Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic talks about the pleasures of surreal film narrative and why it took 10 years to make Evolution

August 14, 2016

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Tonight, Evolution, the sci-fi/horror hybrid by French writer/director Lucile Hadzihalilovic will have its Florida premiere at the Second Annual Popcorn Frights Film Festival (Our review: Evolution skips clear narrative to create waking nightmare of body horror — a Popcorn Frights film review). Earlier this week, The Miami New Times published an interview I conducted with the filmmaker (read it here), but so much had to be trimmed out, like why did it take Hadzihalilovic 10 years to follow-up Innocence? We also spoke about the film’s strange, surreal tone and why a straight narrative doesn’t always make for the best horror movie.

Speaking via Skype from France, Hadzihalilovic admits her fear of becoming pregnant inspired her to make Evolution. She says, in order to depict how strange the idea was to her, she has little boys carry babies in an experiment done by alien looking women (their eyebrows are bleached and their drab brown dresses hide further inhuman aspects).

As it is a personal sort of film, she picked the ideal place to shoot it, Lanzarote, on the Moroccan coast, where she grew up. From these personal places, both psychological and physical, she made a decidedly unsettling film, EVOLUTION - Director's portraitalmost like a waking nightmare. Lanzarote with its black sand beach and jagged coast and surreal white architecture give the film a further alien quality, so while the film is personal, it won’t appear that way to fans of the genre looking for a different experience at the movies.

The following is an excerpt of my conversation with Hadzihalilovic via Skype, none of which had room to appear in the earlier Miami New Times piece. It has been edited for clarity.

Hans Morgenstern:  I’m sure you are asked often why it took so long to make your follow up to Innocence, but I’m interested into what drove you to fight for so long to make this particular follow-up when most filmmakers would have given up.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic:  It has been very difficult to find the money for it. At some point, the script was much more developed. There were much more elements, especially sci-fi elements that probably would have given more information or explained more. That would have put the film more in this category of sci-fi, so it was more expensive. For a long time, I had certain people on board, like a certain agent and maybe a TV channel that wanted to see this film happen, but it was not enough money. But they stuck with it, so I thought it was still possible. Also, I really wanted to make this film because it’s very personal and very autobiographical (laughs) somehow, so it’s meant a lot for me to write this film. I was always sure it was possible for me to do it. Of course I never thought it would take so long.

Many directors would have shelved the project and moved on.

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Many times we thought that we were really gonna make the film in the following months, so at some point you can’t give up. You just do it. The main reason was because in France, it’s very difficult to make a genre film, especially a horror film, because it’s not really in the culture … Films like this, that are much more directly related to genre, it’s more straight narrative for teenagers, etc., but this film was obviously not so much a commercial, teenager shock movie, and people were not sure what kind of film it was, and I thought it was a good thing that they couldn’t tell. It was a hybrid film, but the people who give the money they were afraid about this, they wondered is it an art house film or is it a horror film – “disgusting,” you know? — and the film has been financed through a system of art house films and for these people the fact that it was an imaginary world and dealing with fear and a bit of horror, it was a bit like not serious. I was very much in between two worlds.

You open and end the film with long, static shots (with the opening and closing credits), both featuring barely audible ambient noise. This has a strong effect on audience perception. What are you seeking to do with that?

I think, especially for the beginning, it’s a way to enter another world. It’s a way, to enter to the film because a lot of people are arriving late to a movie theater (laughs). It’s a joke but it’s also a manner of becoming quiet, like if you were approaching the mirror of the border of something. It’s supposed to put people in a certain state of mind and then they can enter into the film.

As for the end, maybe it’s because it’s a very open ending, and again it’s a way of it’s up to you to deal with what you have seen and to understand and to have your own idea about what this boy is going to find out about this new world. It’s a way to get people to think for themselves somehow. It’s not like the story is finished, it’s closed. No. It’s open, so it’s a way to go out of ourselves for a little bit of time before the lights go up.

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That’s why I put the credits on these images, so I can have a very long shot but also useful for the credits, and I think it’s nice because the credits also belong to the film, and it’s a way to have time and to be prepared to be open to the film … It puts you in the mood of the film. It’s a way of preparation. It gives you the flavor of it.

It speaks to your film’s tone, which is more to impress upon the audience feelings and trigger something primal. Is this why there is so little plot and explanation for what is happening?

I’m more concerned about emotions and the interiority of inner experience and going deeper into some state of mind or some feeling or some world rather than one thing after another and another one and another one … Some say when it’s slow, it’s boring, but for me when it’s slow, it really gives you time to get into it, to feel it and really get into the sensory experience. I think, for me, the film is so much about the feeling of mystery. It has nothing to do with narrative. It has much more to do with the unconscious and non-verbal and non-narrative experience but very little story. I think it’s more important to have it elliptical, so people can make their own connections because it’s a way to go deeper into your experience as an audience. I like to not understand everything, so I can stay open to it afterwards. When I don’t catch everything I have to involve myself in my thought. I don’t think we need to understand everything to appreciate and enjoy it.

Is this an allegory to create empathy in men for pregnant women?

No … I thought it was more interesting and striking with the boy because it was more abnormal. It was less a cliché to have a girl afraid of having something put in her belly. Also because it was a child of that age, I thought it doesn’t have much importance if it’s a boy or a girl. If it had been a teenager, then it would have been different. I really wanted to underline that it was really like a nightmare, an abnormal thing, and also the couple boy-mother was also very interesting for me because it deals with birth and receiving birth and giving birth.

Hans Morgenstern

Evolution runs 81 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (Trigger warnings: body horror, including cesarean sections). It will have its Florida premiere on Sunday, Aug. 14, during the Popcorn Frights Film Festival at O Cinema Wynwood. The film is preceded by the short “FUCKKKYOUUU.” For tickets, visit this link. All images provided by Potemkine Films, except the image of the director, which is from Wild Bunch International. The film is slated to make the rounds in U.S. theaters later in the year via IFC Films.

You can read my original interview with the director in the Miami New Times, by jumping through the logo for its Arts and Culture blog:

NT Arts

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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