Standing before an open window, a woman gazes at black clouds darkening the horizon. She loves two men—the one who shares her present, and the one who marked her past. Frozen, she struggles against surging memories evoked by objects, the sky—everything. In the clouds, a passionately intertwined couple appears.
Interview with Writer/Director Justine Vuylsteker
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I’d say the film was born of my encounter with the Épinette, the last pinscreen that Alexeïeff and Parker built, which the CNC purchased and restored. It was after getting up close to this amazing instrument that I felt the urge - or perhaps I should say the need - to work more extensively with it. From that urge, Embraced was born.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
There’s this wonderful quote from John Cassavetes: “As an artist I think that we must try many things - but above all, we must dare to fail.” Given the technique, the relatively short production time, a desire to improvise, and the loneliness of shooting, I (surely in the blissful ignorance of making a first film) put myself in a situation where that possibility of failure was very real. Once I was joined in post-production by a team that was both solid and extremely sensitive, the film managed to find and assert its unity. But as a result of flirting with that risk of missing the mark, it seems to me that Embraced retains some rough spots that are both wonderful and sincere.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The question of Time and the experience of the individual confronting Time is central to the film. This woman has lost her footing in reality, and she’s see-sawing between present and past, with memories mixing with fantasies. Through her, I wanted to explore the difficulty we sometimes feel in existing in the present, and therefore in being fully in control of ourselves. It’s the struggle of an individual seeking to assert that she is in the here and now, and that she has the strength she needs to return to that present moment which eludes her.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The film was constantly being rewritten, even during shooting. There was no storyboard or animatic to impose a set structure on the film before the work on the pinscreen started. Later –more specifically, in developing the narration – the very first version of the script was about a man recovering the memory of a woman; then it became a triangular dynamic, with the female character occupying the centre. As the film progressed, the more I tried to refine and tighten the narrative structure down to a few essential gestures, so that the story linking these three characters would come to us through evocation, and suggestion.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The film will have its premiere in a few days, so I’ve only had a few responses so far… but among those, a lot of people have been surprised to see the pinscreen used in a sensual vein! So I’m really happy that I’ve succeeded in bringing to the film screen the intense sensuality that I perceived and felt when working with the pinscreen. There have also been a lot of reactions and different perceptions about the story linking the characters - not everyone has the same view.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Yes, it’s exactly those different readings that prompted questions in me, when they’ve emerged. Should I have imposed a story and closed the door on interpretations? Or, on the contrary, embrace the idea that the film should contain different possible stories? My producers agreed to follow me on that second path, and we worked hard to clarify which parts didn’t need to be ambiguous, eventually arriving at a film that makes the viewer want to invest in these spaces that are left vague.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
When you make a film – or, more generally, any kind of work – you want as many people as possible to hear about it and to want to see it, and you hope they’ll talk about it in turn, if they’ve been moved by it. I’m very happy to know that an Australian-based media outlet that devotes space to animated short films is spreading the word about my work.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I’m fortunate to have had such great support throughout this film’s journey, so my only wish for Embraced today is for it to be seen and shown, and for it to generate reactions, opinions, positions. There’s also the hope, and pride in the fact, that the film might lead people all over the world to discover the pinscreen technique, or rediscover it in a new light.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I imagine someone watching the film and suddenly reeling from the same blast as the female character, feeling this energy permeating them, which gives them the courage to confront something they’ve been running from, giving them the strength to face some truth. If something like that happens to someone, I’ll be beyond happy.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What does she do at the end? What is her intent when she makes that last movement, lifting her head to the right? To be perfectly honest, my own feeling about that movement fluctuates from one viewing to another—and it almost depends on where I’m looking when the screen goes black. Is my gaze locked on the cup in her hands? On her face? On the clouds to the left? On her right? On the person sitting in front of me? Yes, that’s the question I’d ask: Where are you looking when the film fades to black at the end?
Would you like to add anything else?
There are some lines from T.S. Eliot that accompanied me during the shooting, and that dictated many of my decisions in terms of the presence or absence of movement in my shots. “Desire itself is movement. Not in itself desirable; Love is itself unmoving. Only the cause and end of movement.” I owe a lot to those few lines, which I’ve often held onto, so I welcome the opportunity to mention them here.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
After this incredible experience with the pinscreen, I’m going back to paper. Right now I’m in a period of research and experimentation, both graphic and visual, trying to push my work on the body and the depiction of sensations a little further.
Interview: June 2018
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The first professional auteur short film by young French filmmaker Justine Vuylsteker, Embraced is a bittersweet visual poem that evokes fleeting sensations. With subtlety and sensuality, Vuylsteker reveals both the ruins of a relationship and traces of an intimate bond with an artistic process: the legendary pinscreen. Invented by Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker (Night on Bald Mountain), this animation technique has an eminent pedigree that includes being put to use by great NFB filmmakers such as Norman McLaren, Jacques Drouin and Michèle Lemieux.
Embraced, a coproduction of Offshore (France) and the NFB, is the first film made with “The Épinette,” owned by the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) and the twin of the NFB’s own pinscreen. Vuylsteker has used it to express the passion of love and the dizzying struggle between remembrance and oblivion.
Length: 5:24 minutes
Director: Justine Vuylsteker
Producer: Co-produced by Rafael Andrea Soatto, Fabrice Préel-Cléach and Emmanuelle Latourrette for Offshore and Julie Roy for the NFB.
Writer: Justine Vuylsteker
About the writer, director and producer
JUSTINE VUYLSTEKER is a 23-year-old French animation filmmaker who first encountered the work of inspiring animation pioneers such as Oskar Fischinger, Berthold Bartosch, Alexeïeff–Parker and others during her art training at ESAAT in Foubaix, France. After earning a degree in animation, she made the short film Paris (2015) using paper, sand and plants, part of the En sortant de l’école collection that pays tribute to French poet Robert Desnos. The same year, she became acquainted with the pinscreen at a workshop given by Michèle Lemieux in Annecy. She continued her exploration with the support of Jean-Baptiste Garnero and Sophie Le Tétour, managers of the Alexeïeff–Parker fund at the CNC in Bois-d’Arcy. She developed her first professional auteur film, Embraced, during various residencies in France, and completed it at the NFB in December 2017. In addition to her work as a filmmaker, Justine posts occasional essays about animation and her creative process on the Web.
JULIE ROY is the Executive Producer at the National Film Board of Canada’s French Animation Studio. She has produced some 40 animated short films. Julie holds an MA in Film Studies from the Université de Montréal and has written extensively on women and animation. She has also served as a guest programmer at several film festivals. Her recent productions include Patrick Bouchard’s Le sujet (2018), Justine Vuylsteker’s Embraced (2018), and Matthew Rankin’s THE TESLA WORLD LIGHT (2017), which was selected to screen in competition in the Cannes Film Festival’s illustrious Critics’ Week program. In 2016, she co-produced Franck Dion’s The Head Vanishes (Papy3D/NFB), winner of the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival’s highest honour, the Cristal Award.
RAFAEL ANDREA SOATTO started his career in cinema as a location scout after earning a degree in fine arts from the University of Picardie Jules Verne. He went on to work as assistant producer in charge of the Champagne–Ardenne region film commission, and eventually became production manager. In September 2015, he joined the French production house Offshore, where he has thus far produced a feature documentary and several short films, including Justine Vuylsteker’s Embraced, his first short. He is currently working with Vuylsteker on her next film.
Official website: http://justinevuylsteker.com/
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? Anima Mundi International Animation Festival 2018 (Competition: Short Film)