Julien Lacheray, who has edited all of Alice Winocour’s features, discusses the collaboration between filmmaker and editor, thinking about sound, and Proxima. This is the second article in our Special Issue on Proxima.
“I like to think that I am somewhere between a midwife and a psychoanalyst,” writes Proxima editor Julien Lacheray to me by email. “I’m really there to help her [director Alice Winocour] give birth to the ideas and the movie.” The statement also gives a strong sense of Lacheray’s sensibilities as an editor who is equally interested in the psychological and the emotional. “The collaboration process between the filmmaker and me is the essential question,” writes Lacheray, who describes the relationship as the most intimate collaboration on a film. This is perhaps why his career has involved close collaborations with three directors, all women, on all of their features: Alice Winocour, Céline Sciamma, and Rebecca Zlotowski.
You know you’re watching a Lacheray film when there’s not a frame too many, and the sound design is front and centre supporting the narrative. Some of the finest moments in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, for example, are in the cutting: from the nighttime bonfire where Marianne offers a hand to Héloïse, to the next day, when they are once again hand in arm on the beach. Lacheray uses the sound as inspiration for his edits, and works to roughly layer the sound while he edits so that the sound can inform the picture edit. He also works closely with the whole sound design team, which on Proxima, included sound editor Valérie Deloof and sound mixer Marc Doisne.
What follows is an edited excerpt, translated from French by me, of Julien Lacheray’s email responses to my questions. He discusses his working relationship with Winocour, the difference between Winocour’s approach to editing and Sciamma’s, and why sound is so important.
Seventh Row (7R): You’ve worked with Alice on all of her features. How has your collaboration process changed and evolved over the years?
Julien Lacheray: The collaboration process between the filmmaker and me is the essential question, and it is at the heart of the editing process. There is no rule because each duo, and even each film, has its own logic; all films are practical cases. Of course, I quickly get into affective and even sentimental relationships with Alice and her films.
During the shoot, she deals with a lot of collaborators, and then at the end, it’s just the two of us. She’s face to face with her film and with a single interlocutor, me.
There are still always producers who aren’t far, but here we remain, the two of us, for three or four months, locked in a room together every day. It is the longest and most intimate collaboration on a film. It’s almost like a couple’s daily life: we meet up every morning for coffee, and it’s ritualistic. And then, a language is created, which is the language of the film and also the language between two people. In this alliance, we are truly like children who invent an imaginary language that no one else understands. And fortunately, there is this language which acts as a bulwark against the rest of the world, but it takes time, and that is why the editing takes so long.
I guess I get to know Alice and her tastes better and better, and she gets to know mine, and we trust each other more and more. We are never in conflict or friction at work because I do not believe that it is productive at all. Editing really has to be a moment of listening where you put your pride aside; otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. Alice has ideas for her film, and at the same time, the film can resist them, so I have to help her overcome the confrontation and the resistance.
Even though we know each other well and have worked together before, I always feel, at the beginning, a bit of caution and reserve, that it’s my job to take care of both Alice and her film. And then, we start to say things more frankly. I would say that my work has to do with maieutics: I like to think that I am somewhere between a midwife and a psychoanalyst. I’m really there to help her give birth to the ideas and the movie. There is this dialogue between Alice and me, but also with her film, and it is basically the dialogue which will then be played out with the viewer.
7R: Alice has talked about how sensitive you are to both sound and music when editing. How do you think about sound in the editing process? Do you collaborate with the sound department?
Julien Lacheray: Yes, I love sound, sometimes even more than the image. It was Bresson who said, “The ear is much more creative than the eye.” I believe in that, in a way, at least in the place where I work. Alice loves working on the sound material and music, as well.
The sound work is dramaturgical so it’s completely part of the editing, and I like to spend time there. Very quickly, after the first assembly, I see all the takes, and I note intonations. I like to start editing dialogue from different takes. The soundtrack begins to break free from the image; that’s the first step towards that. And then we will refine the editing of the dialogue, resynchronizing, changing syllables, attacks, pitches…
The work on the production sound allows a lot of things because sound is a very malleable material. From the start, I have precise discussions with [dialogue editor] Laure-Anne [Darras], and she suggests things; she will look for words and syllables with a sharper ear than mine.
7R: How do you approach editing the sound itself?
Julien Lacheray: I’ll edit the idea of a sound rather than the sound itself. For example, I’m not going to spend hours trying out multiple rain sounds; I just pick one that immediately works for me. I plant the bases and principles which may or not be verified in the end. I’m looking for the note, the colour of the scenes. I don’t necessarily have the technical skills or the time to go further. At the start of the edit, we have a fairly bare soundtrack in terms of atmosphere and effects. But very quickly, we will need to draw spaces and dynamics. The sound will help us to embody the scenes, to physically fit into them.
When I run out of ideas for image editing, or to change my outlook on a sequence, I look for ambient sounds recorded during the shoot, or I will dig into sound banks on the internet. There, I will intuitively choose sounds that I immediately put on the timeline. I add and subtract and see what comes out. There are ideas that stick around, even sounds that we have become so used to that they are now part of the music for the film. And then, often on the contrary and fortunately, we take all that away, and we start on new bases.
New collaborators arrive during the sound editing and mixing, and it is a great joy because we regain energy. We defend our choices or question them again; we affirm them by specifying them. For several films, I have worked with [sound editor] Valérie Deloof, whose work I really like. I was the one who brought her on to Proxima for this first collaboration with Alice. I also ask for sounds from Valérie during the image editing, and I can already suggest things to her. Sometimes, she follows me, but sometimes, she makes a clean sweep, and that’s good.
In films like Disorder or Proxima, it is a fairly complex, rich, and composite soundtrack made up of superimposed musical layers ([composed by musicians] Gesaffelstein or [Ryūichi] Sakamoto, which I play with, and for which I am looking for placements) and strong sound choices, with great dynamics. I love editing music, too, and it’s a great joy to match songs to the images, to make them dance together.
With Marc Doisne, the sound mixer, the launch of the rocket [in Proxima] was arguably the loudest sound I have heard in an auditorium.
With Alice, I always go through the entire sound editing and mixing process. I accompany her every time.
7R: I understand that when Alice was shooting on location in the real astronaut training spaces, there were limitations on where she could put the camera and what she could film. How did that affect how you constructed scenes?
Julien Lacheray: The shooting of Proxima was a kind of race against time with very many sets indeed, at least two a day, and complicated sets on top of that. The Russians refused certain camera angles or wide shots, and everything had to be carefully prepared and announced to the authorities before filming. There is no longer any question of changing the position of the camera in the steppe or in the Soyuz capsule! It was especially difficult for Alice to believe sometimes in certain setting continuity. It is, above all, up to the script supervisor, Cécile Rodolakis, to be vigilant, and I am not really involved in these questions. I check that it works in the editing room, and it had to work because it was almost impossible to make retakes. I also reassure Alice to keep her moving forward on the set.
The film goes against the conquering American imagery of space exploration, and substitutes for it the corridors of the European Space Agency, and the somewhat dingy and post-Soviet settings of Star City and Baikonur. Alice chose to have the film take place before take off.
Instead of seeing the black infinity of space and the stars, we discover with Sarah the centrifuge in Russia, the training underwater, the birch forests, the Kazakh steppe, and the preparatory meetings with Thomas Pesquet who is a real astronaut who was on the ISS. In any case, it is the wealth of documentation and the real places that bring the story to life.
This sort of refusal of the spectacular pays off. So much so that some people have seen Proxima as like a documentary. Proxima is an Earth film, a space film nailed to the ground, and so it is almost a wish of asceticism and humility. We always said, with Alice, that the style of the film had to be European — neither completely French, nor American. We wanted to subvert the genre film, and we are clearly not in the traditional codes of the “space movie”. The strength of Alice’s film will be in the realism of its sets, its situations and its characters, and in this way, it becomes flesh and blood.
7R: You also have edited all of Céline Sciamma’s features. How does editing with Céline differ from editing with Alice?
Julien Lacheray: It’s actually very different because they have almost opposite attitudes in the way they make a movie. If we simplify, you could say that there are filmmakers who think about editing all the time — when writing, when shooting — and others who don’t. There are filmmakers who will leave questions open until the shoot and seek life through the chaos, by forgetting the script a little on the set or questioning it: this is the case with Alice, I think.
Céline locks in more. From the beginning, she writes with rhythms in mind, juxtapositions of images, ellipses. These ideas may remain or not, but in any case, she is on the set to make them come true first.
Alice, of course, also has very clear desires, but conversely, I think that, for her, each step must rather contradict the previous one. The shooting shakes up the scenario by seeking that something that is revealed in the frame and with the actors. And the editing then comes to work with or against that.
Well, of course, things are not that symmetrical; I’m theorizing because I have never really talked about any of this with them. But it’s true that Alice gladly displays her preference for a bit of mess on the set, her faith in a chaos that creates life outside of the script. She fears that everything will be too lifeless without it.
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