A hidden reality, that of insects and small creatures is accessible to those who stop for a moment, to think and feel. A shy populati...

Roxanne Gaucherand: Love in times of uncertainty and change in a film where documentary and fiction coexist harmoniously

A hidden reality, that of insects and small creatures is accessible to those who stop for a moment, to think and feel. A shy population of winged or crawley creatures pave their way into our reality, a nuisance to some and a reflection of beauty to others. 

Pyrale is a film directed by Roxanne Gaucherand that focuses on an invasion of a special kind of moth called the box-tree moth. Reminiscent of Hitchcock's winged invasion (The Birds), Pyrale mixes documentary with fiction. A love story timidly fuses with the consequences of the moth epidemia in a small region in France. 

The film was exhibited in Visions du Réel online festival and won the jury prize.

- How has been your trajectory in filmmaking? When did it start and how? 
When I was 13 years old, I had a huge crush on Johnny Depp. Through his filmography, I opened my mind to independent and alternative cinema and decided to make films. That’s also when still cameras started to offer a video option. I remember the feeling of capturing memories and loved ones, the pleasure of adding music to those videos. I studied cinematography for two years and then graduated from a 5 years directing program in a film school (INSAS in Brussels). Pyrale is my first film out of school. 

- You seem to enjoy working in the fusion of genres, documentary and fiction. What attracts you the most in this fusion or union? 
I think cinema is all about crossing the border between reality and fiction. When you’re filming, there is no objectivity, no absolute truth. I felt like it was interesting to assume that straight away with the spectator. I believe in an active spectator that can question the nature of the images : is it documentary? Is this fiction? Is it sci-fi? What does it means to me then? As a spectator, I like having this kind of freedom. Maybe I believe in a dialogue more than in a fusion? Comolli says that cinema tells the truth about lies. That’s something I can relate to as a filmmaker. 

I also enjoy the idea that with fiction, you can bring to the theatre people that wouldn’t usually go see an independent documentary, or vice versa with a cheesy romantic film. On the edge of genres, you reach different publics, you also rises questions, blurry limits, it creates unexpected bridges between forms or ideas.

The process of starting with a documentary also thrilled me because ideas from the characters or from the context were much better than the ones I had by myself. It took time to build the story, arranging facts and experiences together. Somehow, the film turned the fears of the villagers into a reality. It also made me feel safer about my subject.

- Pyrale also features a romantic plot that runs underneath the moth “epidemia”. It is also a coming-of-age love story, about finding your soulmate in your best-friend. How do you perceive romantic love in film and how do you like to portray it in terms of narrative and aesthetics? 
I’m not sure if it’s the right answer but I like romances as identification tool for the spectator, something we all can relate to. It’s a classic narrative structure that makes it easier to be a bit over the top and super lyrical as a director. On the other hand, I grew up drowned in normative representations of romantic love. Now I feel the need to question that. 

- Insects, butterflies and moths acquire an almost sacred symbolism in Pyrale. Do you also see them as metaphors? 
Butterflies are powerful metaphors in and of themselves: growing up, having butterflies in your stomach, floating around from one thing to another… When I started working on Pyrale, I discovered a highly connected youth, virtually super exposed online. I felt a connection between them and the moths, attracted by the lamps and screens, making them vulnerable to their predators and yet surviving through the night. 

- In your work, you have also directed videoclips. How important is music in your life? And if you wish to say, what bands or projects do you feel most connected to? 
I think all forms of art are connected, always influenced by each other. I especially love video because it’s a composite of a lot of artistic forms that are a part of my life, such as music, photography, performances, architecture, drawings, even video games etc. I always felt like I didn’t have to choose, I could mix everything I love together. 

I’m interested in music videos because it’s a dominant form nowadays. It has a strong power on representative political norms. I believe that, as artists, it’s our responsibility to occupy that space. I feel connected to many artists, as long as they have the will to offer something more than a promotional content and if they can take the risk to try something different. Recently for instance, Arca made a big impression on me. She’s changed me. 

- Some of the best stories in films, may be adapted from novels, but others are taken from reality, newspaper clips, testimonials and other real-life sources. Do you think that the popular phrase: Reality is stranger than fiction, is accurate most of the times? 
I think living today with Covid-19 proves it more than anything. Maybe fiction could prepare us for reality, help us grow? 

- I don’t know If I may be extrapolating but in Pyrale, to me, it felt like some older people tried to kill the moths because they see them as a threat and an epidemia, while others that are younger try to attract them to pose in photographs with them as see them almost like a magical occurrence. Did you wish to portray the subtle difference between the innocence of adolescence and the experience and rigid pragmatism of an older age? 
Absolutely, it appeared to me as I started meeting people. But I also wanted to picture something more balanced: older people watch their world fading as they themselves are disappearing. That’s what makes them a bit more rigid I guess. Young people can’t see things that way, they have no choice but to live with it, that’s why they can sometimes be more careless. 

- Facing our current situation with the global pandemic, one cannot stop thinking about some sort of parallelism that becomes established between the box tree moth invasion and the covid19 epidemic. Both have consequences in society, people’s attitudes and some serious repercussions. If you were willing to direct a film about this issue, how would you envision it? 
Like every filmmaker I guess, I thought about it a lot when it all started. At first we were speechless, everything felt like an X-file episode with approximate explanations. I even wanted to do an X-file fan fiction about Mulder and Scully’s investigation… It almost got me to start thinking about conspiracy theories… I needed fiction to help me go through this. 

Now I feel like we’re going to have to re-invent new hopes and new ways of living, valorizing different values such as respect, care, humility. We need to embrace the porosity between cultures and living forms. 

Maybe it’s time to change our ways in storytelling as well. A victorious conqueror hero like scenario books teach us doesn’t seem right to me now. It’s clear how connected we are as humans and as a species as a whole now. 

- Pyrale was released by KOKORO. How did Kokoro start and what kind of projects do you seem more inclined to take upon? 
KOKORO came as a co-producer during post-production. Quartett Productions really held the production, as the film was French. Alexis and Ethan, my producers from Quartett, defend beautiful political and aesthetic values. I really trust them and wish to develop a new project with them as soon as possible. 

But to talk about KOKORO, I started out with my own production company with Sofia Lemos Marques and Betty Lamoulie; we are focused on music videos and we’ve started to produce documentaries or fragile films, mostly directed by women, mostly queer. 

- In Acordes de Quinta we have a themed series that we call Bagagem (Bag) in which we ask musicians and other creators about their favourite (or references for) 5 books, 5 records and 5 films/TV shows. Which ones are yours? 
That’s really hard for me to answer but let’s try, maybe with my current state of mind. 

5 Books:
- La invención de Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares 
- Habiter Oiseau, Vinciane Despret 
- Testojunkie, Paul B. Preciado 
- Harry Potter, JK Rowling 
- Orlando, Virginia Woolf

5 Records:
- Discovery, Daft Punk 
- Lost In Translation’s Soundtrack (My Bloody Valentine, Squarepusher, Air…) 
- Tomorrow’s Harvest - Boards of Canada 
- Double Vision, David Sanborn 
- Before Today, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

5 Films:
I must admit I feel ashamed because there is so much more men directors in this selection. It’s a problem and reveals that, until a certain age and even in cinema school, movies directed by women were not shown to me. They are not produced enough as well. It is something I try to change now. That’s also why I added titles in this top 5. 

- Trust, Hal Hartley 
- Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto, Miguel Gomes 
- Beau Travail, Claire Denis 
- Odete, Joao Pedro Rodrigues 
- Toni Erdman, Maren Ade 
- The Time to Live and the Time to Die, Hou Hsiao-hsien 
- Je, Tu, Il, Elle, Chantal Akerman 

Few years ago, I would have picked Thriller by Michael Jackson but it’s impossible to me now, especially after what happened in France with the Caesars. I’m glad I’m changing.

Text & Interview: Cláudia Zafre
Interviewee: Roxanne Gaucherand
Images: Film frames