72. Berlinale 2022
Cette maison / This House
Bridgeport, 2008. A teenage girl is found dead in her room. While everything points to suicide, the autopsy report reveals something else. Ten years later, the director and cousin of the teenager examines the past causes and future consequences of this unsolved crime. Like an imagined biography, the film explores the relationship between the security of the living space and the violence that can jeopardise it.
Hey Miryam, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
I feel like times have always been a little strange. Fortunately human beings can be resilient and adapt to almost any situation. I am fortunate to live from the artistic creation which I see as a refuge, a fortress, a way to live in this world so beautiful and yet tragic at the same time. Fortunately, there is love, friends and especially family.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
I think that the major changes I have experienced in the last two years have allowed me to fully concentrate on my artistic practice. It's as if I no longer have a choice. I find it easy to adapt to change and obstacles that I never see as obstacles to creation. Creating is never a straight line, if you accept that there are strong chances to deviate along the way, everything is possible.
You are going to have your World Premiere of Cette Maison (This House) at last years Berlinale, are there going to be any nerves ahead of the festival?
I am honoured to be part of the selection this year. So happy for the film, for the whole team, for my family and for Haiti. I'm a bit nervous about presenting the film for the first time internationally. I'm basically a shy person who is afraid to speak in public. I'm glad I'm not going alone; the actors Schelby Jean-Baptiste, Florence Blain Mbaye and the producers will be with me.
What does it mean to be screening your debut feature Cette Maison (This House) in the Forum Section of the festival?
It's a real honor. I am so grateful. The Berlin Film Festival is a festival that I have been following for years. I have to admit that I wanted the film to be presented in the Forum section which I think is perfect for the film I made. The narrative structure of This House is not common and even though I am proud of the film, I was a little afraid that it would not fit anywhere. I'm also really looking forward to the rest of the program. So many films to see!
How much did your experience directing your short films help prepare you for directing Cette Maison (This House)?
I think all my experience in making short films has certainly led me here. The one does not go without the other. Moreover, if you take the time to look at my previous films, This house is not far away in both content and form. When I started making short films, I realized that I could afford a certain formal freedom, if I stayed close to an emotional intention. To manage to convey an emotion through a story told in a different way. And then there is the importance of teamwork or team collaboration. We don't make films alone. I understood that from my first short. Without the team, This House would not exist.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Cette Maison (This House) came about, what inspired your screenplay?
Originally, I wanted to make a documentary that highlighted my cousin's life. I imagined her in an adult body (she died at 14). From there, I made her travel in time with her mother, through time, memory, memories, oscillating between dream and reality. I believe that at the beginning, I had a more documentary impression where I was going to confront reality and fiction. I had to revise the documentary aspect as the situation evolved with the pandemic. The result is a film that is quite different from what I had originally imagined. However, my intention remained the same: a love letter to my cousin and my family.
"I still have in my mind the idea of the film I wanted to make in the beginning. In the end, I am so proud of the film that exists in a different way."
How much flexibility do you allow yourself with your screenplay, do you prefer to stick to what you have written once you started shooting?
I allow myself a lot of flexibility and am a firm believer in the creative input of artistic collaborators. I keep the essence of what I wanted to tell. Then I feel like anything is possible. I'm very open to changes along the way. I would even say that I need it to create fully.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Cette Maison (This House) to life?
I think the biggest challenge has been not to sink into some form of despair. I even feel like it's still the case that the possibility is still there. This is a personal and difficult subject. Even though my original intention was to highlight everything about love, I couldn't escape the tragedy. Fortunately, I was not alone in the creation of the film and I was able to count on people of extraordinary talent and sensitivity.
Since making Cette Maison (This House) what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from directing your debut feature?
Probably the biggest lesson is to adapt to obstacles and see them as creative opportunities. It's not easy at the time and often you have to let go of things quickly. I still have in my mind the idea of the film I wanted to make in the beginning. In the end, I am so proud of the film that exists in a different way. It's a whole other film that shows the possibilities of adaptation.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
For me it's very simple. The idea of the family reunion. As a child, we mostly watched movies as a family. I have memories of great times in front of the television watching and commenting on movies. I think that as an adult, I tried to recreate this aspect around the family reunion. That's what a film crew is all about.
How much has the style of your films changed since your debut short?
I must admit that my style has not really changed. I have gained confidence. If someone had told me 5 years ago that I would direct a feature film like This House, I'm not sure I would have believed it. I think I also had a fear that the style wouldn't work over the course of a feature film.
Does your editing and cinematography background help to inform your approach to your films?
I think so. As far as the editing goes, it allowed me to deconstruct and reconstruct the story on paper even when writing the script. It was a bit of a strange script that worked more or less on paper. However, I knew that in editing, the film could hold together and exist in a coherent way. If we come back to cinematography, I believe that yes, it was useful for all the images shot in the West Indies. I still gave a lot of freedom to the director of photography Isabelle Stachtchenko. She has been working with me for a long time and I knew that she would be able to put this very personal story into images. She did an amazing job as always.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
I think so, and I even believe that there is a possibility to do so in so-called more conventional stories.
For anyone out there thinking about getting into filmmaking do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
My biggest advice would be perseverance. It seems obvious like that. I mention it often. You have to persevere. I'm not saying that there won't be big periods of discouragement, but often it's over time that you can hope to make a career in film. Second piece of advice, keep your joy. It's very important to keep your pleasure through the act of creation.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Cette Maison (This House)?
I'm going to keep this very simple; with love, anything is possible. This house is proof of that.