About Pleure pas Gabriel

by Marie-Pauline Mollaret

“Some people will never falter, but that’s their problem”. In her contemporary, modern romantic comedy, filled with memorable punchlines, Mathilde Chavanne claims her right to feel sad, to stumble and fall, and to not be a success-crazed overachiever. In short: the right to be deeply human, much like her wonderfully endearing characters that make you want to sing, laugh and shout along with them, as something of a fun happiness rehabilitation programme. 

Interview with Mathilde Chavanne

Pleure pas Gabriel is born out of the desire to make a funny film about depression, to show it facing our daily routine. When we meet Gabriel, he hasn’t been feeling well for a while, but the film opens as something breaks down and he is overwhelmed by his feelings. When you’re sad, you’re slower, stiller, you don’t exist in the exact space and time as other people, but you still live in the same world. Therefore, you’re out of time and you experience nonsensical situations that are conducive to comedy, and laughs are a beautiful gateway to tears to – casually - scratch what’s on the inside…

I believe I usually express myself through humour, and before making the film, I was frustrated I had never found a way to bring it to my narrative films. In his book Autoportrait [Self-portrait], Edouard Levé writes: “I’m funny, so people think I’m happy.” And it’s actually rather common for sad people to be really funny, it’s a weapon, a shield. When you need it, humour allows you to distance yourself, to withdraw, rather than be within yourself. So it making a comedy about sadness. It’s thinking about how not to be literal. How to dissociate tone and substance. And you do that through your script, your cast, interpretation, and - and very importantly - editing!

There’s nothing new in saying that what is private is political and politics affects our private lives. Except for some people - like those who govern us, at times - we are part of the world, we’re not separate from it, so of course, the world affects us. 

What was first to be the opening scene of the film, and which was later cut because it served no narrative purpose, took place in front of a wall where you could read [a sentence in French that translates into] “Conservative country, Cuntish country”. I loved to see this sentence in the first 30 seconds of the film - like a statement - because I feel it’s always a good thing to say in any situation. That being said, the film now kicks off with Gabriel, and the World is ushered in progressively, it’s less direct, and better, I believe. 

The film is set in our current social environment, it is the same backdrop as the crisis France is currently experiencing. Basically, being heartbroken sucks; being heartbroken and plain broke sucks more; and being heartbroken, plain broke and being condescended to by your President sucks even more, etc. And at some point, something’s gotta give. 

The sung parts came naturally when I was working on the script. I was writing the firefighter scene with this awkward character who can’t quite express what’s wrong with him, and I thought to myself: “What if he sang?” And singing allows him to tell us what he’s feeling, speaking childish, naïve words with absolute candour. 

I envisioned those songs as out of time / out of frame events, a character’s impulse towards us and towards himself or herself. I actually believe that it can be very liberating at times to let yourself think and say very simple, literal things, even if you look stupid. On screen, the songs are the only two moments we shot using a Steadicam, we move more slowly, more gently. They’re a lull, a couple of pages in the characters’ diary."

At La Semaine de La Critique