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rochefort [Film Festival 03.17.11] post apocalyptic scifi horror

French director Xavier Gens' The Divide (review) was a bona fide smash at SXSW this year, winning audience acclaim and a very swift sale to Anchor Bay Entertainment a mere day and a half after it premiered.

We managed to catch Gens while he was at the fest and set our SXSW correspondent, rochefort, up with an interview about his uber-bleak and intense post-apocalyptic parable.

*SPOILER WARNING:* rochefort had seen the film just before the interview, so he and Xavier settled into a fairly spoilerific discussion about the film.


"The Divide" is predominantly a one-setting story. Where did you shoot, and for how long? Was it a modified location, set, or some combination?

It was a set in the studio in Winnipeg, and we shot in 31 days. The idea was, when I assembled the actors, to say to them "Okay, this (the set) is the blueprint of the film, and what I would like to do is create a playground where the actors can come play with me, and create their backstories and play with their characters". I know Jacques Audiard did this for "A Prophet", and I was very interested in that movie. He held this workshop where the actors created their backstories together, found their links, a bit like the Actors' Studio, to help them process and prepare their characters. So we recreated that process, recreated that club (that results) when you bring them all together, which was very interesting. For example, for the characters played by Lauren German and Ivan Gonzalez, we did improvisation of their backstories, how they met in real life, and we created a little coffee place where she was a waiter, things that aren't in the movie but create the feel for that character. For Michael, we spoke a lot about his character, who was (a fireman) in the twin towers, and Michael would go to the set and stay there, building his part of the set, his room.

I encouraged the actors to share things, and let them improv a bit like the actors in the first "Alien" film. When you hear Ridley Scott speak about that first film, like the dinner scene at the beginning, which was totally improvised, he just gave them enough direction to help them find an organic feel for that scene and the film. And that's really what we were searching for with this film.

It shows. The set has a very lived-in feel, and the characters all feel like they've been around since before the movie started, which is rare, especially in the exposition-heavy movies we see a lot of these days.

I do have a question with regards to blowing a little bit of the ambiguity. Mickey (Michael Biehn) makes references that the people responsible for the attack are Arab terrorists. Did you ever decide in the scriptwriting process if you knew who actually launched the missiles?

The Americans themselves.

Wow. Okay, didn't see that coming. How long were your rehearsals?

We did a week of rehearsals, and another week on set. And ever after that I shared a lot of moments with the actors on Skype, and during readings. I spent maybe one week with all the actors just working on the script with them and the writer Eron Sheean. And every day we'd go into Michael's trailer and he'd come up with new lines. The script evolved every day, which is why there is such an organic feeling to the film. And we shot in sequence, to keep up the energy. I told them "let's shoot in sequence and let the film evolve the way we want. Let things happen.

We never know what will be, what can happen, let's do an experiment". For example, there's a scene with Jen (Biehn's real-life wife) and Michael, a dream sequence. She was in Winnipeg with us, and I could just tell how much they're in love, so I thought it would be something if Michael's wife comes to see him in a dream, and this was not in the script at all. We just kept using what we saw in real life to put in the film, and it kept things intimate with everybody.

I remember that. It's a really nicely underplayed scene. Is this the first time you've shot chronologically?

No, we did it for "Frontiere(s)", which really has two stories playing at the same time, one with the young blonde guy and the other is with the other guy and the girl, and we shot the first story first, then the second story, both in sequence.

I love the fact that there's so much of a puzzle behind who these characters are and where they came from. The ones played by Michael Eklund and Milo Ventimiglia are often referred to by other characters throughout the course of the story as being gay. Was it ever decided to play around with a homoerotic subtext, or was that a flourish of dialogue?

I think theirs is more of a brotherhood. In the film, Milo is the half-brother of Ashton Holmes, and Michael Eklund is playing Milo's best friend, and is frustrated that he doesn't have the exclusivity of being his brother. When they transform and shave their heads, it becomes a kind of Iron Rite in the basement, they become like fascists, and also decide to become brothers in that moment. We could consider a gay subtext, but I think it's more inspired by Pasolini. All the abuse they do to Marilyn, the character played by Rosanna Arquette, comes from Pasolini, and he was always talking about and depicting fascism.

Fascism is something of a recurring theme in your films. Even "Hitman" has a preponderance of bald-headed assassins wearing black and looking somewhat like the SS. Is that a theme you're fascinated with?

I think it's an accident (laughs). But actually, between "Frontiere(s)" and "The Divide" there is a real thematic continuity. We deal with a lot of the same things in both, the ideology of people who take over other people, which may be from some kind of trauma we feel in France. I don't even know if it's intentional or not. But I do think it's kind of therapeutic. In France we were traumatized by the extreme right in the 40's and re-traumatized by the extreme right when they came back in 2002 with the Presidential election. So here we are (with "The Divide") dealing with humanity repeating its same mistakes, and I think it's better to show it than to give solutions. This movie is not giving answers, but rather show what can happen, and I think it's my personal fear of what could happen.

I picked up on the idea of there being two key rites of passage in the film. One was whether or not one had the stones to actually cut another body up. And the second was the shaving of the head, this kind of embracing of the Nazi aesthetic and imagery. Was that conscious or am I just reading in too much?

Entirely. If you notice the structure of the set, it's inspired by German architecture of the 40's. There's also a luger at the end.

Yeah, I remember the luger.

There's lot of little things that support that thematic, these guys becoming brutal Nazis.

What's the appeal for you in the post-apocalyptic genre? Did you know you wanted to make this kind of movie, or did you just happen upon a good script?

It happened because I saw a good script, a good story. In the beginning there weren't any of the little sci-fi atmospherics like the men in gas-masks, but we retained most of (the original script).

As intense as "Frontiere(s)" was, "The Divide" tops it in a lot of ways. Can you see yourself transplanting that same level of intensity to something like "Daredevil"?

Daredevil? Ah. If I got to make it, I'd like to concentrate more on the intimacy and intensity of the character. What I'd like to do in adapting a movie like that would be to make it like "The Fighter", much more like a drama. You need to smell Hell's Kitchen. It would be much more like a mob story, with a young child who then becomes an avenger, and we would see him become Daredevil only in the last act.

I would love to see a Xavier Gens take on "Daredevil". I can't imagine how intense that would be. So what is next?

The next thing I'm hoping to do is a movie set in South Africa called "An Unfinished Country". It's about two doctors who try to rehabilitate a hospital in South Africa in a place where there are 300 injuries every day from all the fighting. They came just to have plenty of human beings to practice on, but they come to really appreciate the importance of a life.

And what could we expect from a film like that?

Much closer to "The Last King of Scotland".

Okay. So a little bit of a departure from what you've done so far.

Yeah. But still very intense (laughs).

Well, if you get your hands on it, of course it will be. One last question. Do you just enjoy finding new and horrible things to do to the human body?

I think it's much more aesthetic and also thematic, and even symbolic. For example, when Milo sets himself on fire, it's meant to call to mind the Dantean Inferno. I try to find the symbolic. And when I do violence, it needs to be really aggressive and shock you. I don't want to do violence just to do it. I want it to disturb, because I believe it's a very bad thing in real life.

Thank you so much for your time. Great film.

Thank you.


Recommended Release: The Divde

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Anton (12 years ago) Reply

C'mon man!!!!!!!!!
i am dying here
Want to read this enterview but i don't want the spoilers.


TrgdyAnn (11 years ago) Reply

Holding My Breath. I can't Wait. Hurry Pleeze!!!!

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