Up there in San Francisco /// Synopsis
San Francisco. A young black man, long and lean, JEAN-MICHEL, wakes to the glow of the first rays of sunlight. He spent the night in his car: a big, old Mercedes. A young woman, American, slightly vulgar with pink-tipped hair, NADIA, awakes in her apartment. They meet at the café where Nadia works. She serves him his breakfast. Jean-Michel has family money. He spends his time at the wheel of his car, the backseat covered with bricks. He builds « door-walls » on the sidewalks of the city avenues. Each day, he chooses a new place to create them. That day, it was across the street from Nadia’s café. Nadia, dreaming of better days from behind the counter, observes the clients in the café: a young man in an air intendant’s suit, very rock n’ roll is accompanied by a young blonde, an adolescent perhaps; a woman in her fifties, chic yet cheap, tells them of her relationship problems. Nadia religiously follows the televised teachings of a guru, BAPTISTE PARADIS, a French conman who touts ideas stolen from French cinema and literature. He’s had great success in the US. After work, Jean-Michel takes Nadia to see the ocean. They run into the famous guru, alone on the beach and are invited to have a drink at his house. Amongst promises and revelations, exaltations and confessions, an evening of intoxication unfolds. Awakening alone, the morning leaves Nadia disillusioned. She quickly rebounds, following the air attendant who’s come back looking for his wallet. Full of hope, Nadia hopes to be taken to Paris…
Creative process : writing, filming, post production.
The project Up there in San Francisco will be the last part of a trilogy of short films that I’ve directed in the USA. The first one, La’s Angel, was shot in 2011 in Los Angeles and the second one, Crack of Dawn, in 2012 in New York. These films feature characters who are often disillusioned and in search of an identity, who strive to understand how the individual takes shape in relation to themselves and the world.
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These films were thought up, written and made following the same process: I write about a city I had never visited. But this was not any city – rather a mythical city of the United States. A city I have already seen a thousand times through art and the media. I sketch out the story to a vague backdrop, verging on premonition, a bit like the feeling we get from the place in a dream. I take notes; I come up with scenes, situations, dialogues and characters. The main upstream work focuses on characters. The narrative is developed once I have settled in the city. The characters evolve following a predetermined but flexible line that adapts to unforeseen events. I live the same experience with the film as I create in real time. This way of working leaves a wide margin for improvisation in terms of what the film will look like. I stroll and soak up the city as I see it, in its triviality.
When there, I have complete freedom to shape my film since the writing can be refined in parallel to location scouting. I can transpose the evanescence and the immediacy that discovering a city stirs in me. My initial intuitions immediately take shape once I’m in contact with the city, the actors, and the new characters that I will eventually integrate into the story.
I’m dedicated to keeping the rapport between actors realistic. The lead actors from parts one and two of the trilogy, Nadia Rosenberg and Jeremy O. Harris, have influenced me as they do my films, bringing their own rhythms, their physiques and a perfect distance between us and them. I ask them to be spontaneous. I observe them closely and ask that they work with their own styles. During rehearsal I ask them to speak of themselves in order to attain a documentary-like feeling in their expressiveness.
I choose my actors based on what I feel they exude, the rhythm of their diction, their way of moving; because their physique speaks to me. I love the minute details on a face or in a gesture that seem to escape from the actor the moment they stop acting. Nadia Rosenberg and Jeremy O. Harris are, of course, going to be part of the third part of the trilogy.
The composition of Up There in San Francisco will give a big role to the city, with shots in wide angle, large, and panoramic. I hope to play with perspective to give a sense of vastness. Shots will be framed to add a sense of the bizarre like in Stranger than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch.
The colorimetry of the first two parts of the trilogy were concentrated on blues, reds and yellows while engaging nocturnal lighting to color the decor and the characters. In Up There in San Francisco, this theme of primary colors will be expressed in the objects and costumes. In the daytime scenes, the light will be white and the film luminous. I draw my inspiration from Pop painting, the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, pure colors and a prominent place for the color white.
In the nighttime scenes at the bar and at the guru’s there will be a much more artificial ambiance, subdued yet contrived with shadows playing an important part. These scenes are meant to invoke the unknown where characters let go of their inhibitions; where the decor urges them to get closer. A certain mysteriousness reigns like in the work of Edward Hopper.
In this third film, I hope to work with Eponyne Momenceau, a French director of photography. I’m drawn to her work in experimental cinema for her ability to communicate emotion by visual abstraction with particular attention to rhythm. Her work also touches on what is real. This capacity for improvisation is of important to my own work. We have never collaborated before but I’m certain that her approach to the image would be enriching to my film.
This trilogy is more of anything a human adventure. I believe that is what stays after all, the strongest thing in those "without a story" films.