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The Big Green
Directed by: Laurenzo Massoni
Cast: Jeanne Arènes
Synopsis: The owner of a logging camp suddenly finds herself stuck up a tree without a ladder and no signal on her mobile phone. The only way out is up.
The Big Green is a massive production. The credits are as long and involved as a major blockbuster feature film. How did the idea come to you and what inspired you to get involved?
The first idea was not mine--it was that of screenwriter Benoit Gontier. Benoit had been involved in actions that offered to people to go through cities from tree to tree. He used to climb and wanted to make a movie about someone in a tree. He came with a first script and then we rewrote it together.
We wanted to talk about environmental matters, but not as a documentary and without delivering a specific message. We wanted to tell a human story about desperation and how a tree can help you. If you go into a forest, you know how calm it is, how deep it can go inside you, bringing so much peace. So that's it. We decided to write the story of a woman that couldn't breathe anymore, and who will finally manage to recover her breathing. We didn't want to explain what she will do later. Now that she has some oxygen, she's free to look over the canopy and decide on her own, without fear. Obviously, she's at peace with trees now. We also wanted to write about a woman working in a very masculine world. My companion helped me a lot in this part, sharing her experience as a worker on trains.
You talked about the massive credits and you're right. I had an incredible team. Every director will say so about his team, but what these guys have done...that was crazy. They are usually shooting in major movies. They came only for the story and to find out how to shoot in a tree. They invented so much on set. Always smiling. Nothing was impossible. No problems, only solutions. And with a total respect for Jeanne as she needed to be correct at the first take almost all the time and as it was terrible for her. Even someone as big as Anne Siebel, who won an Oscar, took a full week to work on the set design, using her own car to bring all the props on the set! It's a cliché, I know, but what I'm the most grateful for now is the collective adventure we had in that forest.
It's incredible that actress Jeanne Arenes holds the film for its entire length. What made you decide to cast her in the role?
You know, that's funny because as soon as Benoit told me about his idea, I wanted to work with her. And then he gave me the script and I discovered that the character was named Jeanne too! Jeanne is someone I have known and appreciated for 10 years but we were not close before the movie. She was cast in a short movie in which I was 1st assistant. I had been impressed by her dedication to the role back then. She came to see one of my old short movies and loved it. So we decided to work together one day. Then she had met success (she has won a Moliere, which in France is the greatest award for an actress in live theatre) but a terrible disease locked her in a hospital room for two years. So The Big Green was a way for her to go back to a very physical role. She hesitated a lot because she thought that there was no way that this movie could be funded. I was very lucky that she said yes. The shooting was very intense and painful. She was stuck between branches for 8 hours some days with small shoes. But she never wanted to stop. She had vertigo you and was totally afraid. But she was in character as soon as I said “action.” And she asked for more takes until she was satisfied.
What were the challenges shooting a film amongst the trees and how did you overcome them?
Haha! There were so many challenges. We had to invent a way to work, as no one had done it before to our knowledge. There were always six people in the tree with Jeanne--one for her security, and five for the camera. Benjamin Vial operated the camera and the others moved him around with ropes. For the last scene, we had to build a 50cm platform for Jeanne. The travelling mechanism was a scale with a skateboard on it--to keep it light--because the branches were very thin. And as it was windy, the higher branches could move around for more than one meter. There are so many tricks like this. We had four days to shoot...making an 18-minute on a flat ground in four days is hard, so imagine doing it in a tree.
Do you see films with an environmental theme becoming a genre onto itself? And are there any past films of this type that you would call influential in your own career?
I will say that I hope so. Right now, most of the movies about environment are documentaries or post-apocalyptic movies. But if I had one wish, it would be that people will carry on writing stories that connect humans and environment in an emotional way. Of course, there are already a lot of movies that have done it but it's not a genre. But if you ask me, the best director for this kind of movies is Hayao Miyazaki. Nausicaa In The Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, etc. He always finds a way to connect the child we still are to nature and make absolute masterpieces.
What message do you want people to take away from the film?
I don't make movies for delivering a message. In fact, I would love that people explain to me the message they found inside the movie and what they take away of it. That would say that I've made a movie that allows the audience to be free to be themselves and that they have given me the opportunity to understand more who I am!