Ahead of FrightFest’s UK special screening of THE WOMAN WITH LEOPARD SHOES at the Glasgow Film Festival, director Alexis Bruchon talks about his love of Noir, casting his brother and directing in his underwear…
Your background is in illustration and graphic design. Was making a movie the next logical step as an artist?
From a very young age, I wanted to make a movie (as a teenager I did make a slasher called Ice Crime a true masterpiece!) - but drawing is direct, cost nothing and allows you to produce any images you want. So, I started with two unpublished graphic novels. The good thing with comics is that I realised you can tell a story with very few elements… and no money!
So, when I started on THE WOMAN WITH THE LEOPARD SHOES, drawing was highly important in the making of the film because I storyboarded everything with a lot of indications like light, moments, actions etc.
What was the inspiration for THE WOMAN IN THE LEOPARD SHOES?
Noir films are a huge inspiration for the movie, especially Robert Siodmak’s movies. The Killers (and Don Siegel’s remake!) is one of my favourites. I love very different noir films, like Murder My Sweet, Laura, Kiss Me Deadly, Road House (a very rare film from Negulesco),
I was also inspired by gothic cinema, especially the films from the Hammer and Amicus with Freddie Francis’ films, a true master! Mario Bava and Jacques Tourneur are the two other big influences, because they are masters of the off-screen. Giallo were a huge inspiration for the script because it is made of twists and manipulations.
It’s a perplexing story, twisting and turning all the time, was it difficult to write and navigate the complex revelations?
It was the hardest part because you have a very minimalist starting point: a mute character, one room and a specific situation. There were two traps, in my opinion: making a telephone thriller with a lot of dialogues and no visual elements, or making another survival film with action and action alone. The idea on the contrary, was to develop a complex story, close to the 70’s paranoiac thrillers, told with images only, and where the solution is outside the room, invisible from the audience. In fact, I developed the script through the set: a writing desk, a little bed, a closet, a window and a door, that’s it! With these limitations you have to play with space because it becomes information: if my character goes here, it tells something and it brings something to the story. Basically it’s the story of a man walking around a desk.
Your leading man Paul Bruchon is obviously a relation. Which, and why choose him?
Paul is my brother and he has never acted before! At the beginning, I planned to hire a real actor and I have to confess that the role was written for a woman at the beginning. One day, my brother just asked ‘’well it could be fun, just to see’’… I took my camera and started to shoot. He was exactly what I was looking for! He has a real presence and most of all a real elegance. It’s difficult to explain, because he’s my brother, but on the screen, when he moves you can feel his presence in the room.
All my family contributed to the film: Both my parents play a character, in fact each person of the crew plays a character! For example, I play Boyer but one day, for a scene, I was alone with Pauline Morel, my best friend and first assistant and I had to be behind the camera… so I dressed her in my suit and tie and here I am, in my underwear, yelling action to poor Pauline, who had to act like a forty years old upper class man!.
The story is told visually through silhouettes and shadows in super black-and-white,. You never show other people but their presence is always felt. All creative and budgetary choices?
All these choices were made for the script but, yes, also because of budgetary reasons. The film had a small budget but with a big set that we had to build entirely so it was impossible to us to show anything else and I think (I hope) it’s for the best.
Black and white was logical for me because colour can distract the eye. Benjamin Cognet, our gaffer was helpful to achieve it and we built the entire room in order to control light.
Where did you film?
All the shooting takes place in my parent’s home. I measured the living room and built, with Leopol Maurice, a big box. The shooting was a very happy time; the crew was composed of my friends and my parents made food!
You edited the movie too and also composed the evocative soundtrack. Had you done anything like this before and how big a learning curve was it?
It was my first experience from writing to editing and it was a personal challenge. It will sound pretentious but I’m not a good pupil, I always hated school and I prefer to learn by myself. Of course it would be more efficient to employ an editor, a cinematographer, a sound designer, but I deeply wanted to learn how to make a movie from start to end. Obviously, the first day I was in front of my computer to edit the first scene I was a bit panicky because I didn’t know any techniques.
From the beginning I knew sound would be very important. Sound is a character in itself and I decided to work it as a visual element. Music was a big source of stress… I had never composed a single note and I planned to hire a friend of mine to make the soundtrack but, once again, he was not available so I started to listen to some soundtracks that I love and decided to write the music on the editing timeline, directly with the images. I recorded very different sounds with a microphone and stole some rhythmic, very brief moments from various soundtracks (there is a sample from Alien for example) and I edited it like rushes.
How did the COVID-19 outbreak affect the film?
The music was written during the first month of lockdown in France so the beginning of COVID was (sorry to say) but pretty fun for me… A perfect film for our socially distanced times: set almost entirely in one room, with one single silent character on screen and most communication via text message.,
More generally, COVID shows the growing importance of digital tech in our lives. Sometime it’s for the best and your digital edition of FrightFest is a good example, sometimes it’s for the worst…
Where did you get the pair of leopard shoes? We want some!
Gorgeous, aren’t they? Well, it was difficult to find the right ones. Me and Pauline Morel (who chose most of the costumes of the film) are real shoes fashionista now! Ask us everything you want about leopard shoes! The pair you see were found on the internet so… you just have to click and find them!
Finally, what’s next?
I’m about to shoot my second feature in March! A horror film made with the same circumstances as the first. The Woman with Leopard Shoes is the first film of a trilogy with the same concept: one character, one situation and almost no dialogues. The idea is to cover three genres, the film Noir with the first one, the horror film with this second and the paranoiac thriller with the third. The script and the storyboard are finished, we have the actors and the set is ready to be built! Me and my father have built a crane which permits the camera to go absolutely everywhere because tiny spaces will be very important for the story.
All I can say is that it’s a movie which began like a possession story then goes to a ghost story and finally to a fantastic thriller. I’m very excited to start shooting! I have also my first script, a story of kidnapping but I need more money to do it. It’s not an expensive film at all but impossible to make just on my own… but I will do it, one way or another!
THE WOMAN WITH LEOPARD SHOES is showing on demand for 72 hours from 4.00 pm 5th March, as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2021 Digital event.
The film is geo-locked to the UK and limited to 500 tickets, Tickets are priced £9.99. For more information: www.glasgowfilm.org/festival