Interview Lucile Hadzihalilovic on Évolution

Opening with 11-year old Nicolas diving deep into the ocean Évolution has us experience both excitement and anxiety. For a moment we envy the boys childhood, being so close to nature. Even more when we follow him into the picturesque coastal village where the houses are white and where we meet his mother, serene and beautiful. A bit too serene maybe.

Nicolas mother does not understand his panic about a discovery he made while diving. Continuing her daily maternal duties, she stoically feeds him a black pasta that seems to come from parts of the ocean we fear most. The more we see of her; the more alienesque she becomes. Especially when she forces him to drink some undefinable ‘medicine’ before he goes to sleep every night.
But Nicolas is the kind of kid that sees trough the delusion. He manages to skip his medicine one night and follows his mother to the coast. That is where everything becomes even more disturbing….

Our relationship with mother ocean is as complicated as passionate and director Lucile Hadzihalilovic has understood that very well. We spoke with her at IFFR this year. She was as calm and mysterious as the mothers of Évolution, carefully choosing her words. Luckily she was also warm and kind as every human should be.

RMA: First of all, how did you get into filmmaking?

LH: As many directors it all started with a love for film. And I really enjoy going to a cinema and having a collective experience in this dark place.

I grew up in Morocco. It was so different from Paris. I didn’t know much about the existence of a film school, so after high school I started an arts study at the university in Paris. I soon realized I wanted to do something more creative and I got to understand that I could go to a film school. I went to La Femis. It wasn’t called Femis at that time, but it was the same school. We learned how to make films and we made a short film each year.
It was a different time. You didn’t specify to become an editor or a writer. Everyone did everything. It was great.


“Everything is important if you make a film but to me editing is where the film becomes a solid story. You can reinvent your film while editing.”


RMA: If you would have to do it again, what department would you…

LH: Editing! It is the best way to approach filmmaking. Everything is important if you make a film but to me editing is where the film becomes a solid story. It is crucial. You can reinvent your film while editing.

After school I started to work as an assistant editor and I created a film company with my boyfriend [Ed. Gaspar Noé]. It wasn’t a production company; we weren’t interested in producing commercial projects. We just wanted to learn to make short films and we produced them by ourselves.
I made a 15-minute film called La Bouche de Jeanne Pierre. He made two films and eventually even a feature film. By working on each others films we learned a lot.
My first feature film, Innocence, I made with another producer. It was too much work to be both the director and the producer. It was hard to let go. If you produce your own film you can control everything, but at the same time it is a lot of work. I was too fragile to do it.

RMA: Many directors have partners who produce their films, because it is so personal.

LH: Exactly. Your partner is the only person you can ask anything to. It is great to have a producer who is as involved in the making of the film as you are yourself.

RMA: Where does the story of Évolution come from?

LH: I think this film comes from my childhood. It’s feelings, emotions. I wasn’t so aware of that while writing this story, but since I have been answering these question about my film I came to understand it probably largely comes from my childhood.
When I was 10 years old I had my appendicitis removed. The procedure went fine and wasn’t traumatic at all, but it was the first time to be in a hospital and I was very impressed.

RMA: Did growing up in Casablanca influence the film?

LH: Yeah, that definitely played part. It was a small city by the sea. The presence of the nature and the ocean was quite strong, so different from Paris.

RMA: You must have been quite alien living there as an expat. I’ve been in Morocco once and I remember the small white houses and the winding streets clearly. Since you told me you grew up there I keep picturing you in that village, far away from the city sounds.

LH: It was a situation like that. You have European people in a country that isn’t theirs. That’s true, I never thought of that. I wasn’t blond or red haired like the characters in my film, but….
You know, there were many Europeans in Casablanca. I went to a French school, but apart that there were more foreign children compared to a normal school, I didn’t feel like I grew up without being with Moroccan children. Honestly, I didn’t feel different from them. The difference was much more visible in terms of social class.

RMA: How does your love for art influence your work?

LH: I like to look at paintings to show the mood I want to have. For Évolution that were painters such as Max Ernst and Dali.There is a reference, which is Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian painter. Almost every artists must have painted the seaside at least once, so it was inspiring to create the mood.
The film had to have the logic of a dream. The deeper we go into a dream or a nightmare, the more mysterious it becomes.

RMA: Like the mysterie of a bellybutton? That is like a holy, intimate place.

LH: Yes, therefore I wanted to have a starfish on the belly. I thought that was a most nightmarish image.

RMA: It was! So you had this idea, probably a mood, along with images of painting. But did you have any fixed story line or plot yet?

LH: In the very beginning it was indeed more a situation: a mother bringing her son to a hospital to get him to have a child. From that point I needed someone to help me structure the story. That is what I did with Alante. [ed: Alanté Kavaïté, Sangaile] The story needed to have internal logic. How did this world work? What was possible? Even if you don’t use all the elements of a story you still need to make a solid backstory.


“Even if you don’t use all the elements of a story you still need to make a solid backstory.”
RMA: Right. And eventually you choose a very classic narrative.


What was it like to work with Alanté? We screened her film Sangaile at our rooftop cinema last year! It was very rainy, but a wonderful night.

LH: Are you thát rooftop cinema?! She told me about it, she really enjoyed it.
In the beginning Alanté was one of a few readers. She would give some feedback and I could see that she got the idea very well. Her comments were very useful. At a certain point I was getting lost and I really needed someone to work with me. We’d spend a few hours together and we made plot lines together. It was very difficult sometimes. She could reconstruct the whole story; she is really good at constructing. We worked very close together for a few months.

Text: Charlotte van Zanten