Xavier Seron • Director of Chiennes de vies

Xavier Seron • Director of Chiennes de vies

“The film is about our fundamental need to be loved, and our loneliness, two sides of the same coin”

– Meeting with the Belgian filmmaker, who continues the exploration of our contemporary neuroses through the singular relationship between three pairs of humans and their dog

Meeting with the Belgian filmmaker Xavier Seronback in long format 8 years later I’m killing myself saying it (+read also:
critical
trailer
interview: Xavier Seron
film profile
)
. With female dogs of life (+read also:
critical
trailer
interview: Xavier Seron
film profile
)
, which is released this Wednesday, March 20 in Belgium with O’Brother, it continues the exploration of our contemporary neuroses with caustic humor and in spectacular black and white through the singular relationship between three pairs of humans and their dog. A biting comedy that shows our ontological solitude.

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Cineuropa: What are the origins of this project?
Xavier Seron:
I grew up with dogs, they reveal our humanity. Elliott Erwitt, a photographer who recently died, photographed dogs a lot, and he said: “Look closely at these photos, they are not dogs, they are people.” This prism allowed me to talk about us. The other trigger for the film was when my producer called me to find out if I had a project compatible with the aid for light productions from the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, which allows, and requires, filming projects of feature films in 24 months. Given the time it took me to edit my first film, this prospect appealed to me.

What did you want this relationship with dogs to say about our relationships with humans?
There are those who love dogs, and those who are afraid of them. Both postures say something. The first is that we look for in dogs what we look for in our peers: loyalty, absence of judgment, listening, joy of living. Qualities that dogs offer, humans less so. But dogs can also be scary, we can see them as a vector of disease, or a mean dog. Somehow, it speaks to themes that run through the film: the fundamental need to be loved, and our loneliness, which are two sides of the same coin.

It’s an almost ontological solitude.
Yes, it’s a little sad, of course, but my father always told me that we would always be alone in the face of death anyway. These may be generalities, but I think that we are fundamentally social beings, we seek contact with others, and at the same time, “hell is other people”. How to reconcile this? Sometimes, the dog can become a refuge in the face of this paradox, an easier companion to live with. It’s rare for a dog to contradict you! He brings you the same affection whatever your status.

Why deploy this reflection in three narrative movements?
I was fascinated by A Touch of Sin of Jia Zhang-ke, I found it particularly remarkable that at the end of each segment, a character takes us into the next one, like in a relay race. And then he assigned each part of the film a cinematic genre, and I found that to be a super exciting challenge. I wanted to ensure that the three parts were linked together, while still being three distinct chapters of the story. And I wanted to try three genres: an offbeat and crazy comedy with a dose of horror, which I had already been able to tackle in my previous films; a moral tale, and a social critique that I had approached with my fingertips; and then a romantic comedy that was a little more naturalistic, which really took me away from what I had been able to do before. I had to tame my fear of sinking into pathos, which until now I had always defused with humor. Here, I wanted to let emotion in.

Humor is a link between the three stories, a look at the world which allows us to show some pretty harsh things.
We often talk about the politeness of despair, this is even more the case with black humor, which talks about tragic things, death, illness, loneliness. The attitude when faced with something that touches us, upsets us, distresses us, makes us feel helpless, is to try to laugh about it without making fun of it, without discrediting the distress. It’s a way of asking questions, even if we don’t have the answers. Humor has a therapeutic dimension for me. The ship is sinking, let’s try to laugh about it, that will at least help us pass the moment in a less painful way.

The other link between the three chapters is black and white.
Black and white is a glue between the stories, a narrative bubble too, which allows very different things to coexist. And then my cinema is a cinema of contrast. Pedro Costa said that cinema functions on two levels: on the one hand it is an abstraction for the spectator who perceives the world in colors, and for whom it is therefore a reconstruction which creates a distance, a retreat and a shift which makes it possible to laugh at tragedy; on the other hand, black and white embodies terribly, Costa even talks about skin tone, he makes you feel the textures, I find that very organic, very carnal. It brings us back to our condition of walking carcasses, piles of meat. Or to put it more beautifully, flowers that fade over time.

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