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Interview conducted via email from July-August 2022.

How did you come to work with Lucile Hadžihalilović. It’s clear how Lucile and yourself would find each other sympathetic collaborators, but how did you originally meet? I find it is striking that you, as an English writer living in Oxford, seem to suddenly appear as a scriptwriter for both Lucile (and Claire Denis), two prominent French film directors.

Many years ago I read the script for Innocence (2004) and it made a huge and extraordinary impression. I was in Rotterdam, at the film festival, I think in 2002. The script absolutely captured me, with that rare and thrilling tension, a sort of thrumming in the mind that arises from a combination of something utterly strange yet somehow deeply familiar. It’s a feeling that has never left me as regards Lucile’s work, rather deepened and grown over the years. Even on paper the world of Innocence was manifestly something very particular, very charged, complete in and unto itself, yet also part of a vast and invisible other thing. I saw La bouche de Jean-Pierre (1996) and was astonished all over again, in similar and in different ways. We met a little later, and I remember the first thing we talked about was Dorothea Tanning’s wonderful painting Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943). I ended up being the English co-producer of Innocence alongside Alain de la Mata. Lucile and I carried on talking, occasionally meeting, every now and then exchanging images, books…, and later Evolution (2015) happened… and then Earwig (2021), which as you know developed from the work of another friend whose work has had a similar and abiding effect on me: Brian Catling. Witnessing these two worlds dreaming each other into a third has been a real delight. And now the next project. And another perhaps germinating. 

I look at your film credits and see: “in collaboration with,” “collaboration,” “with the participation of,” and finally for Earwig (2021) “screenplay by” but you also drew Catling’s forthcoming manuscript to the attention of Lucile Hadžihalilović before it was published. I can’t help but wonder, what difference do you see between such credits? What do you responsibilities entail?

I guess the task is to prepare a sort of thing, like a chrysalis, that will draw the film closer, within which it can germinate, and from which it can emerge. To explore with Lucile the territory of and around the source (novel, tale, idea, whatever), to outline or partially define some of its shapes and shadows and lights and to (re) populate it where necessary. A lot of talking and wandering and wondering…
In the case of Earwig I guess the task was twofold: to help construct through the writing a refracted version of the world Brian delineated in his book, and to try and capture something else it suggested, this first “redreaming” of the book that would act as a sort of structure and fertilizing mulch for the film. Lucile has talked about a ‘betrayal’ of Brian’s novel, and he has described it as a transmutation, a work being born from another. I think the specifics and degree of what I’ve done each time with Lucile may have varied but the essential work is the same. It’s a question of play, of exploration, wandering about in a world as it takes shape and seeing what, within that world, might help with the becoming of the film… With Earwig, when Brian recounted to me the peculiar sort of waking dream encounter that would lead to the book, it was very strange, I felt immediately and absolutely that this was a film for and by Lucile. In the case of Evolution, I read and made comments from the earliest drafts of treatment and script, but the real collaboration came later… close work on a screenplay already written by Lucile and Alanté. It’s a delightful process, a great pleasure, it seems to me that we share an affinity for particular structures, atmospheres and dreams, textures, shadows and lights.

In what ways has working together with Lucile influenced your work separately?

I have no idea… Certainly Lucile’s work, and our collaboration, past and ongoing, has played – and plays and will play – an important part in my life and one not easy to define or quantify. 

Thinking of Lucile’s work, but also Dorothea Tanning, who in addition to her paintings also wrote the surrealist novel Chasm: A Weekend (2004); and Brian Catling, with his sculptural background readily apparent in The Vorrh‘s elaborate construction of a unique sculpture-like bow, how do you see the interpolation of art into narrative structures? Do you see recurring patterns? 

I’ve never thought to ask myself the question… I suppose a painting or sculpture allows a sort of multiplicity of angles from which a narrative can be seen, found, glimpsed, guessed at or obscured… a freeing – or loosening anyway – of time and approach to the elements of any story. Perhaps it’s as simple and complicated as the fact that a painting readily and immediately suggests or admits of myriad paths between and around its elements. New elements and connective tissue emerge from a non-linear drift or movement, like a dream or a memory a narrative forms but remains unfixed, fluid, open to change. It shifts… In the case of Earwig, Brian’s sculptural habit of introducing and juxtaposing materials with disparate and incongruous qualities and natures and essences, thus sparking new, strange resonances, shadows and atmospheres (teeth – ice, for example) had something to do with the way I thought about the story and about what it emanated, and therefore about how Lucile and I might remake it, remodel it, in order that she could reimagine and recreate it again on film.