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LOCARNO 2023 Cineasti del presente

Éléonore Saintagnan • Director of Camping du Lac

“In my work, there is always something strange going on”


- The absurd meets the serious in the French director’s new film, in which she also plays the lead role

Éléonore Saintagnan  • Director of Camping du Lac

In Camping du Lac [+see also:
film review
interview: Éléonore Saintagnan
film profile
, shown in Locarno’s Cineasti del presente, Éléonore’s (director Éléonore Saintagnan, also acting) car breaks down in the middle of Brittany. She heads to a little campsite by the lake full of colourful characters, but a legendary beast is supposed to be living there, too.

Cineuropa: It’s great watching stories about places that seem normal but which have something odd about them. Even magical, when you think about it.
Éléonore Saintagnan: In my work, there is always something strange going on. I like to use real places and non-professional actors, but I put them on the sidelines of reality. I take a step back from it. This camping site already looked odd to me when I first got there: I saw a bison, which wasn’t moving, surrounded by sheep and a statue of an Indian chief. I come from a documentary background, but that’s exactly the kind of cinema I want to be making. One that makes you go: “There is something strange, but what is it?!”

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You play the lead, but you pay lots of attention to every quirky character: everyone gets their own story. What unites them is that they went to that lake once, just for a while, and then couldn’t leave.
My character also stays. I wanted it to feel like a place from a science-fiction movie: you get there and you are… stuck. It attracts you, somehow. I was influenced by that Luis Buñuel movie [The Exterminating Angel], where people couldn’t leave a dinner party and they never knew why. That’s more or less what really happens to those who live here. They come for their holidays, buy a trailer, and then some of them just don’t go back home. They enjoy this new life immersed in nature. I started going there during the pandemic, and I met so many people in Brittany who were fleeing the cities and returning to places they knew from their vacations. This camping site is full of mostly elderly people, but there was also this young guy who had inherited a trailer from his parents and transformed it. He is tattooing a woman in the film – for real! Even so, you can’t see his face, because he asked us for privacy, and we had another actor playing him.

For all their eccentricities, it never feels like you are mocking them. Was that important to you?
I lived with them for almost one year. My son is in the film, too! They became our new family. Every time I make a film, I stay in that place for a very long time, getting to know the community. I come back later, with a camera and with my team. I wanted to be inspired by who they really are. Sometimes they were laughing at the film’s more absurd scenes, saying they would never do that in real life. But it’s fiction! I would ask them if they wanted their characters to have the same name, for example. Louise’s real name is actually Anna, but she wanted to be someone else. In real life, she is a trans cabaret singer and farmer, and her mobile home is called “Louisiana”. Now, she plays a cis-gender character, much more subdued than her extravagant onstage persona. It’s all a mix of things that exist in reality, but they are slightly displaced.

Why did you want to include the myth about a mysterious monster?
The fish is the main character in the film, not me. Everyone is obsessed with it. There was a novel by Russell Banks called The Fish, which takes place in Vietnam, which was my main source of inspiration. Then I kept asking people in Brittany if they had any similar stories, and I heard about their saint, Corentin of Quimper, and the “miraculous” fish. There is no connection between Russell Banks and Corentin of Quimper, obviously, so I created it myself [laughs]. It’s very simple: there is a little fish in one story and a big one in another.

They both talk about how people destroy everything. It makes them, and your film, very relatable.
When I met a priest in the Diocese of Quimper, he said: “It’s the most environmental story in our Christian tradition.” It asks us to be careful, to not overdo it. It’s crazy how we all know this to be true, we all know we can take only a little, and yet we all take too much. It’s absurd. Climate change is not some fairy tale, and I am very, very afraid of what we are going to leave to our children. I wanted to make a funny film, but I also wanted to reflect that.

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