Evanescent nature

Stéphane Batut on the costumes in Burning Ghost and the importance of American movies

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Stéphane Batut, director of Burning Ghost (Vif-Argent) starring Thimotée Robart and Judith Chemla: “I saw a lot of films on TV very late in the evening, a lot of American films, John Ford, Vincente Minnelli.”
Stéphane Batut, director of Burning Ghost (Vif-Argent) starring Thimotée Robart and Judith Chemla: “I saw a lot of films on TV very late in the evening, a lot of American films, John Ford, Vincente Minnelli.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

On Tuesday afternoon, Film at Lincoln Center’s Florence Almozini made a surprise announcement that the Burning Ghost (Vif-Argent) director would be doing a brief Q&A following the US première. This gave me the opportunity to comment to Stéphane Batut on the costumes designed by Dorothée Guiraud (Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire; Lucie Borleteau’s Perfect Nanny; Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room) for his début feature.

Stéphane Batut on Juste’s (Thimotée Robart) costume anchoring the love scene: “I needed for the jacket to be particularly striking.”
Stéphane Batut on Juste’s (Thimotée Robart) costume anchoring the love scene: “I needed for the jacket to be particularly striking.”

Known as a much-in-demand casting director (Serge Bozon’s Mrs. Hyde; Mathieu Amalric’s Barbara; Claire DenisLet The Sunshine In; Étienne Comar’s Django; Nicole Garcia’s From The Land Of The Moon; Thomas Bidegain’s Les Cowboys; Maïwenn’s My King; Thomas Cailley’s Love At First Fight; Axelle Ropert’s Miss And The Doctors; Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into An Argument) Stéphane Batut also has a love for American movies. “When I was a child, my house wasn’t very close to a cinema, so I saw a lot of films on TV very late in the evening, a lot of American films, John Ford, Vincente Minnelli. For me American movies are very important, so perhaps you thought the film isn’t very French. There’s indeed a lot of American influence in it.”

Little did we know that on Thursday afternoon the 25th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema would come to an abrupt halt, following the screening of Rebecca Zlotowski’s An Easy Girl (Une Fille Facile) and that Film at Lincoln Center would announce that they are closing temporarily due to the guidelines set by Governor Cuomo on limiting gathering in public spaces because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, BAM Rose Cinemas has decided to no longer do 50% capacity and close and yesterday Metrograph had its last screenings. Film Forum will close from Sunday, March 15 through Tuesday, March 31.

Vif-Argent poster
Vif-Argent poster

Stéphane Batut greeted the audience at the Walter Reade Theater and in a serious voice said "I’m very moved to show you the film and very glad to be here, it wasn't so easy to come. I was in China before and so I had to take a boat."

When Stéphane started working with documentary film directors, he realised that he could contribute something else to cinema. “Certainly the work as casting director is an interesting way to learn about filmmaking. As a casting director one develops a very intimate relationship with a filmmaker. At that stage everything is still open. You work on multiple levels, at the script level or the editing level. You really walk through all the steps. This really nourished my approach. I feel I owe a lot to these people and to this experience.”

Burning Ghost takes place in Paris among the living and the dead. Juste (Thimotée Robart) is trapped in purgatory there and his wardrobe plays an intricate role in what is happening to him and those surrounding him. Agathe (Judith Chemla), very much alive, encounters this restless soul of the man she met a long time ago and could never forget.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You made some really interesting decisions with the costumes [by Dorothée Guiraud]. Now we know that even in the in-between world you have to do laundry. Could you talk a bit about the costumes?

Stéphane Batut: The costumes are really important for me. Also in terms of the dramatic role they play. Indeed the sequined jacket allows the protagonist to make the switch, the transition between being just a spectator to other people’s lives to being an actor in his own life. Costumes for me are not only a way to convey realism, but actually take on storytelling capabilities.

Agathe (Judith Chemla) with Juste (Thimotée Robart) in Burning Ghost
Agathe (Judith Chemla) with Juste (Thimotée Robart) in Burning Ghost

For example in the love scene where he [Juste played by Thimotée Robart] is invisible, I needed something to anchor the scene. That’s why I used the jacket that was still visible. I needed for the jacket to be particularly striking. And that’s what it was. And for the final scenes where he is wearing her [Agathe’s played by Judith Chemla] blouse which is very short, too short for him, it says something about his place in the world and the fleeting nature of it. So it does have a connection to nature, to life.

The theme of water is ever-present in the movie. The water from the river, the canal. I wanted for that to be echoed in the costumes as well, in particular in the women’s costumes, which have this very evanescent nature. And the jacket also takes on a kind of fleeting character.

I can talk about the costumes to a great extent because the person who created the costumes [Dorothée Guiraud] for the film is actually the mother of my children. And therefore I was able to follow that part very very intimately.

UniFrance and Film at Lincoln Center’s 25th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema was originally scheduled to run through today, March 15.

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