Matthieu Liénart, Amphibian Film Director

Matthieu Liénart has been passionate about cinema since a very young age. Here, he tells us about his latest video, made entirely underwater for the band Keys Zuna. An opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes of an atypical shoot and the discover the work of a director in photography. 

Hi Matthieu, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Matthieu Liénart, I am a director in my last year at the École de la Cité du Cinéma. I have directed mainly short films and video clips, as well as Virtual Reality movies.

“For some time I had this idea of making a film entirely underwater, as if it was a normal environment for the characters.”

What drove you to direct?

I started making films at the age of 10 with my parents’ VHS Camcorders, I continued to make films all my teen years to have fun. It was done quite naturally, trying to professionalize my approach little by little. I then went to Germany for two years, where I was trained in audiovisual technique, and then entered the director program at the École de la Cité, founded by Luc Besson. Matthieu Liénart, Amphibian Film Director

The music video you directed for Keys Zuna was shot in the water. Why this choice?

For some time I had this idea of making a film entirely underwater as if it was a normal environment for the characters.  I also had strong visuals in my head, ideas of frame, light, and

, but I still had no justification for all that.

“We knew it was going to be complicated to shoot underwater, but reality was even more challenging!”

Then the scriptwriter of the video, Amélie Delamotte, introduced me to the band Keys Zuna, who had composed this soaring music that corresponded perfectly to the atmosphere I had in mind. A story was then written that linked together the character’s feelings, the visuals, and the music.

What challenges did you encounter in this clip?

We knew it was going to be complicated to shoot underwater, but the reality was even more challenging! The film having been made with a micro-budget it was necessary to adapt to the production constraints. The first challenge was to overcome the water temperature, the clip was shot in December in a pool that was only 24 degrees [celcius], because of heating problems the water was gradually cooling. So we had to rewrite the story at the end of the first day to shoot in two days instead of three because we knew we couldn’t physically last another day with the temperature dropping in the pool. So we simplified the story and in the end, I really like it that way too!

“As for the story, the inspiration comes from real life, as it often does.”

We took turns at the frame with Chief Operator Mathilde Gaillard to survive in the cold, and the actresses did an incredible job of looking natural while being in apnea. The second challenge was technical, we had to face many problems during the first day of shooting, such as keeping the set in place in the water, the management of the underwater condensation on the box protecting the camera, and the difficulty of getting the camera to focus underwater. Fortunately, we quickly learned to manage these problems, everything worked well afterward!

“The clip being silent, you had to tell it all through the images.”

What were your inspirations?

I think the idea came from a “Top Secret” scene from 1984, it’s an absurd comedy scene of a fight in an underwater saloon, I thought I could use the same idea to tell another kind of story. For light I was inspired by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “L’enfer” essays. I imagine that I was also unconsciously influenced by certain films that I like, like Michel Gondry’s for the offbeat universe, and notably by the underwater scene in “L’Écume des jours”. As for the story, the inspiration comes from real life, as it often does.

Matthieu Liénart, Amphibian Film Director

What did you wish to communicate through the photography of this clip?

The clip being silent, it was necessary to tell everything by the image. The photography of the clip thus reflects the interiority and the state of mind of the main character interpreted by the talented Audrey Giacomini, it is a basic process but when she gets bored at home at the beginning the image is dull, without relief, then when she goes outside and meets the woman in red interpreted by Rosanna Simioni it is a debauchery of colours and a totally surreal dancing light.

The frame also reflects the character’s feelings, when they kiss each other there is no more top or bottom, the frame rotates with them so that there are no more landmarks in space and they are just in their bubble.

There is also something very sensorial in the photography at the end of the film, with macro 100mm lens shots we were able to capture the textures of the dresses and the skin, to capture a feeling of touch when they kiss underwater.

Matthieu Liénart, Amphibian Film Director

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start directing?

It’s something that you learn a lot through practice, the first films you make are often very bad, but I think it’s necessary to improve little by little.

I notice that when you start directing, everybody usually makes the same mistakes, one of them is wanting to make movies too long from the beginning, whereas for a first movie it’s better to concentrate on a 3-5 minute movie, with a very simple story and only one guiding idea, to have the time and resources to do it well.

“[…] I would advise you to take your time before you start shooting to really think about each shot…”

It’s something very obvious that I learned late, I would advise you to take your time before you start shooting to really think about each shot, every acting intention of the actors, every set element, in the sense of frame, focus, movement and light, and how it serves the meaning of the film as a whole, it’s a process that takes a lot of time and that’s also why it takes a lot of time.

I also noticed that many first films deal with the same themes like death, depression, loneliness… these movies are often very clichés, they are very difficult subjects to deal with, especially for a first film. I would advise to avoid these themes, and to talk about subjects that we know, subjects on which we have something original to tell, with honesty.

Do you have any other projects in preparation that you can tell us about?

I just shot my next short film, which is a burlesque/absurd action comedy where garbage comes to life and attacks people. A genre very different from this clip, but which amuses me a lot too!

There’s also my next Virtual Reality movie I’m working on, and other writing projects!

See more of Matthieu’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram

Matthieu Liénart, Amphibian Film Director