geoff Cox who has been a great reader and advisor throughout the years I’ve been developing Evolution.

CB: How did you come to work with cinematographer Manuel Dacosse in Evolution? And what were some of the challenges of filming underwater and underwater cinematography?

LH: I love the cinematography and the look of some of the films Manu Dacosse has shot: Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears by Cattet & Forzani. The use of colour and darkness and the sense of framing in those films are wonderful.

Before Evolution, I made a short film, Nectar, with Manu, and I could see he wasn’t afraid of challenges such as use of natural light and shooting very quickly!

As for filming underwater it was indeed quite a challenge!

We worked with an excellent underwater camera operator and long-time scuba diver from the Canary Islands, Rafael Herrero. He knew the seabed of the archipelago by heart and found the right underwater locations. He knew exactly at what time the sun would illuminate these spots, and the kind of flora that would be there. Manu and I gave him instructions so he could shoot images without actors. The difficulty – since he was used to filming documentaries – was to make him understand that we wanted a different visual grammar with long, steady shots, and that we weren’t looking for transparency or definition, but for cloudy water… that we wanted to capture a kind of abstraction through organic matter and movement.

As for the shots with the actors, one of the main difficulties was that we didn’t have any monitoring on the camera. So I had to swim underwater to try to check what the actors were doing, but I couldn’t see what was in the frame. After a few takes, we had to take the camera out of the water to unload the images to be able to watch them – and if necessary, to go back into the water for another take. The process took a lot of time!

Of course, the biggest difficulty was for the actors (especially for Max Brebant, the boy who plays Nicolas) because they had to stop breathing. It was also very hard for them to do the action and go from one point to another, because of the current. It was physically very challenging for them.

 CB: There’s a strong sense of movement in your films. Do you work with a choreographer? How do you design the movement of the characters? And did the underwater scenes in Evolution present new opportunities and challenges in choreographing movement?

LH: I wanted to work with a choreographer for the scene with the women on the beach because it was a ritual as well as a scene with a collective, alien mood. But because of budget and time restraints, I could only have someone to rehearse the extras the day we shot it. So I asked Gisele Vienne, an artist used to working with dancers and in whom I had total confidence, to help me. She understood perfectly what I was looking for and managed to train the women in a few hours to do the movements we imagined. We worked with women who practised yoga rather than with dancers because I didn’t want them to be too “expressive”.

As for the underwater scenes, it’s wonderful to see a human body moving in this world without gravity. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore the possibilities of “aquatic ballet”, and it was very difficult for the actors to carry out any “action” as planned. Nevertheless we tried to choreograph the movements of Stella and the boy in the final underwater scene, where they had to be both synchronised and gracious…

I was also fascinated by the movement of the weeds in the current – they made visible in a perfect sensual and strange way the feelings and emotions I wanted to express.

Thanks again to Lucile Hadžihalilović for taking the time to answer my questions. 

EVOLUTION Screening Times:
Mon., Sept. 14, 9:30pm at RYERSON
Wed., Sept. 16, 4:30pm at BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA
Sun., Sept. 20,  8:30pm at TIFF BELL LIGHTBOXThis interview was originally published on the official blog of the Vanguard Program at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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