Steps to success

Alexis Bruchon on doing it himself in The Woman With Leopard Shoes

by Jennie Kermode

The Woman With Leopard Shoes
The Woman With Leopard Shoes Photo: courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

Could you make a movie all by yourself? The Woman With Leopard Shoes (La Femme Aux Chaussures Leopard), which is screening as part of the Frightfest selection at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival isn’t quite a solo effort, but it’s amazing how much its creator, Alexis Bruchon, has put into it – as writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor and composer – especially as it’s his first film and he was learning on the job

It stars his brother, Paul Bruchon, as a young man who agrees to steal a box from a big house for an unseen woman who offers him a lot of money. The plan goes pear shaped when a lot of people arrive at the house for a party, leaving our hero trapped in a small study where he spends much of his time hiding under a desk, able to communicate only by text message and recognise the people who come in and out only by their shoes. Shot in luscious black and white, it’s a tense thriller which will also appeal to mystery fans. There’s plenty to be proud of here, but it still represents a hugely ambitious project, so when I meet Alexis I begin by asking what on Earth possessed him to take it on.

“I am an illustrator and graphic designer,” Alexis explains, “and I always dreamed to make movies, but as you say, It's a crazy thing to do that yourself because it's very expensive and you need a crew etc. So at first I decided to make a graphic novel. So I had a perfect novel of my own but I realised that I was not very fond of making comics. It was more a way to avoid my frustration. But the good thing was that it cost nothing, it was just a little ink and paper, and I realised that if you have strong concepts, and if you can have full control of what you do, like a drawing, you can make actually a film for almost nothing.

Paul Bruchon in The Woman With Leopard Shoes
Paul Bruchon in The Woman With Leopard Shoes Photo: courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

“So the starting point was an old idea I had and it came from Eyes Wide Shut – you know, the Kubrick movie. At the beginning of this scene with [Tom] Cruise and [Sydney] Pollack in the best room with the escort girl, and I was very fascinated with this image of something dirty in a very fancy party. So as a beginning I worked around this very simple image The challenge was to no show the party but only the point of view of this man who is hiding and treat what’s happening as a real horror story.”

It has similarities, he says, to Night Of The Living Dead, in that we have to try and work out what’s happening outside the space we’re in, but he notes that Romero’s film communicates a lot by sound whereas in this case all we have to go on is images.

I ask what inspired him to use shoes to tell us about people’s character.

“The idea was to characterise a character through his closet,” he says. “The clothes make the man. In this case what you wear and the way you move your legs tells us something about who you are and what are your emotions at certain moments. And so you have this fancy lady in these shoes, for example, and they are very strong shoes, very hungry. And I chose some particular shoes because the sole is jagged so it's like a lion. Basically it was a way to speak to the audience.”

The set, which he constructed with his dad, was based on a room in his grandmother’s house, he tells me. Sometimes what we see is the real room and sometimes it’s the set.

“It was like a puzzle. So we could put the camera wherever we wanted. It was very practical for us. The idea was to make technical equipment and sets by ourselves...That set was a real character, because it's the only way to put you into story and follow the story. It's very important because we have to recognise where is the danger and where is a safe place. So normally dark is insecure, and here it's the opposite. Light is danger – because it’s the outside – and darkness is a safe space.”

I ask about his decision to cast friends and family members.

“My brother is the main character,” he says, “and it’s lovely because I was very amazed by his [acting]. At the beginning, I planned to shoot the film with a Filipino actor. He's a friend of mine and very famous in his country. And I had this crazy idea to shoot the movie in Manila with a Philippine crew, etc. It would be absolutely fantastic but it was too expensive, so my friends and my family were very okay to support me and make the project. And so I had to search for an actor. And one day my brother said to me, ‘Hey, I can try,’ so we tried. And it was awesome.

Danger comes to light in The Woman With Leopard Shoes
Danger comes to light in The Woman With Leopard Shoes Photo: courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

“In the film there’s no dialogue sound. It’s like those Italian movies in the Sixties. So I could speak to him for every shots. And afterwards I had to record all the sound you can hear in the movie.”

This took him many hours of work, he says. I tell him that it contributed to the style of the film in a way that reminded me of the early work of Mario Bava, as did the soundtrack. Is it true that he composed it all himself although he had never worked with music before?

It is, he says. “At the beginning, I had a friend of mine to record the music, but he was not available. And then there was Covid and everyone had to stay in the house, and it was exactly when I wanted to make this movie. So in fact I cheated, because I never played instruments. I decided to make it as a visual element, like a visual editor. So I recorded a lot of songs, a lot of samples. I just picked some notes from composers I like. For example, you have some from the movie Alien, but I transformed that, and afterwards I put all this sound on the visual timeline and I compared it with the with the images.

“I’m pleased that you mentioned Bava because Bava was a very big source of inspiration to me. In particular, Blood And Black Lace. And there was a reference to The Spiral Staircase by Robert Siodmak.” The latter was inspiring in part, he says, because of the way that it invites viewers to think they’re watching one kind of story and then suddenly transforms into a different kind of story altogether.

I ask if those films influenced his decision to shoot in black and white?

“It’s not an homage or an aesthetic concept,” he says. “In fact, it's very pragmatic and narrative choice because at the beginning I wanted to make this film in, in black and whites because, as I said, you have light which represents danger, and dark, so, the audience has to to recognise very quickly, what is the danger and where is the safe place. So colour can be distracting because you have many informations. In black and white you have a very geometric structure so you can immediately see where is the danger. And so that's the principal reason. After that, I will not lie. I like very much black and white. My influences came from the Hollywood Golden Age and from films noirs.”

So how long did it take to put all these pieces together and finish the film?

The Woman With Leopard Shoes poster
The Woman With Leopard Shoes poster

“From the writing to the delivery, I think it's no more than two years,” he says casually, apparently unaware that that’s pretty good time even for films made by seasoned professionals with a lot of money behind them. The writing was tough, however. “I had to write and rewrite, again and again and again, this story, to put all the elements in the room. And after I storyboarded all of the movie frame by frame. I’m an illustrator so for me it’s more natural than writing. I’m not a very good dialogist.” He laughs.

“Afterwards, the montage was very, very lonely, because I had to rework and rewrite the montage. And it's like you have to shoot, for a second time, the movie, because the rushes – especially because the offscreen is very important – I had to edit it as they arrived”.

Despite all this, he’s planning to make more films in the future.

“I have already written my next film and I will shoot it next next week,” he says definitively. ”It will be the second film of a trilogy, and the idea is to make three totally different movies with other actors. But the idea is to to have the same concepts, so one room with one character and, in particular, a situation told with only images. So the seconds will be a horror movie. It's a sort of ghostly and a sort of fantasy. You will see that. And there are many inferences from, from Cocteau to Argento, for example, so it’s very weird. I’m very excited to work on it, and it will be in colour this time.”

So how does he feel about this film being chosen by Frightfest

“It's really a dream come true,” he says. Because it was a no budget movie and I thought maybe we’d present it in my own town etc. But as a starting point, I decided to make it as a as a professional project. So it was not just for for fun. There was a real commercial and – sorry, it's pretentious to say this – but artistic intention. It was not just to put friends and family in a film. But of course, it was a real surprise when Frightfest called me to say we’d been accepted.”

The Woman With Leopard Shoes will screen in the Frightfest strand of the Glasgow Film Festival for 72 hours from 16:00 on Friday 5 March.

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