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BERLINALE 2021 Panorama

Damien Odoul • Director of Theo and the Metamorphosis

“I want to challenge the viewing habits of the public and to take a risk for it”

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- BERLINALE 2021: We talked to the French director about his new experimental film

Damien Odoul  • Director of Theo and the Metamorphosis
(© Marie Eve Nadeau)

French director Damien Odoul presented his new experimental film Theo and the Metamorphosis [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Damien Odoul
film profile
]
at this year's Berlinale in the Panorama section. For the film, he immersed himself together with his two main protagonists deep into the forest. The result is a highly suggestive and enigmatic artwork challenging the viewing habits of the public and introducing a very impressive main actor to play the role of Theo. We talked with the director about the creation of the film and his commitment to cinema.

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Cineuropa: How did you meet Theo and how did he become your main protagonist?
Damien Odoul:
I met him through theatre. He performs at a theatre as an actor and dancer. Actually, in the beginning, I wanted to work with another young man for the main role, Kostia Botkine. We worked together for two years, but unfortunately, he had to quit. His doctors refused to let him take the part. Kostia also has trisomy, but with autistic and schizophrenic elements. He is a very interesting person, a real artist. He writes the songs for the only existing rapper group composed of persons with trisomy. Kostia is more of a poet and visual artist, while Theo is more of a performing artist, and so closer to acting.

And how did you find the actor to play the role of Theo's father?
Pierre Meunier is the artistic director of a theatre he runs with Marguerite Bordat, a theatre called Le Cube. Theo loves theatre and Pierre took him with him when they met. It was very interesting to follow their meeting.

How much time did you spend with them?
We met a month before the shooting in the forest. We had a lot of work to do. It was necessary that they got used to my way of working and I wanted them to adapt to their environment. They had to immerse themselves into nature, but also into a specific mental state we needed for the characters.

Did you have a script?
The writing process doesn't stop for me before the shooting. It has three phases: it starts obviously before the filming, but develops during the shooting and changes again during the editing process. This is what I learned during the past years in filmmaking. Writing is linked to the rhythm of the film. And for me, cinema is this rhythm. Writing is the nerve of the protagonist, the nerve of Theo. It is also the nerve of the editing. The rhythm of my cinema is determined by its own nerve, just like a heartbeat.

Did you have material you had to cut out in the editing process?
The editing took a year. We had a lot of material and, as I said, during the editing I rewrote the film too. So it took a long time and this project was probably the most difficult for me in that regard.

It seems very brave to always be open to changes during the process of making the film.
Well, in my opinion, it's not a matter of courage. I think it is necessary as an artist to take the complete risk if you are doing a piece of art. I want to challenge the viewing habits of the public and to take a risk for it.

You used different techniques for the creation of the images. Could you tell us more about the aesthetic concept of the film you had in mind?
I knew before we started what I wanted the film to look like. It was an important process. I knew I wanted to use the camera traps used by the hunters. I myself lived for years in the forest, I know what it looks like and I wanted to reproduce it in the film. My idea was to mix different cinematographic dimensions that I find interesting. This is why I contrasted the video images with much more sophisticated images, for example.

How did you develop the text that Theo is saying? What was your inspiration for it?
The text is meant as an interior voice. It was important that we found its emotion in Theo. I knew it would be completely off at first. I had to re-work it at several points. My inspiration comes from literature rather than from cinema. More specifically from poetry, which is to me like a chant. A chant like the Odyssey. I think of this ancient Ulysses, but also of the one of Joyce. Like Joyce, I wanted to focus on one location and more or less on one day.

What is most important for the viewer to understand Theo's perspective?
The relationship between him and his father is very important. His aim is to get rid of his father. He wants to have the stage only for himself and for that, it may be necessary to go as far as to kill his father.

Was it difficult to get the funding for the film?
I was lucky to be able to work with Alexandre Perrier who had the courage to work with me. I think we need more of such producers who are themselves cineastes and are willing to fight for a certain idea of cinema.

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