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Just Philippot • Director of The Swarm

"To create a bridge between realism and fantasy, I decided to start from a true story"

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- Recipient of a 2020 Cannes Critics’ Week Label and winner at Sitges and Gérardmer, the film finally arrives in cinemas, first in Spain then in France, before its release on Netflix

Just Philippot • Director of The Swarm
(© Capricci Production/The Jokers Films/ARTE France Cinéma/Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Cinéma)

Recipient of a 2020 Cannes Critics’ Week Label, winner of the Special Jury Prize and Best Actress award at Sitges, of the Audience Award and the Critics’ Award in Gérardmer, The Swarm [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Just Philippot
film profile
]
is the feature film debut of French director Just Philippot.

Cineuropa: How did you arrive at the project for The Swarm, whose script was written by Jérôme Genevray and Frank Victor?
Just Philippot: Thierry Lounas (Capricci), one of the film’s producers, created the “Sofilm de genre” residency with a desire to find new ways to develop these films. I went through the first short film residency, and wrote and directed Acide. A few years later, the feature-length film residencies were created, Jérôme Genevray and Franck Victor were selected, and The Swarm emerged as one of the best projects there according to Thierry, who talked about it with Manuel Chiche (The Jokers). However, both of them were very interested in the idea of the encounter between writers and directors, a method inspired by the American way of making films. Thierry presented the project to me, saying that since I was an expert on clouds — Acide was about acid rain — he had a cloud of grasshoppers to offer. I met with Jérôme and Frank, who adjusted the script according to my desires. Because it wasn’t just about making a genre film, there also needed to be a credible discourse about the characters’ issues and personalities, about the film’s vision of the world and society, about all these background questions which were already in the script. The Swarm is also political, not just a fantasy film or a genre film.

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A few months away from filming, my production manager asked me how many grasshoppers I would need on set. Because I wanted to use physical effects and avoid CGI. The script mentioned several thousands of grasshoppers. She told me that would be impossible, that she could get a maximum of 6,000. This allowed me to rethink some parts of the script and to re-centre myself on what I wanted to see: a woman who works. How? How does one get one kilo of insect flour? How heavy would the load of insects she needs to carry be for her to make 50, 100, 200 kilos? This is a woman who will almost drown herself in that work. So I shifted the focus of what was very much a genre film, closer to the society issues which were in the original script, but which I expressed. 

You mention a mix between Bloody Milk [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Hubert Charuel
film profile
]
and Alien. How did you work on the rhythm of the film?
To create a bridge between realism and fantasy, I decided to start from a true story, with a real female farmer: there is a concrete aspect to the film. We start with what is almost a documentary on the world of farming and then we arrive at a kind of spectacular cinema, with its promises of explosive finales, but without forgetting the character’s journey and her descent into hell. So I structured this descent into hell with the sound, with the greenhouse settings, with this plastic that pollutes and crushes, by luring in the viewer with small details which suddenly place us outside of reality, but in a subtle way. What interested me was to have a climate and especially a sound landscape that would allow the viewer to feel, little by little, that something is wrong. The challenge of the film was to create steps towards fantasy, so as to arrive at a finale where anything can happen.

What about the character of the mother who sacrifices herself and lives alone with her two children?
The true monstrous character of the film is her, not the swarm of grasshoppers. But she is a woman who does all of this for her children, she has no other option, she wouldn’t hurt a fly, but she will create Chernobyl without even realising. I wanted to see this living space get smaller and this woman smother her children, crushing them in trying to protect them. I also wanted to talk about the family in the context of the agricultural world, with its real tragedies, the unhappiness of this woman whose burden is too heavy for her. But she is intelligent and that is why we like her, too: she finds solutions in her work. This makes her all the more dangerous because while she is extremely intelligent, she does not realise that she is creating a “factory” that will take over. The family is also the heart of our emotions, which could lead the viewer to feel torn between this woman and her children, who see the signs announcing a disaster.

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(Translated from French)

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