Writer-director Alice Winocour discusses the genesis of the film, directing Matthias Schoenaerts, and the highly effective subjective sound mix. Read our review of the film here.
Alice Winocour’s sophomore feature, Disorder, is a heart-pounding psychological thriller. Set almost entirely inside an estate called Maryland, the film’s French title, we follow Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), an ex-soldier suffering with PTSD as he’s tasked to care for a diplomat’s wife, Jesse (Diane Kruger), and their son.
One of the highlights of the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, it also features a compelling central performance from Matthias Schoenaerts who communicates menace, vulnerability, and sensitivity almost entirely through his physicality.
When the film screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I sat down with writer-director Alice Winocour to discuss the genesis of the film, directing Matthias Schoenaerts, and the highly effective subjective sound mix.
The inspiration for the film
7R: How did you get the idea for the film?
Alice Winocour: The idea of the film came to me because I met a lot of soldiers back from Afghanistan. They told me about their fears, their aversity to violence, their difficulty coping with reality and normality, [and] the feeling of not being part of our world because their world is really different from our world. Vincent is like a mix of all the soldiers I met.
I tried to imagine this fucked up soldier that is really confronted with a shitty world of money and power, arms dealers and corrupted politicians. He doesn’t understand anything about it, but he feels like there is a threat and a hidden violence.I tried to imagine this fucked up soldier that is really confronted with a shitty world of money and power.Click To Tweet
To me, fear is the major theme of the film. I put all of my fears into the film: my fears from my childhood — fear of the dark, fear of the storm — and also more contemporary fears with the constant flow of information, like the breaking news with very violent images, and the feeling of witnessing everything but being completely powerless. This was exactly where Vincent is coming from. He’s there, but he doesn’t understand anything about what is going on. And then the film bursts into violence.I put all of my fears into the film: my fears from my childhood.Click To Tweet
Also, what is important to me is the love story, even if it’s a strange love story. They are clashing with each other, but at the same time, they are living something sentimental together. Jesse [Diane Kruger’s character], she’s also a prisoner, in this golden prison. She’s also suffering in this world, and that’s why they fit together.
The central love story between Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger
7R: I really liked the way that love story played out. It slowly develops as attraction and flirtation, but very muted. How did you think about how to create that sense of their interest but without falling into cliche?
Alice Winocour: There is a huge difference in class between the two of them, and that’s why it’s an impossible relationship at the beginning. I also like that he is frightening to her. Even when she desires him, she’s afraid of him. From the beginning to the end, he is frightening. He is not a normal body guard. I like the idea that the person who is there to take care of you is really frightening and vulnerable, too.I like the idea that the person who is there to take care of you is really frightening and vulnerable, too.Click To Tweet
I wrote the film for Matthias [Schoenaerts]. I’d seen him in Bullhead and in Rust and Bone, and I really wanted to work with him. I like physical actors that have this animality. I’ve worked also with Vincent Lindon for Augustine, who is very physical, and Soko the actress, too. I knew I had to write for him. So I worked a year-and-a-half, and we had several meetings. We met a lot of soldiers together to inspire [sic.] the part.
I knew that he had this animality and [could pull off] this physical condition as an elite soldier. I wanted him to work himself into this kind of mental state. On the shooting, he was not sleeping anymore. He was only sleeping two hours per night. We knew that he had to feel in his eyes that he was in another world, so that he couldn’t fake it.
He really immerses himself into the part. That is really what I admire about actors and also artists, in general— when they are entering this zone where they lose control and they forget themselves.What I admire about actors..is when they lose control and they forget themselves.Click To Tweet
How Matthias Schoenaerts physicalized Vincent
7R: How did you work with Matthias Schoenaerts to prepare for the role?
Alice Winocour: We didn’t have much time because he was shooting so many films. But we worked a lot on his body with the scars and the tattoos. None of them are real. I thought he had to carry his history on his body. So we have imagined all this traumatized body.
To me, this and my previous film, Augustine, are not so different. I think I’m really obsessed by traumatized bodies and dysfunctional bodies — when there is no word to express your state and your pain or your desire. It’s the body, which is speaking: [it’s] like you’re screaming with your body.I'm really obsessed by traumatized bodies and dysfunctional bodies.Click To Tweet
In Augustine, it was these women who were revolting. They didn’t have education to revolt themselves so they had violent fits. In Disorder, those soldiers were very close to death and to hell. They had come very close to death so death is in their body. They’re in another world.
[In Disorder], I was looking for this loss of control and these little details, like the sweating. It was subtle. Also, with the sound, I knew I would have to work in post-production. To me, all the film is like a dream, like a mix of a nightmare. That’s why in France it’s called Maryland, in opposition to Wonderland.
But I like the title Disorder, because to me, it’s the disorder of his body, of the weather, of the world around them. Everything is dysfunctional, but still, they meet each other. You don’t really know at the end if it’s real or not. Because I’m really romantic, I think it’s real. I like the idea that everyone can imagine what happens.
Subjective sound design gets us inside Vincent’s head
7R: The sound design in the film is really great and subjective. How did you go about putting that together?
Alice Winocour: We did a huge amount of work on the soundtrack of the film. I had this obsession with being in a single point of view of a character: to see what he can see, to understand what he can understand, and to hear what he can hear — to be under the skin of Vincent, really in his perspective. I wanted the film to be like a sensory experience, both physical and carnal. The sound was a distorted reality, to recreate the mental landscape of a soldier coming back from combat. We worked a lot on the little sounds, like breathing.I wanted the film to be like a sensory experience, both physical and carnal.Click To Tweet
I wanted the audience to feel the same doubt that he does. Doubt is the principle ingredient of a paranoid thriller. I was thinking it would be great if the audience would think, “Are we really hearing what we here? Are we really seeing what we see?” — to be in this no man’s land. You never know what is going on or what is going to happen. I also was really inspired by those perception narrative films like Coppola’s The Conversation.
The music by Gesaffelstein — he’s an electronic musician — working with him was very important to create the mental state of a soldier suffering from all of these PTSD symptoms.Doubt is the principle ingredient of a paranoid thriller.Click To Tweet
7R: When you’re trying to create that distorted sense of reality, how did that play out visually with how you decided to shoot it and to show Vincent’s perspective?
Alice Winocour: Everything — the image, the sound, the slow motion, the performances — was affected by that. At the beginning, it’s almost like a documentary film. When he arrives with the security team, there is even a real sniper with the team. I really thought about lt like a documentary.As the film runs, it sinks into a nightmare or a fantasy — something really weird where you feel like you’re inside Vincent’s head.Click To Tweet
As the film runs, it sinks into a nightmare or a fantasy — something really weird where you feel like you’re inside Vincent’s head.
Read more: Matthias Schoenaerts and the art of not speaking >>
Read more: Review: Disorder is a smart, heartpounding thriller >>