Tuesday 6 October 2015

[INTERVIEW] - Philippe Audi-Dor

Young writer/director Philippe Audi-Dor is garnering high praise with his feature film debut "Wasp" which received its UK premier at the Raindance Film Festival last month. "Wasp" is a refreshing take on old story of forbidden love and questioning sexuality, a film I described in my recent review as "an insightful dramatic play about how regardless of sexuality all relationships are plagued by the same things". It was awarded Best International Feature and Best Actress for Elly Condron at the "Film Out LGBT Festival" in San Diego with more festival screenings on the way including "Boston LGBT Film Festival", "Beirut International Film Festival" and "Amsterdam Roze Filmdagen Film Festival"  

I recently interviewed Philippe about his life, work and influences, how the idea for "Wasp" came about as well as some of its more intricate themes.

UPDATE; Sadly "Wasp" will not be screening at the Beirut International Film Festival  having been banned by the Lebanese Censorship Bureau.  Spokesmen for the Beirut International Film Festival  explained the reason behind the ban was that neither had secured a permit from General Security.  In the past other LGBT films played at the festival including Lilting (UK) and Tom à la Ferme in 2014. Philippe had this to say;  “I am very disappointed that Wasp won’t be screening at the renowned Beirut International Film Festival because of its LGBT content. That said, I do understand that the film touches upon a delicate subject, and do respect the censorship bureau’s decision. I do think however that the cancelling of the movie emphasizes just how relevant a film like Wasp is in today’s world.”

 Can you tell me a little more about yourself?

 My background is fairly eclectic. I was born in Geneva (Switzerland) from a Lebanese mother and French father, and educated by an English nanny. At 19 I left for the UK, where I completed a double BA in Film & TV Studies and Cultural Sociology at the University of Nottingham. Upon graduating, I was selected to intern at both Lionsgate Studios and Fox Searchlight in Los Angeles. When I returned to Europe I enrolled at Drama Centre London (Central Saint Martins) and obtained an MA in Screen Directing. Four months after graduating (and with a couple short films under my belt), I started the pre-production for "Wasp". I couldn't bear the thought of waiting any longer before making a feature; life is simply too short. Two years down the line the film is finally completed, and here I am talking to you!

What inspired you to become a film maker? Who are your influences?

I had always liked telling stories, by writing short stories, putting up plays and especially drawing comic books. The movie that changed everything for me was "Requiem for a Dream." I was seventeen, and for the first time I realised how powerful the combination of acting, editing, music, imagery, etc. could really be. I wasn't interested in one specific aspect, but how they all worked together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. From then on I knew I had to direct films. It was never a decision per-say; just something I knew I had to do. That really was the turning point.

The director who inspired me to start directing so soon however is Xavier Dolan. He made me realize that there is a place for young film directors in the industry – we just need to know how to create the opportunity for ourselves. As long as you have enough passion and a good film, people will listen to you and give you a chance. 
"Contrary to a bee, a wasp can sting repeatedly without fear of putting its life in danger. I feel the slightly reckless way in which the characters behave reflects this quite accurately."
What is the significance of the film's title? I know during the course of the film there are occasional cuts to a wasp caught in some blinds but would you mind expanding a little more?
To me, wasps evoke both a sense of summer and danger, which corresponds perfectly to the story’s overall atmosphere, hence the title. In addition, the way these insects behave is fascinating. Contrary to a bee, a wasp can sting repeatedly without fear of putting its life in danger. I feel the slightly reckless way in which the characters behave reflects this quite accurately. I also recently learned that the venom in wasps contains a pheromone that causes nearby wasps to become more aggressive. Who is the ‘wasp’ in the film is up to the audience to decide but personally, I believe that all characters become the wasp at one point or another, as they all end up ‘stinging’ each other – as if one’s venom had triggered aggressiveness in all the others.

Last note on this insect, know that after a male wasp mates with the Queen, it dies shortly afterwards…

The use of the wasp in the film is fairly straightforward. The opening sequence is my way of saying that even amongst the beautiful Provencal nature hides something dangerous – symbolised by the wasp. It will find its way into the house, and will do everything in its power to survive. The final shot of the wasp is open to interpretation: Either negative (the death of the characters relationship), or positive (leaving behind what caused their disarray), or even as a bad omen – the danger that threatened them, though weakened, isn’t dead. As you can guess I do love ambiguity, as I feel it forces the audience to discuss the film after watching it.

Caroline's choice of reading material, namely Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" is interesting. Any reason why that was included? Does it represent any of the film's themes?

I like the idea of her enjoying a book about a 'love that shouldn't be', with questionable morals. I felt it resonated quite well with what was going on in "Wasp". Though not as apparent, the character of James is reading 'This is Paradise' (by Will Eaves) which I thought would be funny in an ironic way, while Olivier reads 'The Heat of the Sun' (by David Rain).

There are some quite tense moments in the film, in particular I was gripped during the scene where Olivier is driving Caroline back to the house. How hard was it to get the actors to maintain their steely composure for that scene? They pulled it off very well.

Thank you - and I agree, I love that car scene. The actors were amazing. Because the camera was attached directly to the car, there was no way for me to monitor the scene as it was being filmed (nor was I going to hide in the car which would have been distracting more than anything else). We just went over the scene beforehand, then I just let the actors go, camera rolling. Once they came back I watched what had been captured, and knew it was the one. It only took one take.

One funny anecdote: as they first started the scene, it all went horribly wrong with six cars showing out of nowhere on this usually deserted road and the car doors not opening properly. Elly and Simon were true professionals staying in character, but soon realised it just wasn't going to work out! They went back to square one and started the scene again, this time finishing it uninterrupted. But personally, I still find it hilarious watching that outtake! I think it’s on the DVD extras for everyone to enjoy. 

"I felt as though sexually complex characters were too rarely portrayed on screen (unless they were unbalanced psychopaths…) and wanted to contribute to changing that."
How much of the film is based on real people and situations?

I wouldn’t say the characters are based on real people, but rather on different ‘aspects’ of me. "Wasp" was written while I was asking myself a lot of questions. I was discovering the ups and downs of a first committed relationship, had enrolled in a very demanding art school and had just moved to three different cities in the space of six months… It was an odd time for me. The writing was a very cathartic experience where I was able to have different ‘versions’ of me confront each other (this sounds borderline schizophrenic, but you know what I mean.)

Overall, "Wasp" definitely stems from the frustrations I went though as a sexually confused young man. Having had experiences with both men and women I knew I wasn’t straight, but defining myself as gay didn’t feel quite right either. During my studies in Cultural Sociology I discovered the Klein SexualOrientation grid (mentioned in the film), which explores the complexity of sexuality in an in-depth but approachable way. It helped me understand who I was, while simultaneously planting the seed for "Wasp" in my mind. I felt as though sexually complex characters were too rarely portrayed on screen (unless they were unbalanced psychopaths…) and wanted to contribute to changing that.

In a sense, "Wasp" is an emotional autobiography, but not in the facts it portrays. Let’s not forget we were dealing with cinema here – though the film tries to stay realistic, it’s definitely more eventful than my daily life!

There are many facets in Olivier's and James' relationship good and bad that people should recognise in their own lives irrespective of sexuality. Is that a point you were trying to make?
Definitely. "Wasp’s" focus is really about love, and not sexual orientation. I think it’s for that reason that the film appeals to audiences that are straight, gay and everything in between. To me Wasp is a story which explores both the nicer aspects of love – romance, desire, sex – as well as the darker ones – temptation, jealousy, heartbreak. It’s a very universal theme everyone can relate to.

How important do you feel is sexuality in finding someone attractive? In other words do you agree with Caroline's position that nobody is 100% straight or gay?
I think it really does depend on people. Some people probably are a 100% straight, other a 100% gay, but I believe most people are somewhere ‘in between’. There are so many different aspects to sexuality to take in account though… Should your sexual orientation be based on your sexual behaviour only? On how you identify yourself? What if you have desires you never act upon, should they nevertheless still be taken into account? When it comes to understanding sexuality, I really think that the Klein Sexual Orientation grid is one of the best tools we have. It’s such a shame it’s not well known in mainstream culture.    

Caroline's seduction of Olivier is subtle and Elly Condron is very alluring. How did you get her to exude such a strong sexual presence without being overtly sexual?
Elly is a terrific actress, and most credit goes to her! I think people often forget that Caroline’s character is deeply broken, which makes her very vulnerable. She puts on such a strong front though a lot of people tend to forget where her recklessness comes from. As a result, rather than being a vulgar, in your face, overly confident ‘sexual predator’ we’re presented with someone who uses her sexuality as a last resort to feel some sort of love. I think there is something really touching about Caroline’s character.

In addition, I think the way we filmed the movie – simple, long takes and many distant wide shots – creates an overall sense of respect and prudishness. No ‘close-up on the breasts’ or anything of the sorts!
What do you hope people will take away from the film?

I hope they will realise that sexuality is a much more complex aspect of human life than how we have come to understand it. And more importantly, that we all face struggles in the face of love – whether we might be gay, straight, bisexual or anything else! 

Thank you to Philippe Audi-Dor for taking the time to answer my questions, and also to Catherine Lyn Scott. Wasp is currently available on DVD and VoD.

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