This week’s Staff Pick Premiere comes from Adrien Merigeau in the Oscar-nominated “Genius Loci” – a psychedelic, fantastical journey taken by a young woman as she explores an ever-evolving cityscape.
With style for miles and a range of 20th-century modern painting influences, Merigeau wows with every frame and detail. Environments are consistently reimagined and contextualized through new angles, and color works in a stark way as it plays alongside white space. A cup of water turns into a river, a rogue carpet doubles as a trampoline – Merigeau stops at nothing to build a bonafide fever dream.
Merigeau explains the genesis for the film as processing trauma he’d experienced for himself and seen through friends, trauma that felt like “a constant flow state.” After squatting with artist friends in Paris during 2015, Merigeau recalls, “What really struck me was how much the city could feel like nature when you experience it at night through abandoned spaces. The nature/culture, order/chaos transcendence that became the heart of Genius Loci linked up with other interests of mine, like fairytales, experimental animation, and contemporary music.”
With a runtime of about 16 minutes, and informed by the wealth of his experiences and others, Merigeau elevates the short-form animated space with this unmistakable articulation of the abstract.
We caught up with director Adrien Merigeau to talk challenges, timeline, balancing the visual expression with the narrative, and advice to aspiring filmmakers.
“My very first inspiration for ‘Genius Loci’ was drawn from my group of friends, when I lived in Kilkenny, Ireland between 2011 and 2014. They were a group of beautiful characters, poets, and musicians living in an old water mill outside of the city. The way they were living the moment was very inspiring to me.
The situations we went through, the moments we shared, it felt like experiencing a type of constant flow state. It also felt like it was a way to deal with personal trauma for some of us. I wanted to write about a person like this in some way. Specifically, a person and their spirit, as a metaphor for the poetry and the inspiration that my friends were radiating then.”
“My main challenge was to let the film drift away from the narrative structure using sensitive, poetic language. After a very narrative first draft that I felt lacked sensitivity and openness, I shifted my writing process as I started drawing. It took about three years of adding and removing ideas until the film felt tight together and fluid from start to end. Similar to writing music in some way,
I didn’t want to explain anything explicitly, but rather for the audience to feel drawn into — and carried by — the on-screen presence throughout the film, like a raft drifting on a river. It took a lot of trial and error for that flow to start working, as I discovered what the film needed to be about, for it to feel tight and not too far-reaching or spread out.
The amount of back and forth needed in the writing process made it difficult to plan for production, as I never felt quite ready to hire our animation team. That could get quite stressful for both myself and Genius Loci’s producer Amaury Ovise at times. In 2018, Amaury made the decision to partner up with Folimage, a production company in Valence in France.
Until that point, I was working in my own art studio in Paris. Coming to Folimage, with a new animation team, I just had to lock down the animatic and finally start production, which was great and came at a good time. So I would say balancing between needing time to adjust the poetic flow of the film and the reality of the production deadlines was the biggest challenge for this film.”
“It took about 5 years to make ‘Genius Loci.’ The first year or two were spent writing and funding a project that started out to be more narrative than what it ended up being. Then I needed a couple of years to re-write it, and about 18 months for production. The deadline kept getting pushed back. At the end of the day, 5 years is not uncommon for the production of an animated short film, but I will try to be better prepared before starting preproduction next time!”
On the balance between visual and narrative:
“It was very tough to identify let alone articulate what the ideas were in the first place. Even now I find it hard to put into words. The film talks about the birth of a person’s inner spirituality as she experiences the chaos of a Parisian suburb at night, and the traumas she is escaping from. I also wanted to just focus on small details, observations, moments, and finally just for the character to take a back seat and experience beauty in broken spaces. The themes and intentions for the films were very dear to me but the actual representation of them needed a lot of digging and most of what happens in the film comes from some sort of accident.
I wanted the visual expression of the film to tell the film story intrinsically. And then I worked with wonderful artists to narrow down the scenes and make the whole film shine, specifically Brecht Evens, Celine Devaux, and Alan Holly who were a huge help from the start.”
On advice to aspiring filmmakers:
“As a teenager, my original artistic interests were often connected to folklore and fairytales. What I aspire to now is to represent more personal, real-life, and specific scenes that I live through and observe in my day-to-day life. It pushes me to put myself in situations that are interesting to me, friends that inspire me, and social dynamics that I care about.
I love taking notes of discussions, writing about extraordinary locations that exist in real life, and taking note of moments that were touching, meaningful, or just put me in that flow state. It can also be very small, or insignificant — but a reflection of light, a side-eye look, a floating moment, or trash on the sidewalk. I love the attention to detail that gives the feeling of living in the present moment. Let the story tell itself through observations and details.”