Just over a year ago, we were having a chat with Kilian Thomas, fresh winner of TMFF’s April Film of the Month for his short film, Insectarium. Today, he’s a winner yet again, this time with Alexanne – a film about the relationship between human beings and advanced AIs – a little bit beyond Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. It was our pleasure to once again talk to Kilian.
JL: Congrats, Kilian! You’re a two-time TMFF Film of the Month winner now. How is Alexanne faring so far at festivals and competitions?
Kilian: Thank you! Alexanne just came out at the beginning of this summer, feedbacks are good and it gets its first selections and the TMFF awards are its first so thanks for that!
JL: Your film somewhat reminded me of Spike Jonze’s excellent Her, but you took a different direction – while Her concerned the learning process and self-actualisation of the AIs, Alexanne concentrates on their identity struggles, and the unfairness of the situation. How did you come up with this idea?
Kilian: The first idea was to tell the story of a toxic relationship and the sci-fi touch came as evidence to me. The Human-AI relationship was perfectly representing the grip that a man can have on his wife. Then during the writing process, many reflections appeared to me: Why (almost) all the AI do have a female voice or appearance? What will happen when robotic technologies will encounter the sex dolls business? And the dating apps in all that? All that reflections made the project evolved and gave me the desire to create this consumer society of love and sex. Many films and videos games treat this idea of humanoids robots commercialized but I wanted to tell it from the point of view of the robot who gets a real conscience and realizes she’s just a product of this society.
JL: Did Covid have any impact on the premise and/or story – so many people in isolation, lonely and without any real human contact?
Kilian: Maybe the isolation has influenced the loneliness of the character of Matthieu but the idea of the premise of Alexanne was already in my mind for almost one year before Covid. But it’s the first confinement that gave me the time and the desire to write it because this particular and exceptional pause in our world was inspiring and gave me the desire to direct a new film.
JL: When it comes to the idea behind Alexanne – is it a matter of if, or rather when we get there?
Kilian: Beyond the Black Mirror effect of this society which seems very close to ours, the AI aspect is here to justify the relationship of Matthieu and Alexanne. I wanted to exacerbate the backward vision of woman’s place in the couple and the society, which is unfortunately still too present nowadays. So it would rather ask: Can we avoid getting there?
JL: What would you say was your biggest learning point during the project?
Kilian: This film is the first one I entirely auto-produced (Insectarium was my end-of-study project) so it was an enriching experience to see the entire production aspects and its responsibilities. And make it during covid has been a complicated challenge especially for sets searches…
JL: Last year, Ophélie Lehmann won our Actress of the Month award for Insectarium, and now she did it again! What a wonderful and layered performance from her – I’m sure you will keep working with her?
Kilian: Of course! I’m still amazed by the strength she plays with. I imagined the role of Alexanne for her. Then I asked her to oversee the script cause I needed a female look to write this story. It resulted that the actor’s direction was much simplified on set!
JL: You explored a horror-oriented type of sci-fi with Insectarium, and with Alexanne you took a cleaner cinematography, while preserving the inherent darkness of the theme from an introspective lens. What sort of sci-fi approach would you like to try out next?
Kilian: Yes, I wanted a colorful ad-style atmosphere that would strengthen the perfect love story idea that fades with time. For the next one, I would like to go deeper into human behavior and psychology. I like very much to explore the possible futures of our society with its excesses and conflicts, with dark atmospheres. I’m beginning the reflection on a new premise but it’s too early to speak about it…
JL: And speaking of Insectarium, last time around you mentioned wanting to make a feature film around that universe – how is that project going?
Kilian: The desire is still there, I’m still looking for a production company to make it possible.
JL: Well Kilian, last April I predicted we would meet again – and we did. Hoping to once again see more of your work in the near future!
Kilian: Thank you so much! Hoping so too. The future will tell…