A low-key drama about a novelist that takes a 180 degree turn halfway through? Oliver from Asian Film Fans sits down to talk with Cédric Jouarie, the director of an independent feature called The Very Last Day. The film tells the story of a best-selling writer who is forced into a situation where he must confront his inspirations while his world threatens to come crashing down as truths about his past are revealed. Read the full story about the production that was based on the director’s personal experiences:
The Very Last Day is your debut feature. Why have you decided to shoot the film in Taiwan?
I have lived in Taiwan since 2012. We have a production company that I run together with my wife, it is called Kamomé International. I have directed many short films and made a lot of video content here. More than half of our friends work in the film and/or media industry. So, it made sense to make the film here, where there are so many talented people, behind and in front of the camera.
Could you explain to the readers the real reason that pushed you to write this meta-story with a double twist? I was quite shocked when I read this in the promotion materials.
I have been sexually assaulted by my best friend’s stepfather when I was a teenager. Things like this should never happen, but they do. To the point where, I thought at first that I was making a movie that was very personal TO ME, but when we started crewing up and casting, many of the people involved in the film revealed to us that they have had similar experiences. Sexual misconduct is a plague. To those who think the #MeToo movement saw an unbelievable amount of people speaking up, I will say that all those voices are still the tiny visible part of the iceberg. This problem is old, this problem is deep, and it has to stop. Now can I end it with our film? Sadly not. But at the very least, the film can give a chance for a conversation to happen. More than once, after a public screening of the film, members of the audience came to thank me for making it, because they saw themselves in some of the characters’ plight. It always makes me feel both humbled and angry.
You have mentioned that it took you ten years to write the screenplay. Was it your intention to follow the structure of such films as "Misery" and "Audition"?
It was never an intention from the get-go, but as I was developing the film and writing the script, those similarities appeared to me. The truth is that I am what you might call a film buff, so, whether I want it or not, I am influenced by all the films I have seen. I did not shy away from these references either. I absolutely take it as a compliment when people tell me The Very Last Day reminds them of Misery (1990) or Audition (1999), or even Hard Candy (2005). These films were made by filmmakers for whom I have both admiration and respect, so I will always welcome these comparisons with pride.
The convoluted life of a novelist is frequently explored in many movies. What made you choose this particular theme?
Writers are creators. They have a God-like power over the characters that they create. But with success, they can sometimes feel that this power transpires in real life – it does not. At the same time, writers often feel this overwhelming need to be loved, to be admired, to be needed, and this insatiable craving for attention can make them immensely fragile. This mix of senseless entitlement and extreme vulnerability is the perfect ground for psychosis; therefore, they make good characters. Also, the man who assaulted me in my childhood was a writer so, obviously, there’s that as well.
Can you elaborate on the meaning of the title in the context of the narrative?
I do not want to spoil any plot point, but the title expresses this idea that all it takes is one day, one moment, one event for your life to be changed forever. Sometimes, it can be for the best; but in the film, it is definitely for the worst.
In my opinion, some of the scenes resemble the style of Edward Yang. Were you influenced by this director and/or other Taiwanese filmmakers?
Being compared to Edward Yang is the highest praise any filmmaker could receive. He was an exceptionally talented and versatile director. Many filmgoers know Yi Yi (2000) because it won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000, but my personal favorite is Terrorizers (1986). So, if you see some of his influence in my work, I can only be grateful. I also have an incommensurable love for the early films of Tsai Ming Liang. In many ways, my medium-length film Wish Hotel (2012) is a tribute to Tsai’s movies. I also love Japanese films a lot, and Takashi Miike, Shynia Tsukamoto, as well as Takeshi Kitano are all my idols.
Did you manage to produce the film entirely on your own? Was there any external organization involved?
The Very Last Day is entirely self-financed. 90% of the budget comes from selling the apartment I had in Paris. It took me 15 years to pay for it and about 15 weeks to spend it all. The remaining 10% were raised on the indie cinema crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark.
Can you tell us a bit more about the casting process? How did your work with the cast look like? Even though this is an indie production, the actors and actresses clearly gave their best in front of the camera.
There were 30 speaking parts in the film before the final edit (scenes have been cut since, so it is 24 now) and we auditioned over 200 actors for it. It was a pretty long process, but it was worth it. Once we had all our actors, we rehearsed all the scenes from the film for about a week or so. We also choreographed the action sequences during that time. On The Very Last Day, I was lucky to work mostly with actors with a stage background. I happen to love stage theater actors because they have a lot of stamina, which is necessary when you work with me because I like to do many takes. Five or six are a minimum, and up to nine or ten is not that uncommon. And when I have a good one, I usually ask for another "just for fun"! It had become a running gag on set. Though, having edited the film myself, I can assure you that the takes I used were always in the last two. So, it was not just a quirk on my part. It really was for the good of the film and all those involved, cast and crew alike understood that.
Do you have plans for any future projects? I would love to see more films directed by you.
I would certainly love that too, but I do not have another apartment to sell! I have literally bet everything I had on this one so, my ability to make more depends greatly on the success of The Very Last Day. Nevertheless, I am currently writing a new script. It is a supernatural thriller, a mix of Final Destination (2000) and Seven (1995), tackling the themes of artistic creation and mental illness.
The movie premiered on December 9, 2018 in Italy. Please check below to see Asian Film Fans official review:
Kamomé International official site: https://www.kamomeintl.com/