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TORONTO FUTURES | Director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti On the Psychological Violence of “Carré Blanc”

TORONTO FUTURES | Director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti On the Psychological Violence of "Carré Blanc"

Age: 40
Hometown: Paris, France

Why He’s On Our Radar: The French director’s feature-length debut, “Carré Blanc,” premiered this week in the Discovery section at the Toronto International Film Festival. Set in a cold, satiric near-future where humanity is forced to smile on command, play croquet and procreate, the movie stars Sami Bouajila as a committed member of the totalitarian establishment who slowly wakes up from the spell. Well received by TIFF audiences, “Carré Blanc” boasts a sleek dystopian vision that plays like an understated version of “The Matrix.”

While the movie is set for a release in France this month, it has yet to land a U.S. distributor; nevertheless, Léonetti has already received offers for Hollywood projects and has been considering the best way to take on the challenge without sacrificing his unique style.

More About Him: Leonetti graduated from a small film school in Paris and completed his French military service by working for the government’s film department, producing documentaries and educational films. Later, he produced around 80 commercials in addition to a short film called “Le pays des ours,” which received a theatrical release in France. Most recently, he formed the production company that produced “Carré Blanc.”

What’s Next: “I’ve already been propositioned by Hollywood,” Leonetti said. “I’m reading a science-fiction script now. Sure, I’m interested. I don’t want to shoot a big, proud American movie, but if I find a smart, accessible script and can put my own personality in it, why not?”

Looking back on the experience, do you think this was a good choice for your first feature?

For me, the first feature has to be radical. It’s the patchwork of your own obsession. If you don’t shoot it, you keep it your whole life. I have to keep my radical style. I don’t want to lie to myself, but I want to be more accessible for the next one. With the budgets, the problems of production, it was complicated to have an accessible aspect with this one. I like the movie as it is now, but I think the next one has to be more accessible.

The people in the movie’s near-future society have to complete various behavioral tests on a regular basis. What was the basis for these tests?

The tests come from army recruitment strategies. Other details in the world come from Spain under Franco. For me, the interesting thing is to make the difference between our reality and the reality in the movie very small.

At the Q&A following the premiere, audiences brought up George Orwell as a reference point, but you downplayed the comparison.

Honestly, when I wrote the script, I never thought about Orwell. Afterwards, people told me that. I remembered that the second book I read in my life was Orwell’s “1984.” I was seven and my father told me to read one chapter per day and write small summaries each day. So I read this book very early and didn’t understand everything. I totally forgot about this book. Now, 30 years later, smart people tell me this and it scares me.

The interesting thing about the world you create is that you don’t show a lot of it, leaving much up to the imagination.

When you don’t have enough money, and that was my case here with a $2 million budget, it’s a handicap. You have to find a good solution for each shot. For me, the best way to keep the visual concept was to try to be as simple as I can. I did the location scouting very rigorously, shooting 5,000 photos during that process. Then I started to create a mix between various cities and buildings so I could have my own universe.

Where did the idea that everyone has to play croquet come from?

For me, it’s very simple. I like the sport, but sports are a reflection of society. Now, it’s all about money. In our world, people are totally crazy about soccer. If I create a new world, I have to find a stupid sport that people are crazy about. So I chose croquet.

What are your expectations for the movie’s performance in France?

The problem is theater owners. They’re afraid of the movie. The censorship commission gave the movie a restricted rating, which is like killing the movie. I asked them why I had this rating since there’s no blood, sex, explosions or drugs. They said it was because of psychological violence. I said, “That’s subjective. You’ve killed my movie.” If you only show in three or four theaters in Paris, your movie is dead. People only go to the cinemas close to them.

In that case, do you want to work in another country?

I don’t know if France is a bad country for cinema, but I’m sure about one thing: This system is not for me. If you want to take a risk, it’s very difficult to release a movie like mine. In France, we have money, but the choices you have are very narrow. So it might be time for me to leave. Why not go to the United States? I like the cinema there very much.

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