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SXSW ’10 | Sophie Deraspe Finds a Muse to Play Dying in “Vital Signs”

SXSW '10 | Sophie Deraspe Finds a Muse to Play Dying in "Vital Signs"

Sophie Deraspe’s new film explores dying in a sensitive way. After finding a muse in a hospital, she decided to write a script based on Ms. Marie-Helene Bellavance. “‘Les Signes Vitaux’ (‘Vital Signs’) follows Simone who suddenly finds herself back in Quebec City following her grandmother’s death. She has no idea her student existence is about to be scuttled… by the discovery of life itself. A switch is mysteriously flicked, and she decides to embark on a journey to help those about to die. Perhaps to fill the emptiness that follows her wherever she goes, from her apartment to the old snowy streets and even with her lover.” [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

“Les Signes Vitaux” (“Vital Signs”)
Emerging Visions
Director: Sophie Deraspe
Screenwriter: Sophie Deraspe
Cast: Marie-Helene Bellavance, Francis Ducharme, Marie Brassard, Danielle Ouimet, Suzanne St-Michel, Alan Fawcett, Marc Marans, Bernard Arne
Producer: Nicolas Fonsecas
Cinematographer: Sophie Deraspe
Editor: Madeleine S. Leblanc

Deraspe on coming to filmmaking and making “Vital Signs”…

I was first interested in visual art and literature. A class in film theory at University of Montreal aroused my desire to make films. I just felt the medium would gather everything I was interested in from photography to music to sociology to story telling. From then on, I dived into film history and was so eager to meet with the work of my contemporaries.

I have always been interested in unveiling a specific world when researching for the writing of a script. My first feature film, “Missing Victor Pellerin,” took place in the art world with its codes and own ways. As for “Vital Signs,” I wanted to experience our relationship to the end of life. What is the most important when one leaves? I then started going to a palliative care ward, reading, meeting with care givers, volunteers, families, patients… And I met my lead actress who was also willing to share this human experience, just as the key people in the crew did in pre-production.

Director Sophie Deraspe. [Image courtesy of the filmmaker]

After having met Marie-Helene Bellavance, I decided I would write the script for her. She is a visual artist and a dancer who had no experience in acting. But she was the one: beautiful, extremely photogenic, sensitive and wise, but also strong and fragile at the same time. With her, I could tell a lot visually without having to refer to words and psychology. We did workshops together for almost a year and she took part in the casting of the other characters, so we could find the right chemistry among them all. At the end, it is a great mix of professional and non professionnal actors who are so generous and trustfull. That allows intimacy and confidence.

The subject of the film is a tough one. I wanted to be true to what it is to experience death. Not in a romantic way, nor in a way that would upset an audience. But still, to be true was to show things that can be hard for some people. At the same time, I feel this film is a lot more about life than about death. It’s about love, about our relationship to the body, either young, beautiful, aging or hurt. I did not want to avoid the extreme vulnerability, but also the joy, the generosity and the humour and the fantasy that life contains.

Anticipating the SXSW audience…

I heard they are curious and open. The film contains great surprises. Sometimes destabilizing, sometimes delightful, the form is a hybrid of documentary and fiction where the actors reveal a lot of themselves.

Deraspe on inspirations…

I love the way John Cassavetes worked with actors. They had a script, it was not improvisation, but they were invited to make it their own. And from what I know, they were like a family. So I can imagine the director with his friend actors and family really working together to make the scenes so intense and natural. I’ve also seen all of Lars von Trier’s work. He is a genius who reinvents cinema with almost all his new films. I cannot tell in which way, but he certainly has an influence on the way I think about cinema.

Down the pipeline…

I am writing a script that takes place on an island where people have hunted seals for generations. It is the background for a film about the laws of nature versus the laws of men.

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