The Swiss filmmaker tells the eventful daily life of a home for teenagers in a fiction documented with precision. He gives us the secrets of making it
With The Mif, you immerse us in the daily life of a home for teenagers in which a forbidden sexual relationship between a 16-year-old teenager and a 14-year-old boy will set fire to the powder. What made you want to tackle this subject?
Frederic Baillif : I am a very intuitive person. For me, a film is first and foremost a desire. And for The Mif, I spontaneously went to this foster home that I knew from having worked there more than 20 years ago when I was a student educator. And I was lucky that Claudia, its director – who was going to retire – opened the doors to me and then agreed to play the role of director. She even found herself named best actress at the equivalent of the Swiss César!
You use the term “play”. From the start, did you see the film as fiction?
Yes, I never think documentary. Thanks to Claudia, who opened all the doors for us, I was able to meet the young girls who live in this home, talk to them, ask them to tell me about their lives. I therefore document myself with precision. But I’m going to use this material for fiction. Find character traits that I like to develop my characters, close to the “real” but different. Also find the subjects that I want to deal with. And to portray these characters, I just as spontaneously appeal to those who directly inspired them
Do you take tests?
No, I take everyone because, once again, I base myself on reality. In any case all those who want and want. I don’t force anyone. And I adapt to the personalities of each one. Someone who is shy and reserved in life will be shy and reserved on screen. An angry person will be very angry. For this, I set up improvisation workshops. Not with the aim of teaching them to play comedy but conversely so as not to act. The process is long and built on trust. I make things clear from the start. I assure them that nothing from their personal lives will be in the film unless they want to and in that case we talk about it together and only I will know. And I repeat, I ask them above all not to take themselves for actors. To be themselves. To use their own language. Because, with me, no line of dialogue is written. Just situations from which, on set, I whisper information in their ear if I see that they stumble over it. I also do very long takes that push each one to settle into the scenes and sometimes surprise me in directions that I didn’t expect.
LA MIF: AN EXCITING DIVE INTO THE HEART OF A HOME [CRITIQUE]
Does your script evolve as you work with your performers?
Yes but for The Mif, what fed me the most here was Claudia. A bottomless well of stories as she has seen all the colors. His confidences came to enrich the experiences that I myself had been able to live and develop a skeptical and critical point of view on the system and this profession of educator full of contradictions. I realize that suddenly, a lot of things happen in the short time of the story. But that’s the advantage of fiction over documentary. We can tighten the time of the action without betraying the essential.
The Mif is built on a game of flashbacks and flashforwards that offers different angles to the situations you have imagined. Was it written that way, or did you find the form during editing?
With everything I had in the box, there were a dozen different films possible! So at the end of filming, before I started editing, I started by taking a long break! To answer your question, this non-linear form was present from the writing. But with my editors, at first, we didn’t have the courage to follow this logic. We started with a classic, linear editing, going from A to Z. But I had really worked on this complex structure, in particular drawing heavily on Iñarritu’s films. This first assembly therefore did not satisfy me completely. And it was right at that moment that the confinement arose. I then took advantage of that time to start over from scratch and try to stay true to my first idea, by integrating events not foreseen by the script that had come to life on the set. Over these weeks, I have finally only returned to the origin of what has always been The Mif in my head.