The final winner of year 2019 is Marie Vandelannoote’s short film Funeral, which deals with a family reunion brought along by the death of one of its members. We had chat with its screenwriter and director, Marie Vandelannoote, who is no stranger to TMFF, having previously competed and won honours for her film The Shroud, back in 2018.
JL: Marie, congratulations for your achievement! We loved your film, and it’s clear that others appreciate it as well, since it’s racked up an impressive list of awards already.
Marie: Thank you a lot! It’s always a great pleasure when your film is selected and wins some awards. It’s awesome because you feel like people get to understand what you meant. Knowing your story touched the audience is amazing.
JL: It’s good to see you return to TMFF, after winning Director of the Month and 3rd best Film of the Month back in August 2018 with The Shroud. What have you been up to in the meantime?
Marie: Actually, in 2016, my first film ‘The End of the Movie‘ already got 3 nominations and TMFF was the first festival to reward it. That really encouraged me at that time, thank you so much for that. Regarding what I did in the meantime, The Shroud has been very challenging, at all levels. So after I’ve finished the editing, and the post prod was completed, I gave myself some time to take a bit of distance with it. I really need this time of grief between each project to be able to create again. And after that, I started the writing and the production of Funeral.
JL: Although The Shroud and Funeral are very different films, what have you learned while making The Shroud and implemented in Funeral?
Marie: To take it easy, with The Shroud, I tried to anticipate each detail and I left nothing to chance. And that’s not necessarily a good thing, because nothing ever happens the way you expected anyway. So with Funeral, I gave myself a part of improvisation and creativity, to allow myself a little more freedom on the set, but in a measured way of course! I trusted my judgment a little more, specifically on my leadership ability and it opened a lot of opportunities, for actors direction, for shots, etc… I tried to be less control freak, and that allows me to have more pleasure on the set and during the editing.
JL: Do you have any siblings? And if yes, has your relationship with them inspired Funeral’s screenplay in any way?
Marie: Yes, I do have an older sister. Fortunately, my relationship with her is much healthier than the one described in the film! I’ve never been interested in writing about me, or my life, or the people I know. I’m too shy and too reserved for that. Besides, I prefer creating characters and carrying my mind away into fictional universes. Reality has always bothered me and scared me a lot and I’m quite uncomfortable in there. But I certainly put sensations, impressions and feelings that can be autobiographical in my films, I guess.
But beyond brother-sister relationships, Funeral also talks about our new way of living our relationships, and the way we love, now. It’s about our ability to constantly judge each others, to not accept our differences and to become so individualised, indifferent to others. We can no longer truly express our feelings, as if we were ashamed to feel them, as if it was almost wrong to have them. I think that’s a shame.
JL: How did you get the idea behind the film? Have you found inspiration from any other projects? The Haunting of Hill House (the TV series) came to mind in terms of sibling dynamics and situational drama.
Marie: Films ideas come mostly to me by listening to a song.In this case, it was a Bruce Springsteen song, “The Last Carnival.” As I was listening to it, the characters began to take shape and I immediately thought of Damien Boisseau, Anne-Hélène Orvelin and Stefen Eynius, with whom I already worked on The Shroud, to give life to them.They are amazing actors as well as awesome people and I really wanted to collaborate again with them. I also thought about Anne-Laure Gruet, whom I didn’t know, but I was already familiar with her work.Beyond her very good acting, I saw a personality that appealed to me and I liked it instantly. And I’m really glad I listened to my instinct! So I sat down at my desk and I thought: write for them, with this film idea in the background. I knew that I would only have a very limited budget for this film, so the main constraint was that the plot had to be in one place, and that everything had to essentially go through the dialogues. But yes, I was also inspired by The Haunting of Hill House because I studied a lot of Flanagan’s shots he used in Nell’s funeral scene. I also spent a lot of time analyzing Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery. In both cases, there is a lot of steady and shoulder camera sequences that sometimes give a “docufiction” side that I wanted to have in Funeral and I found that the idea of not making any cuts was particularly appropriate in this kind of situation. The technical challenge that it represented was also really exciting, for the actors, as well as for the technical side. It also allows to keep the drama of the scene, which I think is a good thing in this kind of sequence.
JL: Your film is almost like a theatre play, with its setting in a single location allowing for an increased focus on the characters and their dynamics. How difficult is it to write and direct with having to compensate for a lack of dynamism in terms of backdrop?
Marie: The main challenge of this film was to put story in the foreground and to convey a maximum of emotions in a minimum of time. So we had to have strong dialogues without dead time, because here, the dialogues replace action. There is no place for an unnecessary line of text, or filling. For every line, I asked myself: “is this dialogue necessary, is it useful for the story?”. If the answer was no, it was deleted. And that’s also why I choose to shoot with a shoulder camera. I wanted to give the feeling that audience is a witness of the scene, to really feel what they feel and break the stage play sensation. So main rule was: no static shot, always be active, except for the final scene, because at that specific moment, we need to settle down and analyse what’s going on.
JL: We were likewise very impressed with the ending. Without giving any spoilers, what is your take on crafting a plot twist that feels relevant, unforced and makes an impact?
Marie: When a film idea comes to my mind, I get the end first. So whether it’s for a feature or a short, I always start writing the script by the end. I first visualize the final scene, and when I write the structure, I start with the last sequence and then all the way backward to the beginning. It is also a way to ensure that the end of the film is impactful enough. And this was especially the case for Funeral where everything had to be written with the end in mind to remain consistent with the rest of the story.
JL: Any future projects that you’re already working on?
Marie: I am in the writing phase, like all winters. I hibernate and I write! I end up coming out in spring with projects under my arm! I am currently working on the feature version of The Shroud that I plan to shoot by 2021, most certainly in Canada where I will move in the coming months!
JL: Marie, thank you again for your availability and insightful conversation. We wish you and all of our readers a very successful 2020, filled with success and accomplishments!