Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre • Director of The Mustang
“It is by taking root in reality that I manage to create fiction”
- French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre tells us about her debut feature, The Mustang, shot in the United States, first screened at Sundance, and now out in French cinemas
Featuring Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, with a supporting cast including Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern and Gideon Adlon, The Mustang [+see also:
interview: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
film profile], the debut feature from French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, was shot in the United States and in the English language. Revealed out of competition at Sundance, the film is launched into French cinemas on June 19 by Ad Vitam.
Cineuropa: After your short film Rabbit, why did you decide, in The Mustang, to continue exploring the rehabilitation of convicts in contact with animals?
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre: I’ve always been interested in the question of the meaning of pain, in the impact of punishment and prison on man, in the absurdity of the correctional system. And animal therapy allows to reeducate man, to heal wounds. I’ve spent years researching the idea of second chances, because I think that when you’re writing about this topic, there is inevitably a part of ourselves that speaks to us. This allowed me to explore a zone that was a bit opaque in me, because I was feeling very strongly this question of confinement. It is therefore very personal.
A shoot partly set in prison, a cast featuring former convicts, the training of mustangs: why this decision to maintain a maximum of authenticity?
That’s my creative process: I love doing research and my vision of filmmaking is a result of that. When I read that article about animal therapy done in prison, which inspired Rabbit, and when I continued to explore the topic, I learned about this rehabilitation program featuring wild horses in Nevada. I immediately went there. As much as I could, I interviewed men who really inspired me, which allowed me to define the narrative arc of Roman, the film’s main character; to deepen it and to insert many specific details which anchored this story in its reality, all the while leaving me the freedom of cinematic invention — with the tempest, for example, the horses in the kitchen, the release of the mustang. All these elements which are not realistic but come from my own inspiration. I love the mix of authenticity and fiction with poetry and fantasy. It is by taking root in reality that I manage to create fiction.
We often hear that shoots featuring animals are truly nightmarish. How did yours go with the mustangs?
We had a very experienced horse trainer who’d worked on The Black Stallion and The Horse Whisperer, among other films, so he understood the demands of the film very well, and he knew how to insert a horse into a film crew. He orchestrated the work with the horses very well, which wasn’t easy and required great discipline from both the crew and the actors.
In terms of mise en scene, there are many contrasts between the interior and the exterior of the prison. What were your main intentions?
I wanted to create a kind of vertigo between interior and exterior, with rather claustrophobic interiors, and the exterior that would always follows the horse’s and the man’s movements, this dance, this invisible and highly choreographed dialogue, but always with a part of improvisation. I chose a cinematographer, Ruben Impens, equipped with a very immersive camera to allow a great agility in framing. It was also important to create within an extremely sharp editing style. Then, the sound came to lean on this mise en scene. Everything was built on this ambivalence and duality.
A French filmmaker shooting their debut feature in English in the United States: how did you manage to finance the film?
That was quite a feat. Being French, and Matthias Schoenaerts — who very quickly became attached to the project — being Belgian, the starting point was to find money in Europe. We got France 3, Canal+ and the Belgian tax shelter, but we were still missing the majority of funding. American distributor Focus Features then came on board for the financing, with an English part.
What was the influence of the film’s passage through the Sundance Lab and of the presence of Robert Redford as executive producer?
This of course gave the film a stamp of quality and trust. The Sundance Labs are rather selective and I found in the United States a nest and a creative family that could help me and allow me to do my research. I benefited from a Sundance grant and from another writing session from the San Francisco Film Society. And it’s true that the fact that Robert Redford very quickly wanted to follow the film as a sort of creative godfather naturally piqued the curiosity of others.
(Translated from French)
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