Director: Philippe Audi-Dor
Cast: Simon Haycock, Hugo Bolton, Elly Condron
Released: 27 September 2015
Reviewed By: Stu Greenfield
Love. Friendship. Lust. Relationships. Sexuality. They can all get so complicated and questionable at times. One minute you feel besotted with somebody, as if you never want them to leave your side. The next you are questioning everything you once believed to be true, everything you felt. This is not news for short film director Philippe Audi-Dor who has used the complexity of human nature and relationships as a focus of a number of his short films. 2014’s Bis and But We Love Each Other spring to mind as good examples. Audi-Dor returns this year with another tricky relationship with Raindance Film Festival contender, Wasp.
Wasp focuses on three individuals. The term ‘friends’ seems a little fake in this instance. Olivier (Haycock) and his boyfriend James (Bolton) visit Olivier’s family home in Province in the South of France. A romantic weekend break for the two of them a year into their relationship. A private home with a pool in a stunningly isolated location in the French countryside. It sounds perfect doesn’t it? And it would be, had James not invited an old University friend Caroline (Condron) to join them after she breaks up with her long term boyfriend. James’ sweet intentions turn sour as Caroline’s presence turns a beautiful trip into something ugly. Emotions turn raw and relationships are not the only thing that gets questioned in this subtle yet honest drama.
What is striking about Wasp is the simplicity in which it is presented. The setting is simple, the house feels like people have lived in it and there are few locations that are not in or around the house itself. The music is understated yet atmospheric and the cast consists solely of the three houseguests. This fits in well with director Pilippe Audi-Dor’s production ethic. He has been quoted as saying that the importance of his work lies in the silences, simplicity and subtlety. Talking to Movie Marker, Audi-Dor explains this style that shines through in Wasp.
P A-D – ‘My style will always be influenced by the story I am trying to tell. That said, I believe that overly complicated or ‘showing off’ shots often distract the audience from the story.
What I want to do is force my audience to truly pay attention to what is happening on their screen. If you spoon-feed them every single bit of information, they don’t need to properly focus on your film and will soon forget it.
If you’re courageous enough to treat them like the mature spectators they actually are, you’ll see that audiences do like to engage with a subtle piece. We live in an age where we are constantly surrounded by (on demand) movies and TV series, so the general public is very well trained in ‘movie-literacy’ so to speak. As a result, I really don’t think we should be scared to create multi-layered characters and films.
This is done very well within Wasp and the lack of adornment in terms of cinematography and production mean that the audiences focus is purely on the three characters and their individual journeys and combined suffering. The audience are given little back story to the characters other than what crops up in their own conversations so there is a distinct feel of being ‘in the moment’ much as the characters are. Both viewer and character are dealing with what is happening then and there without concern for excess erroneous information or over-complication. This encourages the audience to focus on the nuances in relationships between the three and how those relationships transform and grow. Or disintegrate, as the case may be.
The relationships in Wasp are tangible and the actors display a bond that drives the film forwards. This may be in no small part due to the actors living together in the same house used in the film and sleeping in the same films as lead actor Simon Haycock explains when talking to Movie Marker.
SH – ‘We got to spend a lot of time together during the shoot. Hugo and I were sharing a room upstairs, and Elly was downstairs – as in the film. We shared every meal together too, so with the great French food and beautiful sunsets there was lots of time to bond’
This unique way of preparing not only helped the cast develop the bond that is so obvious during the film, but also aided Simon in developing the character of Olivier.
SH – ‘The location was where the character spent a lot of time growing up. He had never taken a boyfriend there before, so that was a whole new thing for him. It was really useful investigating how Olivier might feel about that – and then how did he feel about a near stranger invading his family’s holiday home, his first holiday with James’
Given the honest portrayals and the insight into the emotional turmoil and confusion that is so often the ugly part of such situations, the audience may be forgiven for assuming this is written from the perspective of somebody who has been through a similar situation. In turn the portrayal of Olivier, that is played with such charm and conceited intrigue, must come from some sort of inspiration. Both the director and the lead actor explain:
P A-D – ‘Wasp definitely stems from the frustrations I went through as a sexually confused young man. I knew I wasn’t straight, but defining myself gay didn’t feel quite right either. During my studies in Cultural Sociology I discovered the Klein Sexual Orientation grid (mentioned in the film), which explores the complexity of sexuality in an in-depth but approachable way. It helped me understand who I was, while simultaneously planting the seed for Wasp in my mind. I felt as though sexually complex characters were too rarely portrayed on screen (unless they were unbalanced psychopaths…) and wanted to contribute to changing that.
Years later, Wasp was based on questions and feelings I was going through at the time of writing (a first relationship simultaneous to enrolling in art school and moving to three cities in the space of 6 months has a funny way of playing with your mind!), but is in no way a portrayal of real events. Let’s not forget we were dealing with cinema here – though it tries to stay realistic, it’s definitely more eventful than my daily life!
Overall I’d say Wasp is an emotional autobiography, but not in the facts it portrays’
SH – ‘I have been in a situation where I was in a relationship but then became attracted to someone else at the same time, something I think a lot of people can relate to. I definitely felt torn in the same way that Olivier does; do you act on that attraction? Although the situation I was in did not cause me to question my sexuality, it definitely caused me to question my values and existing relationship’
Audi-Dor has previously explained his fondness for allowing the audience to work aspects of the story out for themselves and for not spoon feeding them detail of the story. One of the aspects of Wasp that raises questions and encourages the audiences to think is its title, and the relevance of the wasp that is shown at certain points throughout the film. The innovative director explains his reasoning for using this imagery to Movie Marker.
P A-D – ‘To me, wasps evoke both a sense of summer (with its sunshine, swimming pools, etc.) as well as danger, which corresponds perfectly to what our story is all about. For this reason, I couldn’t imagine any other title for the film.
The way these insects behave is fascinating. Contrary to a bee, a wasp can sting repeatedly without fear of putting its life in danger. I felt the slightly reckless way in which the characters behave reflects this quite accurately. I also recently learned that the venom in wasps contains a pheromone that causes nearby wasps to become more aggressive. Who is the ‘wasp’ in the film is up for the audience to decide, but personally I believe that all characters become the wasp at one point or another, as they all end up ‘stinging’ each other – as if one’s venom had triggered aggressively in all the others.
The use of the wasp in the film is fairly straightforward. The opening sequence is my way of saying that even amongst the beautiful Provencal nature hides something dangerous – symbolised by the wasp. It will find its way into the house, and will do everything in its power to survive there. The final shot of the wasp is open to interpretation: Either negative (the death of the characters’ relationship), or positive (leaving behind what caused their disarray), or even as a bad omen – the danger that threatened them, though weakened, isn’t dead.
As you can guess I do love ambiguity, as I feel it forces the audience to discuss the film after watching it.
Last note on this insect, know that after a male wasp mates with the Queen, it dies shortly afterwards…’
Aside from the imagery within the film, the use of music is simple yet meaningful. With a variety of pieces used in the film including native French songs and operatic pieces there does appear to be a purpose in the music that is used within Wasp. In many films music is used to build up an emotion, such as tension on a horror film or sadness in a drama. In Wasp the film and music work together to communicate to the audience what is happening within the narrative. The musical choices mirror the internal struggles of each of the three individuals and eventually culminates in bringing them all together. Audi-Dor explains the importance of the careful use of music within his work.
P A-D – I like it when music has a particular meaning, so I was very careful as to how and when we used it. I was determined to use the French song ‘Tous les garçons et les filles’ by Françoise Hardy in the scene where Caroline and Olivier dance together. Though fairly upbeat, it’s actually a very sad song about someone telling us how unlucky in love they are. I saw it as an indirect way of expressing how Caroline feels (or even more interestingly how Olivier might feel). The song is again used when James, alone, starts to suspect something…
In regards to the score, brilliantly composed by Quentin Lachapele, we were very specific as to when we introduced the songs. If you pay attention, you’ll realize we first introduce an accapela version of the operatic piece when the camera is on Caroline, her attention turned towards Olivier. Later on, we introduce an instrumental piece during the solo car shot of Olivier who is searching for Caroline. In the finale we actually combined ‘her’ singing with ‘his’ instrumental, and introduced the last song when James finally confronts the other two characters. It’s both a culmination of the film and the music’
The beautiful location of Wasp adds more than majestic vistas. It is in itself a representation of the isolation the characters feel at certain points within the plot. It highlights the claustrophobia Olivier’s character may be feeling in a relationship where he cannot explore his full spectrum of feelings and desires. But why did Audi-Dor pick this particular area?
P A-D – ‘I go to the village where we shot the film (Gordes) every single year, so it’s definitely close to my heart. From the point of view of the plot, it was very important for the characters to be on holiday. I feel you allow yourself certain liberties and indulgences you wouldn’t normally do when stuck in your daily routine. The sun, the swimming pool, and the cocktails… all these elements also add to the film’s sensual atmosphere, which was crucial. Then the added fact of having it take place in an isolated village was also a way of making sure the characters only had each other to interact with, adding to the overall claustrophobic atmosphere’
On the surface Wasp appears to be a simple story of a love triangle, but when you delve into it there are a number of subtexts and nuances that culminate in a story that is well paced and intriguing. Although the low budget is a factor, this does not affect the flow of the film or the effectiveness of how the story is told is any way and in fact offers a subtlety that adds to the film. The performances are strong and well developed, which is no small part due to the preparation for the film and the fact that the actors and director all attended the same university so there was a previous bond to build on. Simon Haycock can next be seen in Kaleidoscope Man which is currently filming in Lanzarote, worlds away from Wasp.
SH – ‘It is a very different film from Wasp – lots of green screen, loads of locations and a much bigger cast’
Wasp will be released on the 27th September at the Raindance Film Festival and it is sure to cause a buzz. The film is clever in its simplicity and honest in its portrayal. Well written and well executed, dare to look beyond the surface and unwrap the layers underneath.