SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE GANG, DIRECTOR OF "SOUS SOL"
by Anthony Kaufman
After 9 years, Montreal director Pierre Gang has made his first feature,
“Sous Sol” (“Not Me!”), a personal film about a young boy who develops a
haunting fear of sex after mistakenly linking his parent’s lovemaking
with his father’s death. The film appeared at Cannes and received a
“Pick of the Day” at the Toronto International Film Festival. Lyrical
and honest, Gang skillfully depicts a child’s eye view of sexual
awareness and coming of age in the 1960’s.
Pierre Gang looks much like an adult version of Richard Moffatt, the boy
he cast in the film. But unlike the shy boy that represents his youth,
Mr. Gang smiles and laughs with warmth and openness, happily making his
way through his second language (English) to talk with me.
indieWIRE: What was it like working on your first film with Roger
Frappier, a very established producer?
Pierre Gang: Yeah, he’s the most recognized producer in Quebec and in
Canada, too. It was perfect. I arrived in May with my project and we
shot in July. But I had a long story with this project. I started to
write it 9 years ago and then I had difficulty finding a producer. I
had another project that was going on, so I tried to do the other one.
Finally I had another producer and couldn’t get the money after five
years and then we were really, really close. I think we had half of the
money… Then I decided to produce my own, another shorter film. So I
produced a 50 minute film. Actually, but in Quebec you have a law that
you can’t direct and produce…
iW: It’s a law?
Gang: It’s a law, yeah. They think you’re going to spend the money on
the first day or they think you need a supervisor or you’re going to
change the script when you’re shooting. I don’t know. I’m always on my
budget. Always. Even with this last one. I don’t see why…but we will
see in the future what I can do with that. Because Atom Egoyan produced
his own film and these people make money. I had half of the money,
again, I had my cast and did that with my own production house. And
then I went to a producer in October and asked him if he could do it.
Because it’s all public money, they accepted the project. They accepted
me. But the budget was wrong. So it fell. So that’s the second time
this has happened. So I went there and I fight and I say, “I don’t want
any NO letter. Let me try something, let me try to find a co-producer
or something.” And finally, I call Roger Frappier, because he was the
biggest and also because he was looking to work with new directors.
That’s what he’s doing now. He’s working just with new directors. So I
went and he read the script over the weekend and said …So let’s try to
get back the project.
Then it went really, (snaps his fingers) really fast. A month and a
half after and we were in production. He’s really a good producer.
They understand freedom. If some people are trying to get too much
involved in your view of the story, it doesn’t work. Roger was
respectful. He tried a few things, they didn’t work, (laughs) but we
always agreed, we laughed a lot. It was a nice shoot.
iW: And the cinematographer is also very famous? [e.g. 5 films by
Gang: Yeah, Pierre Mignot. Not the first day, actually, we had a
problem with the location the first day. It was the restaurant where
they have the ice cream. And I wanted something really clear and light.
All the exteriors for “Sous Sol” I wanted spacey and light. We had a
great location, but then we had to find this other place… And when I
saw the rushes, I said, “Oh fuck, it’s not what I’m looking for. What
kind of film are we doing?” Then Pierre gave me some confidence. He
matched it really well with the exteriors. I was looking through what
he’d done. Because he’s done a lot of different work. But I was
looking at his previous work with Robert Altman. I love “Come Back To
The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean…”
iW: What other directors did you use or want to borrow from.
Gang: For the acting, I would say Cassavates, for Rene, [Louise Portal]
that was kind of an inspiration when I was writing. And I love, have you
seen “The Eighth Day” — I love Jaco Van Dormael. He did “Totos Les Heros”.
I think it’s a great movie. My movie doesn’t reflect his. If I was a
really good filmmaker, I would have done that film. Another one, for
the structure, but at the same time, I saw the film only once, the first
film by Terrence Davies, “Distant Voices, Still Lives.” I liked the way
he goes back and forth, but at the same time, I’m chronological. Just
the way they’re going back. They’re just inspirations. These people are
making that kind of film. I’m trying to propose something different….
What I like about this film, it’s open. If you want to think [certain
scenes] are a dream, it’s dream. For me, it’s real. But the way it’s
done, you could think it’s a dream…. I like to play with people.
Everyone wants to see what they can see. I wanted all the scenes like a
collage. Each scene is a block for me. In each scene I wanted more of
the characters, also, never to be black and white. The French girl,
she’s not that good, the mother is not that dark, and the kid is not
iW: How much of your film is autobiographical?
Gang: A lot, actually, (Laughs). You should see my mother after the
screening. She said, “I wasn’t that sexy.” (Laughs) But the script
was darker. I had another ending…it was dark, but I was happy, people
didn’t want me to shoot that at all. And life was better for me, so I
was lighter in my whole life, so I had that idea of happiness more at
iW: I found the ending abrupt, that he’s all of a sudden grown up.
Gang: Yeah, it’s tough, but at the same time, I’m building it all the
time. It’s really tiny scenes and it’s subtle. And it’s a guess.
People are going to buy it or not at the end. He’s getting older and
older in the film, so I don’t lie on that. I just wanted to express
he’s 11 years old to his own eyes. And all the film is his perceptions.
And in the end, he decides to break that, to accept. It’s funny because
the kid who plays Rene, he looks younger, like 9, but I didn’t care. I
iW: How was it working with him, Richard Moffatt, not an actor, just a
Gang: Exactly. Not at all. Not even theater before, nothing. It was
great. He’s an intelligent person. He was like the role, actually…
really senstive, and shy, but at the same time, he was the one who heard
on the radio that they were looking for extras, and said to his mother,
“I would like to do that, you know. I’m shy, it would help me to be with
people.” You see how clever he is… He was so fresh, all the other
kids were coming with style, and him, he was like in a baseball suit, he
was really shy. He was easy to work with. Every morning I was trying
to find a way to destabalize him, to surprise him, so it’s a new game
every day… And I really loved him. It was more like having a son
during the shooting. We had a real relationship. Kids know how to act.
They know how to fake.
iW: What kind of things did you discover on set, in the process of
Gang: Not much. Because I’m always doing “decoupage,” you know, the
storyboarding. That’s my problem. I don’t let too much happen. I
think I’ll get more and more flexible. But, what I did find, what
Louise gives to the role; she was lighter. The film is light. Everyone
was surprised from the script to the film. It’s the same thing, but
lighter. It’s not heavy. You know what? What I was surprised by —
the casting. I didn’t understand working with a kid. That was my
[For more details on the film, see their web site @ http://www.coproductions.com/sous-sol]