BY BAPTIST PENETTICOBRA
Somewhere in a studio in Paris. The vertical format chosen by French director Baptist Penneticobra gives his film a pictorial allure. In the center, a black and modern Mona Lisa, delightfully rude and poetic, waxes poetics about orange juice. Soon she’s joined by a young man who imagines himself as the embodiment of an orange juice brand. Monomania is shared and expresses itself in absurd monologues hard to identify: is it rap or spoken word, or is it the way these young people usually express themselves? It doesn’t matter. Intonations, inflections and rhythms fascinate and hypnotize. We never leave the dark place where our heroes are sitting, but we get lost rapidly, disoriented by the detail-rich descriptions in the monologues from which emerge stereotypical Americana landscapes.
Your proposition is rather surprising, how did you interpret the theme “Inhabit the Earth”?
I wanted to talk about something trivial —like the orange juice from McDonald’s —and pull the thread as far as I could until it becomes almost abstract. It seemed to line up with the theme “Inhabit The Earth” which touches on something universal. Cheap orange juice is pretty much the same everywhere. I liked the idea of going from something small to talking about something larger, and at the same time verging on something more and more obscur, theoritical, until it becomes almost stupid and random.
You have directed short films, music videos, a TV series and now a film for a fashion brand. Do you approach these different forms the same way ?
I think I try not to put everything on the same level. What is true, though, is that music generally occupies a crucial place in my films, and inversely, I try to think of music videos as fictions that can stand on their own. For this film it was something else. Three minutes is a specific format, not too short but not too long either, it had the benefit to allow something more immediate, to imagine a purer form that goes right to the point : 3 shots, 2 characters, 1 long zoom.
This film is a bit similar to a music video you directed, Nobody — here again we can find a reference to orange juice. Is there a filiation between this new short and the rest of your work?
The monologue is probably the recurring pattern; the night, the banal, a certain flow in speech. For this film I tried to stretch the writing as far as I could by letting myself being carried on by the sounds and rhythms produced by the text rather than by a true fictional reasoning. I felt like I was writing verses for a rap track more than a film, it’s a change of logic I have started being aware of from For Real, tho, and then when writing on Nobody. My previous films were written and rewritten after finding the protagonists during the casting phase— which was also the case for this one —drawing inspiration from them to produce their discourse, all the while directing the ensemble towards what I wanted to talk about.
How did the collection influence the film?
I spontaneously chose the simplest pieces in the collection. I wanted to avoid the fashion aspect that sometimes gives the feeling that clothes were put on characters that didn’t ask for it. I wanted the film to be set in a garden or under a porch, eventually near a swimming pool, with worn-out plastic chairs, a place where people spend their time talking through the night, in the suburbs, something a bit trivial that would be in at odds with a fashion collection. I needed the characters to be in coherence with their milieu more than the clothes being coherent with the characters.
How did you choose the actors ?
It’s always a long process because I’d rather work with non-professional actors that I find via Craigslist and other small ads. For this one, we met a lot of people in Paris, but the auditions were disappointing, excepted Jack Robinson’s who’s from New Castle et who had never auditioned or played in the film but who had this non-acting style that I found interesting. A few weeks before starting pre-production, I was in Michigan in an artist residency. That’s where I met Karmesha Clark who is from Detroit and who I found astounding. We decided to have her come to Paris and to make her the main character of the film.
The shots are really close to the actors, it’s dark. Everything comes down to the performances, the accents and the references. It could happen anywhere as if to you a place wasn’t necessarily linked to a physical space or environnement.
I’m always intrigued by non-places, those territories and ordinary structures that everyone can identify : parking lots, stadiums, roads. They have a double interest : they are evocative in the sense that a few signals are enough for them to exist (a bit of fences, a foam cup) and at the same time function like neutral spaces in which characters can exist and speak to the audience. It’s true that with this film, in this vertical format, the setting is even more reduced to a web of signs, quasi primitive, and that’s exactly what interests me.
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