Q&A: Quebecois Filmmaker Izabel Grondin on Her Extreme Cinematic Art
Izabel Grondin’s short film THE TABLE (a.k.a. LA TABLE, pictured above) recently made it into the pre-selection for the Jutra Awards, Quebec’s Oscars that celebrate the best of the province’s cinema. This is no small feat, in that Grondin’s piece was up against over 173 of Quebec’s finest shorts. Also wonderful for cinephiles of a transgressive sort is THE TABLE’s content; as usual, Grondin has produced a work of great beauty, brutality and BDSM, and to see this sort of art recognized at such a prestigious level—that it can be taken seriously and admired as art—bodes well for extreme cinema.
First introduced to her work at Montreal’s Fantasia film festival, this writer then purchased an out-of-print Japanese release of her previous short work. Part SALO, part horror show, these films have had a hard time finding a home due to their content. This can be seen as a badge of honor, as not many consistently choose to work in such a controversial style, and it is brave for an artist to suffer the slings and arrows directed at certain subjects that are close to them, especially of a certain sexual nature. Grondin’s FANTASY (a.k.a. FANTASME) was recently removed from Canada’s TouTV for being “too shocking,” as some viewers complained, and she is still in talks to get it back into rotation.
As Grondin gains accolades with THE TABLE, which has been making the festival rounds (including Montreal’s SPASM, where Grondin is pictured below), and ruffles TouTV’s demographic, she is also looking to develop a feature, which would mark a bit of a departure from her shorts while being characteristically infused with her considerable passion.
FANGORIA: What can you tell us about THE TABLE?
IZABEL GRONDIN: I really wanted to make this film. It’s the most sober out of all of them. I decided to put everything artificial aside, and focus more of the visceral. I wanted to go deeper into my guts. Sexuality, like horror, has always fascinated me. Even if THE TABLE does not get into the top five finalists for Les Jutra, I consider the preselection a great honor; I’m not sure about the date, but the winners should be announced around the beginning of February. Otherwise, the movie has gone to many festivals here in Canada, but we are awaiting answers from many international fests. One big piece of news: THE TABLE will have its Japanese premiere at the Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo. This will be my first Asian screening ever!
FANG: You’ve referred to THE TABLE as a “very personal” work. In what ways is it personal to you?
GRONDIN: I’m sick of the way women’s sexuality is shown in cinema. It’s always insipid, lacking animalism of any kind. Sex is not a one-size-fits-all! In THE TABLE, I wanted my heroine to fully assume her needs and desires, whether they make sense or not. Women’s sexuality has always been repressed in real life, no matter where around the world, and so it is in cinema.
FANG: What is the new project you pitched at last summer’s Fantasia Film Market?
GRONDIN: THE FORGOTTEN, an adaptation of a novel by Madeleine Robitaille. The original French title is LE QUARTIER DES OUBLIÉS.
FANG: What made you choose this book?
GRONDIN: The story—definitively one of the most powerful and unique I’ve ever read in my life. It’s about an ordinary bus trip that turns into a terrible nightmare for 26 very unlucky passengers. I don’t want to say too much more, since I don’t want to spoil it, but it takes place in the middle of a heat wave, and every single minute counts.
FANG: How did you prepare for the pitch?
GRONDIN: I had the good luck to get some cues from friends, directors Steve Leonard and Caroline Labreche, so I had a little bit in mind about what would happen. But you can’t be sure of anything at this point. Talking in front of so many people was freaking me out, so I had to rehearse my pitch over and over again and try to visualize myself as much as possible. But one great thing about that is, I was so terrified that now that it’s done, it killed my fear of speaking in front of people forever!
FANG: What were the key elements of your pitch?
GRONDIN: Again, the story. And its realism. It’s a situation that can happen to anybody, almost everywhere. I focused on that, and used it like a teaser for the audience. I didn’t want to say too much; I preferred to go into the details only during the speed-dating sessions with the producers!
FANG: What tips would you give to directors about presenting to producers?
GRONDIN: Be prepared. And stay confident. If you’re there, it’s because you were chosen, because you have a good project full of potential in your hands, so keep that in mind. I mention that because I was a bit intimidated being in the same contest with masters such as Andrzej Zulawski. Finally, I would say, you’re your focus on two or three points maximum; you’re there to sell a film project.
FANG: How does THE FORGOTTEN differ from the previous short films you’ve made?
GRONDIN: Mostly, the genre in itself. I’ve done horror, fantastic, comedic, collage and psycho-sex, but this will be my first survival thriller. The survival side is very important, because it’s the vector for universal situations and human values in which people can identify themselves.
FANG: Why do you think FANTASY was pulled from TouTV?
GRONDIN: I prefer not to think about it; it makes me too angry. The film was in a special section called “Collection déroutante,” which means “Disturbing Collection” in English. What the hell did people expected? TouTV saw the film and wanted it, and we signed a contract. And just because some anonymous people—I have no idea how many, since the film had no publicity yet, and was not easy to find on their website—complained, they didn’t stand by their choice and automatically removed it.
FANG: Any idea of when it will be restored?
GRONDIN: The last message I got from the guy in charge of the programming said my case was in his boss’ office. Three days later, the boss wrote me that the film was accepted without her approval. She said that it didn’t fit their editorial view. I wrote her an e-mail back, but there’s still no answer at this point.
FANG: Who are the filmmakers, writers and other artists who have influenced your exploration of the sort of material you like to explore?
GRONDIN: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved dark, muddled atmospheres and characters. There are so many influences I could mention here. I admire the brutal, old, traditional Italian horror films, all the Hammer vampire films—especially those starring Christopher Lee—exploitation films, German Expressionism, erotic and porno movies. Some masters have marked me deeply: Argento, De Palma, Bava, Haneke and Murnau.
My favorites writers at this day are the Marquis de Sade, François Mauriac and Amélie Nothomb. On the audio level, because music is a big part of my inspirations, I would say alternative music from the ’80s—Alien Sex Fiend, Neon Judgement, Nitzer Ebb, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc.—classical music in general, Nina Hagen, François de Roubaix and Sergei Rachmaninov.
FANG: What is behind your interest in exploring dark and transgressive narratives?
GRONDIN: I can’t really answer that. I guess it’s just part of who I am. There are tons of standard films made to comfort everyone with used-up subjects. I see and feel things differently. As far as I can remember, I’ve felt and seen things differently. For most of my life, I wondered about my thoughts, my feelings. Now I accept that I will always be an “other.” I’m more into shouts and whispers.