We asked Patric Chiha, director of “Domain,” to write a piece discussing what it was like to shoot his first feature. What he gave us was a love poem to its star, Béatrice Dalle. Enjoy. — Indiewire Editors
I wrote “Domain” for Béatrice Dalle.
“Domain,” my first feature film, is the story of a relationship between a woman and a teenager. She leaves the world while the other tries to find his place in it. It is a film about two opposite movements, a learning and a disappearance: Pierre, the teenager, tries to deal with the world, and is radically altered by the long departure, the process of self-destruction of his young aunt Nadia. He thinks he can save her and hold her back. But in the end, he understands that it is impossible. She eludes him and he lets her go.
I don’t like the idea of typecasting or casting against type. I simply had a very strong desire to film Béatrice Dalle. Without knowing her, I sensed her gentleness and violence were very similar to Nadia’s. I was fascinated by her in the way Pierre (Isaïe Sultan) is fascinated by the freedom and the anarchic being of Nadia in the film. I wanted to follow her in the streets of a city, look at the world through her eyes and listen to her voice telling us what she sees. I think we make movies to follow people we like and to rediscover our world with them.
The first time I met Béatrice Dalle, I was waiting for her in a café. She came in and stood smack in the middle of the room, straight as an arrow, between two columns, and I knew: That was the film, right there. Her presence is both solid and floating, strong and fragile. Béatrice Dalle is a star and “Domain” is a film about a star that falls.
Ten minutes after we met, she said yes. I was so excited that I immediately spilled my coffee.
Béatrice Dalle does not read scripts. Not that she is lazy, only she has understood that a film is anything but a script. A film is a human adventure before being the illustration of a story. In that way, every movie is a documentary. Béatrice Dalle never chooses a film based on the script, but only according to the director and her relationship with him. She prefers the stories we live to the stories we tell. Or rather, she does not see the difference.
Something about her speaks to me of time, maybe it’s this strange impression I get that she has none: no past, no present, no future. I think she immediately understood that’s what I was looking for: a violent detachment. It’s contradictory, and it truly defines her.
Béatrice Dalle is the cinema. She reminds me of Ingrid Bergman who walks in Naples in “Viaggio in Italia” by Roberto Rossellini. She has the same strength and fragility. She reminds me of the beautiful and combative heroines who are running through Baltimore in “Pink Flamingos” by John Waters. And she reminds me of Madeleine and Judy who are both walking, but differently, through San Francisco in “Vertigo” by Alfred Hitchcock. She is Madeleine, the woman you pursue but never reach. She is a sensual and dangerous ghost that slips through your fingers when you think you hold her. And she is Judy, the real woman, alive, but mysterious and ultimately generous, because she’s always willing to resuscitate ghosts. In “Domain,” there is a scene where Pierre chooses the clothes and the lipstick for Nadia, as if he already felt, that the woman who fascinated him so much does no longer exist. In his own way, he tries to resuscitate Madeleine. Isn’t that also what I tried to do?
Like Nadia in “Domain,” all these women walk a lot. Why do they walk so much? Maybe, it’s because they thought or were hoping to be able to see the world differently and therefore find their places in its chaos.
“Domain” is a film about walking, a road movie on foot. How do these two beings, Nadia and Pierre, try to belong to the landscapes around them? They meet for regular walks, they crisscross town, they follow clearly-marked paths through parks before ultimately getting lost on their last walk in the forest in Austria. In perpetual movement, Nadia says goodbye to the world as Pierre discovers it.
On the set, Béatrice Dalle laughed a lot. She said if she knew that she had to walk so much, she would have asked to be paid per kilometer.
I worked with her especially in terms of pace. The text she had to say was very precise and I asked her to respect it. Before shooting, we met to talk about the meaning of the text. But finally, at the shooting, which mattered was the pace. The rhythm of walking, speech, not the meaning of words. I loved the rhythm of her walk — right, fair –and we both understood that this rhythm was crucial to the character of the film. I feel that emotion comes from the difference between the text and rhythm. The text is accurate, logic, and the pace has another logic. When the two bump, I hope that the shock produces something. I seem to speak as if I had a very precise method, but there is also improvisation, every day, with life and reality. I always pay close attention to what an actor does before I film him, where he stays and where he sits. I film human beings and that is primarily what interests me, not ideas.
The last day of shooting, we filmed the last scene where Nadia drinks a last glass of white wine. And with every shot, I started to cry. I could not help myself. Béatrice Dalle made me cry. I knew it was the end of filming, the end of the movie and the end of my relationship with Béatrice Dalle. This does not mean that we shall never meet again or not work together anymore, but the dialogue we have established during the shooting of “Domain” stopped there. And, like Pierre, I missed her already.
A few days later, I read in an interview with Béatrice Dalle, that she loved to shoot first feature films, because in first features, it still happens that the filmmakers cry. Probably because we still don’t make a difference between fiction and reality. But that’s cinema, isn’t it?