Interview: Monia Chokri (Heartbeats)
Source: IONCINEMA.com Exclusive
Heartbeats, directed by Xavier Dolan, is a romantic drama from Montreal that concerns the close-knit friendship of Marie (Monia Chokri) and Francis (Dolan), a straight woman and a gay man who create their own hipster enclave of Spanish-language pop songs and vintage 1960s bohemian flair. But when they both develop a crush on their mutual friend Nick (Niels Schneider), their competitiveness threatens to tear their friendship apart. The Cannes Un Certain Regard selected (here's our coverage of premiere night) film stands apart for its gorgeous slow-motion segments where music tells the story and the screen is filled with vibrant colors, a la Almodovar. The film has a marked influence of both Godard films starring Anna Karina as his hipster muse and Wong Kar-Wai films with Tony Leung mourning the loss of a lover, and is truly splendid yet opens up that uncomfortable feeling of when one has projected their own fantasies onto a crush then faces reality. Released by IFC Films theatrically yesterday in New York and March 4th in Los Angeles, I did a phoner interview with the French Canadian actress who is now preparing for Dolan's third film.
Melissa Silvestri: How did you and Xavier meet?
Monia Chokri: We met a few years ago by a common friend. The guy plays his boyfriend in I Killed My Mother, his first feature. His name is Francois Arnaud, who is an actor who is very talented.
Silvestri: What attracted you to this script?
Chokri: Well, it was not about attraction. I was at the beginning of the process, so I knew where I was going with it. And also, to work with my two good friends, Xavier and Niels [Schneider], so the basis of the project was working together, editing the script, and filming. It was a really interesting way of seeing love, or our idea of love.
Silvestri: The film has been compared to Truffaut's Jules et Jim, in terms of romantic love triangles between friends and having a mutual crush. Would you agree or disagree?
Chokri: Yes, I really love that movie, actually. It’s a movie that you see when you’re 17 years old, and it’s a normal way of seeing typical Francophone culture.
Silvestri: It had a way when watching that film that it felt very modern and fresh, not dated at all. I really enjoyed how in Heartbeats, the slow-motion musical moments were like music videos, and really brought a slow beauty to the film.
Chokri: We didn’t think of a music video when we were shooting the slow-motion musical segments. But we’ve grown up with videos, we’ve probably seen more videos. It’s something to see and affix to. For us, in my generation, it’s a way to think of editing in cinema right now. It’s such a natural way to film. So it’s a less stressing art for me, and it’s a big part of our narration, and a lot of great directors came out of music videos. You can see really great short movies in music videos too. When you think of Fever Ray, a band whose music is in the film – a big important aesthetic is the music video. So I think it’s a way that we see cinema now. It’s not a thing that we do on purpose, thinking in the music video way.
Silvestri: It was beautiful to watch, it expanded the film into a piece of art, between the first-person interviews about peoples’ failed relationships and the relationship between Marie and Francis as they both care for one another and compete over Nick. The music moments brought something colorful about the film.
Chokri: Yes. I believe that when you’re in love, or when you think you’re in love, there is this way of having this floating moment. Everything seems more beautiful and colorful and in slow-motion. Because we’ve grown up with those images of love, because of cinema. And I think it’s really important when you’re young. Most of the people who buy CDs or buy music are people from age 18 to 25, so music is a big part of youth. And every moment in your life, you can relate music to, to a relationship. And you can create this universe of color and music, and it’s part of love, too, in a way.
Silvestri: Was the character of Marie a collaborative process between you, Xavier, and the costume department, or was it singularly from Xavier’s script?
Chokri: It was in the script. I mean, with her dresses, Xavier really wanted something 1950s/1960s, because from that, he wanted to mix contemporary references. Because love has no age. Even as generations change, love is the same. It was a way to attribute to older generations who felt the same way about love. So it was in the script first, and then when we started with the dresses and everything, Marie appeared. I was thinking that if you dress like that, you have a way to see the world, and show yourself to people.
Silvestri: I’m reminded of the scene when Marie and Francis enter a party, dressed as James Dean and Audrey Hepburn, and the party is very much a contemporary scene, with House of Pain’s “Jump Around” playing, and they clearly stick out as vintage heads amongst the modern youth.
Chokri: I actually really love that scene, because we don’t see them a lot with people. We forget that they are really odd, or really awkward [laughs]. And when they enter that party, you realize that they’re really weird. I mean, they arrive with presents, even though it’s not the birthday of Nick. They are really like that, really weird.
Silvestri: There is this competitiveness over Nick between Marie and Francis, when they don’t really know him very well. Like in the scene when they’re talking about their presents for him, and one-upping each other. Why do you feel they become so competitive over him, and jeopardizing their friendship?
Chokri: It’s a game of the movie. And the thing is that there is no competition, because Nick is not into either of them.
Silvestri: Yes, because in the end, he has completely different ideas about each of them than they had thought.
Chokri: Yes, of course. It’s the idea of the movie. It’s not about love, it’s about the idea that you have of someone, and the projection you can have on someone, and thinking that you’re in love with that kind of person.
Silvestri: Exactly, that kind of projection messes up one’s own view of a person. My last question is, what are you working on now?
Chokri: I’m starting my third movie with Xavier, Laurence Anyways. We are in preparation right now.
IFC Films releases Heartbeats in New York on the 25th of February and March 4th in Los Angeles