On a fictional island nation called Besco, newly-elected president Danielle Richard organizes a confidential meeting with the Canadian government. The island is going through an economically challenged period and her aim is to renegotiate old mining agreements.
Pays tells the story of three women handling and balancing their careers and personal life. We are confronted with the struggles and doubts of President Danielle, of Felix, a young and idealistic Canadian parliament member, and of Emily, an American mediator.
The ambitious second feature-film of director Chloe Robichaud is not only a psychological portrait, it is also a political drama, reminding us of the Danish political television drama Borgen. Businesslike political negotiations become endless discussions about environment vs. exploitation and employment opportunities vs. power relationships. Robichaud tops this with the large dose of sexism that women everywhere can still find themselves confronted with on a daily basis. It is not surprising that this film is considered very recognizable for half of the world’s population, yet also truly eye-opening to some.
[RMA] How did you get into filmmaking?
[Chloé] I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. My dad had a lot of films and I used to watch many of them. Even as a teenager, I started writing small scripts. I studied cinema in university and after that I went to a private school for six months, that was specialized in directing. When I got out of school I started working on my first feature film Sarah Prefers to Run. So here I am now.
[RMA] Your first feature film went to Cannes. What was it easier to make a second film after that?
[Chloé] In terms of funding it was easier, because Sarah Prefers to Run did well in the box-office in Québec. But Pays was much harder to write. There were more characters and it involved politics.
[RMA] Do you have a specific interest in politics or did you chose this subject because it is a man’s world and you wanted to write about that?
[Chloé] In university I did a lot of complementary classes in politics. I have always been interested in social issues. But, for sure, it’s a man’s world so it was the perfect set-up to talk about all those issues that women are facing.
[RMA] How did you research your characters? It must be difficult to empathize with a white alpha male.
[Chloé] [Laughing] Yes, it was. And I wanted the political scenes to feel as realistic as possible. So I met with many politicians, mediators and press attachés.
But to build the women characters, I would say it was mostly my imagination, because I could relate to what my characters were facing.
[RMA] There were some classic sexist situations in Pays and, for a moment, I imagined you had a list of events you were confronted with in your own life and you used all of it.
[Chloé] [Laughing] I didn’t have a list, but unconsciously I had many situations in my head that I wanted to bring to the light.
The funny thing is that, when I gave the script to some male politicians, they said: You know, it’s really more sexist than this, you should go deeper.” It gave me legitimacy.
[RMA] Your film has been called ‘feminist’ and ‘female-centric’. This might also cause certain people to avoid watching it.
[Chloé] The fact that I have three female characters raises questions, whereas if a man would have three male characters no one would even take notice. There is a lot of sexism, even in the film industry. In interviews I always have to talk about the fact that I am a ‘female director’. But being confronted with these issues myself is also a reason for me to keep on making films. I want to raise questions.
[RMA] Besides beautiful, your actors also look intelligent.
[Chloé] I’m glad you think they look intelligent because that was one of the main criteria for the casting. They have a great interior life. I wanted three women that had different personalities but who, at the same time, shared a similar inner sensibility. You can feel that they relate to each other because of that.
[RMA] I was very impressed with Felix’ [Nathalie Doummar] singing.
[Chloé] In the script she was supposed to do hip-hop and ‘be funny’. But a few weeks before shooting she invited me to an event she organized to raise money for Syrian refugees. Here she suddenly started singing. The song was by Anne Sylvestre and it was so beautiful that I asked her to sing that instead. We did it in one take.
[RMA] The film says it is based on true events.
[Chloé] It is more a way of saying that, although we watch fiction, we are still watching reality because women are confronted with situations comparable to the characters in Pays all the time.
But there are also other issues the film refers to. There is a mining industry in Quebec and we let companies take our resources. The film is also criticizing the attitude of Canadian mining industries in Argentina and Chili.
Interview: Charlotte van Zanten