Anne Émond Talks About Her Ambitious New Film ‘Our Loved Ones’
No one can say that Anne Émond doesn’t have ambition after watching her sophomore feature Our Loved Ones. Taking place over two decades and following three generations of a family in rural Quebec, Émond opens her film with the family’s patriarch hanging himself. From there, she focuses on David (Maxim Gaudette), the youngest son who ends up getting married and having two children as the film quickly moves through time. David eventually starts showing signs of an intense depression as his daughter Laurence (Karelle Tremblay) grows up and goes off to college, and soon finds himself facing a battle that’s similar to the one his father lost.
Émond’s film is remarkable in its unflinching and realistic portrayal of the cumulative power of depression. The way she handles time, and how she uses seemingly innocuous and naturalistic moments between characters to develop such a strong, sensitive and moving film is the sort of thing one would expect from a well-established master instead of an up and coming filmmaker. It’s a bold work, especially in the way Émond is willing to suddenly switch the focus from David to Laurence partway through the film and not lose momentum. We’ve already raved about the film, and after having its North American Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival we were able to sit down with Anne Émond (who’s already in the middle of production on her third feature) to talk about Our Loved Ones.
Tell me about the origin of your film.
For about 15 years, I’ve been wanting to tell this story. I did another film before this called Nuit #1, but this could have been my first film. Our Loved Ones is quite complicated because the structure is elliptical, and it’s a bigger film with a lot of actors, so in terms of production it was easier for me to finance it as a second feature. It’s a very personal story. I think all movies are a little autobiographical, and this one is very autobiographical. It’s quite a dark and complex subject, but all those characters in the movie, I know them. I had the feeling that I could talk about this subject with legitimacy, so I felt that I could truly make this film.
What was autobiographical about it?
That’s hard. In fact, I don’t want to talk about it. I think what was really important to me was to make a movie that people will love and understand and feel even if they don’t know that it happened.
What struck me immediately about the film is how you handled time, and how elliptical the film is. Did you always intend to make the film this way?
I knew I wanted to make a film about life passing by. It’s a film about memory and what parents give to children, so in this way I was sure it would be a long period of time. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to tell it. I wrote the screenplay with flashbacks, where we’re in the present with Laurence and then the story would come out through flashbacks. It didn’t work for me. The chronology was more interesting. I think it’s quite cruel because we lose the main character and the film is not over. David is the main character and then Laurence is the main character. But it’s quite elliptical and it’s a challenge. Some people like it, but for other people it’s hard to accept. I tried to make it soft. I think it’s quite a simple story, it’s easy to follow, so I could do these jumps in time.
Did you feel that by having such a large scope it would be more respectful to the themes you were covering?
There are a lot of films about suicide, some good and some bad. Usually when people kill themselves in a film there is always a very precise reason, like his wife is gone or he has cancer, something like that. There’s always a precise reason. But I wanted to make a film about a man who has everything and who just has this melancholy. To me, this is over a lifetime. I want to show a man who is so happy to have children, but it comes with the fact that they grow up, and it’s eventually like a cruel story because you can’t do anything. Life goes by, and you will lose some people that you love. So that’s why time was so important.
You start the film off with David, his mother and four siblings finding out about their father’s death, but you eventually hone in on just David. The only other sibling we really see a lot of other than David is his brother André. What made you want to keep the focus on just one family member?
At the beginning [of writing] there were 13 brothers and sisters. It was a very big family, but it was too complicated to shoot so I chose those 5 characters. I think it’s perfect because you feel they are really close. And it’s important André is there because I think he has everything to commit suicide. He’s the one who’s drinking, he has no family and no job, and he also [found his father] at the beginning, so it’s a little bit surprising that it’s David who’s suicidal.
What made you choose to set the film in the Lower Saint-Lawrence region of Quebec?
Well, I was born there! [Laughs] I love this place. Since I was young I knew those landscapes, and I wanted to shoot them. Nature is very important in the film because David feels safe in this place. He has the river, the house, the mountain, the forest, and in this small area he feels safe. To me, he’s okay, but it’s a small perimeter of security. And it’s important because once Laurence is able to [go into] the world things becomes bigger. She can go to Montreal, she can go to Barcelona, and she can get out of this little place.
David has this melancholy and heaviness in his life. It’s an issue that’s entirely internal for him, and it’s difficult to communicate it to others. How did you make sure viewers would be able to understand what David is going through?
For some people, it seems to work. They feel it, they feel this melancholy. That’s what I wanted. I think it has to do with acting. Maxim Gaudette is quite nice. Even when he is smiling, he has these sad eyes. We started shooting the movie about 2 weeks after Robin Williams killed himself, and we talked about him so much. We watched interviews with Robin Williams, and you can see it in his eyes. It’s easy to see now because he’s dead, but when you look back you see this man is smiling and laughing, but he’s not okay. I tried to give David moments alone in the film to show people he’s not fine, but he cannot say that to his family. He’s not able to share this depression.
What was the casting process like to find Maxim Gaudette and Karelle Tremblay?
It was quite important because this film is about a family. We started with David. I chose [Maxim] because I was completely in love with his acting. He’s perfect to me, and I think he’s very sensitive. And then we chose Karelle Tremblay, but we looked for Karelle for one year. We saw maybe 45 young girls. I wanted a small, blue-eyed blond girl, and Karelle is not like that at all. She’s brown haired and strong and a little bit boyish, but I liked her so much. She’s 19 and has quite a difficult part in the film, and she’s very good.
[Maxim and Karelle] had fun together. They are like father and daughter now. The shooting was magical, all of the cast became like a family because we were on location far away from our families. We were sleeping in small campers for two months, drinking beers and having fun, so we were a family by the end of shooting.
You have a pretty memorable soundtrack with songs like Blind Melon’s “No Rain” and Pulp’s “Common People.”
The songs were chosen at the writing stage. I already knew I wanted those songs. I don’t know how it happened. One night I was with my friend and we remembered this song by Blind Melon. It was like we never heard this song anymore, and we were so happy and dancing to this song at 33 years old [Laughs]. And I thought that’s the song the characters should listen to.
To me, it’s nostalgia. I thought that maybe not every family has this particular drama, but every family has dramas, memories, and songs. I also needed music to [establish] the period of time. I use it for that, and also because they’re just good songs.
The film feels very complex in the way it handles characters. Things are never black and white. There’s a lot of sensitivity toward everyone in the film. What was it like trying to achieve this while writing the screenplay?
It was hard. Nuit #1 was a dark, cruel, in your face kind of film. It was easy to be edgy. I think Our Loved Ones is not an edgy film. It’s quite different in terms of themes and direction. When I screened Nuit #1, a lot of people walked out in the middle because they couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to do that again. To me, the subject in Our Loved Ones is so important, so serious and realistic that it had to be generous. It had to be for a lot of people. But I didn’t want to make this perfect family story. I worked a lot on the writing about that.
Our Loved Ones is currently seeking US distribution.