The disillusionment of a young filmmaker in the eyes of Philippe Lesage

The director of Genesis (2018) wanted to “exit the autobiographical niche” with Like fire, a dense and abrasive story about the reunion of old friends that turns sour in a chalet in the middle of the Quebec forest. He was therefore inspired by an anecdote… from his brother, also a filmmaker, to write this story of failed love and adolescent disillusionment which he is presenting in its world premiere at the Berlinale on Sunday.

“I am very feverish. It is an ambitious film, rich in dialogue and of good length [2 h 40], so I can’t wait to see how people will react,” confides Philippe Lesage, who does not hide his nervousness, sitting at a Parisian café the day before his departure for the German capital. “We postponed filming for a year due to the pandemic, and the script underwent several rewrites. It’s quite a relief to finally launch it at a major festival. »

The Generation section, in which the film is presented, suits it particularly well, he says. “It’s a beautiful selection of works that focus on youth as a subject. And in my film, I wanted to represent how young people, especially those who aspire to an artistic career, can find themselves disillusioned with people who claim to be their mentors. »

The story of his brother, Jean-François Lesage — the director of Prayer for a lost mitten (2020) —, which inspired him Like fire was told to him at a party a few years ago. As a teenager, he spent a week in a hunting camp with “a great Quebec filmmaker,” explains Philippe. “I’m not going to reveal his name, to avoid being associated with my characters, but this experience was formative for my brother, and I had fun imagining a whole universe from there. »

Settling scores

This is how we follow Jeff (Noah Parker), 17, who is invited by his best friend, Max (Antoine Marchand-Gagnon), to stay at the estate of Blake Cadieux (Arieh Worthalter), a director whom he admires, isolated in the depths of the woods. Albert (Paul Ahmarani), Max’s father, is a longtime friend and former collaborator of Blake’s. They all go there together, in the company of Alyocha (Aurélia Arandi-Longpré), Max’s sister, with whom Jeff is in love.

Albert hasn’t seen Blake in three years. A gap has since opened up between the two men. The second, who became a documentary filmmaker, renounces their former collaborations in fiction. Quickly, their reunion takes the form of a settling of scores. While Albert becomes bitter and neurotic, Blake, portrayed as an egocentric alpha male, appears completely full of himself. Jeff, who witnesses their pathetic exchanges, gradually reconsiders his admiration for the filmmaker.

“My brother didn’t have his experience that way at all,” explains Philippe Lesage. But the writing process allowed me to project my own questions and my own memories onto my characters. I have always found the figure of the mentor a little suspicious, with all the paternalism that implies, and I wanted to explore it in the context of a meeting with a young aspiring director. »

“Cabin fever”

Noah Parker brilliantly embodies, all in subtlety, this transformation in Jeff’s view of Blake, which gradually moves from admiration to aversion. “During filming, he was very invested in his character, just like Arieh Worthalter and Paul Ahmarani. These two literally gave us a master class in improvisation on set because they made the scenario their own,” emphasizes Philippe Lesage. This approach to directing actors, which allows a certain freedom of improvisation, infuses more realism into the film, particularly to the long and chaotic meal scenes filmed in sequence shots, behind closed doors, at Blake’s house.

These are interspersed with group excursions, hunting or fishing, which offer magnificent landscapes of the Quebec forest. “We were inspired by American cinema from the 1970s, in particular the film Deliverance (1972), by John Boorman,” he says, where a group of friends canoe down a river in Georgia. Philippe Lesage also directly borrowed lines from The luminous beast (1982), by Pierre Perrault, the filmmaker’s favorite where tension rises between the protagonists in a hunting camp. ” It’s here cabin fever “, he summarizes.

If “several friendships between the characters of Like fire seem compromised” at the end of their stay in the woods, the director says he experienced the most pleasant shoot of his career with his team. We wish him a worthy first.

Olivier Du Ruisseau is staying in Berlin thanks to the support of the Berlinale and Telefilm Canada.

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