Léo Berne and Raphaël Rodriguez have built an intriguing, surreal world in their film The Censor of Dreams. We were lucky enough to be able to speak to the pair about their film and the process behind creating such a unique piece of cinema.
Describe The Censor of Dreams in one word.
What inspired you to tell this story?
It’s an adaptation of a short story by Japanese writer Yasutaka Tsutsui (Paprika, The girl who leaps through time). In terms of influence during the preparation, we can quote Afterlife by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Brazil by Terry Guilliam, or Kwaidan by Masaki Kobayashi.
Is there something specific that you hope audiences take away from viewing your film?
It was important for us to tell a real little story full of mysteries and twists, with a beginning and an end going through different emotions from comedy to drama and we hope that the film leaves the viewer surprised and moved after watching the film.
Was there anything about this filmmaking process that you all found particularly difficult? How did you overcome it?
In our script, there’s a swimming pool appearing in a big room and a lot of things happening around it. Obviously, we couldn’t afford to have big special effects throughout the whole film, so we concentrated the money on one big wide shot showing the swimming pool (in CGI) in the room so the audience buys its existence. That being done, we could go on with simpler tricks, like shooting inside a real swimming pool with pieces of the same carpet from the room patched around it.
Can you talk about what it was like writing The Censor of Dreams as well as directing the film?
Starting from Yasutaka Tsutsui’s short story, we both rewrote the story to make it works on screen. The story was a bit too didactic and we wanted it to remain a bit more mysterious at the beginning. We ping-ponged ideas during the development and writing process and it was very rewarding. It was a bit the same on the set of the film where we created a real family with the crew in which we both blended in by sharing the different directing tasks without one being specifically assigned to one or the other. We love this organic and close-knit way of working.
How do you feel like collaborating in the creative process has affected your final product in this case?
We come from a collective of 4 directors (Megaforce), so we’re used to collaborating. We learned to put the ego aside and think everything in common. Being open to any change, even radical, allowed us to feel free in this process. The ending for instance changed radically when we found Yoko for the host character. The first plan was to end with a long monolog of this character, but when we worked with Yoko, who comes from Buto dance, we found it stronger to go for a nonverbal, more visual, ending and we’re very happy about that.
Talk about the way you expected viewers to respond to the film versus the way that they have.
During screenings of the film at the Warsaw International Film Festival we were surprised by the reactions of the audience, in particular, there were genuine moments of proper, infectious laughter in the theatre and we did not expect such big and positive reactions. It was amazing and inspiring.
Was there a particular reason you chose to have some actors speak English while others spoke French?
Through the film, we treat the making of the dreams like a film shoot. The censor and his co-worker being the directors, we needed a character who puts pressure on them to deliver the dream in time; basically a first AD. As ourselves being french directors shooting abroad pretty much all the time, we end up working with English-speaking first ADs only. That, somehow, constructed an association in our psyché, so the language of our first AD had to be English. But it’s not only a private joke, we also feel Anglo-Saxon culture incarnates a strong pragmatic mindset in contrast to our french characters being more intuitive and emotional.
This film is eligible to be considered for a 2022 Academy Award. Was this always the plan for the film and how do you feel about this?
No, it was not expected at all and it’s an honor to have a chance to be part of such a prestigious event. It’s a great opportunity for the film to have a bigger exposition and to be viewed by many.
What are your upcoming projects?
We are both developing our own feature films with Iconoclast, but still keeping the collaborative approach we always have, often brainstorming about each other’s projects. We feel there’s a fresh way for young directors in France to approach genre films these days, and we’re willing to be part of it.