Premiering out of Venice’s Horizons Extra sidebar on Tuesday, ”My Night” marks the feature debut of Antoinette Boulat, a leading casting directors behind recent films like “The French Dispatch,” “Bergman Island” and “Non-Fiction,” now making the jump behind the lens.
A veteran of the French industry, Boulat co-wrote and directed this intimate character study that follows the adolescent Marion (Lou Lampros) over the course of one peripatetic Paris night as she dwells in the past and looks to the future, mourning the death of her sister while recognizing that her chance encounter with Alex (“Synonyms” star Tom Mercier) might point toward new horizons.
“At the start, the idea was really to follow a young woman in Paris at night,” the filmmaker tells Variety. “The city unnerves me, not in the fearful sense, but that paying close attention to our surroundings can be quite unsettling.”
“Building on that point, I thought, the character could find herself in mourning because mourning gives you a distorted view – you’re in a parallel world, you’re distanced from others – and at the same time it offers an odd kind of strength. Pain gives you harder skin and sharper vision.”
To translate that onscreen, the filmmaker opted for a boxy 1.37:1 aspect ratio and focal point that often isolates her characters from their surroundings.
“The film is a portrait of a lonely young woman, so I found that avoiding too many wide shots would mark this loneliness even more,” Boulat explains. “I had to step back as a director to be closer to my actress. Plus, we’re so used to the 1:75 format, whereas I needed to reclaim Paris, to make it my own. The format creates such a strong image! Changing ratios makes us freer, because we have a stronger frame.”
When it came time to cast the lead, the director needed someone who could reflect the less carefree Paris of the past few years, without coming off like too much of a drip. “I didn’t want someone who looked depressed, or someone too prissy,” she says.
“There’s something wild about Lou [Lampros],” Boulat continues. “She has such a raw energy, she’s so intuitive to her instincts. She didn’t fully correspond to the character that I wrote, but that’s why I chose her. If I took someone who looked too much like that Marion, I was afraid that it would detract from what the actor would bring to table.”
It was a lesson, an instinct, a bit of intuition Boulat developed over the course of her casting career. “By taking the risk that Lou did fully resemble the character [as I wrote her], I knew she would bring her own life and energy,” adds the filmmaker.
“One time, Léos Carax turned down an actor I proposed by simply saying, ‘I just don’t want to film her.’ And that’s quite simply it: You have to want to film the person you choose.”
When casting the Israeli “Synonyms” star Tom Mercier as Alex, a stranger the young Marion meets over the course of her night and with whom she lights a spark, the filmmaker sought to channel the actor’s tense energy toward a different ends. “I wanted to give him a very different role to play, something quieter, softer,” she says.
“I wanted to play with fear, and fear of the unknown is something that exists in Paris. We’re afraid of the different, of the unknown, of the foreigner, and it was important that his character embodies that.”
And once she and her crew hit the set, Boulat felt that her years of experience made her ready for the moment. “I had no apprehension of working with actors, of directing them, which is already a major plus,” she says.
“Even the most important filmmakers with whom I’ve worked have had to deal with production shortages, so I learned firsthand how to find solutions on the spot, which is everything you need to understand when shooting a film. After that, it’s just a matter of getting to work!”