Out of this world

Edouard Salier on stretching the bounds of genre in Tropic

by Jennie Kermode

Tropic
Tropic

A hit at last year’s Fantastic Fest and now part of the Glasgow Film Festival line-up, Edouard Salier’s Tropic is the tale of twin brothers Tristan (Louis Peres) and Lazaro (Pablo Cobo), both of whom are training to serve as astronauts in a vital mission. Although, close to the characters as we are, we never find out the full background to the mission, it’s clear that something strange is going on. From time to time, green lights appear in the sky. When one of them plummets to Earth and lands in a lake where the brothers are swimming, Tristan is injured, leaving him with physical and cognitive impairments. It’s an event which transforms their relationship and throws the future into doubt.

I met up with Edouard shortly before the Glasgow Film Festival, at what seemed like an auspicious time to talk, as there was a green comet travelling through the sky. I told him that it made me think of HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds and he noted a tin model of one of Wells’ Martians, as filtered through the imagination of artist Edward Gorey, on a shelf behind me, telling me that he has the same one. Tropic’s green lights, however, stemmed from something different.

“At the beginning, the idea of this green light from the sky was more a kind of satellite built by humans, because I like the idea and the irony of the dream that the two kids have, to go into space. They dream about space and rockets and stuff like that. And at the end, it's what the men built, that’s going to put their family in difficulty. I started to write also about this element, when Elon Musk started to put all his satellites in the sky two years ago, or something like that, It was quite crazy.

“I imagined my film more as a drama than a sci-fi movie, but the sci-fi theme is just behind the family. For example, I don't want to put a time on this story because it's more like a tale. It's not in 100 years, it's not in 40 years, it's something that's more abstract for me, because I imagined it more like a tale.. And I told the story of this family which is going to be destroyed by this green element, but also in the second layer I talked about what happened already in our world, about ecology, about the world to collapse, about this kind of crazy race between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and all these billionaires who tried to travel in space. At the end, I imagined that they want to travel out from the world, because we know already that our world is fucked up.”

II tell him that I'm interested in that framework because I think when somebody becomes disabled with an injury like that, it always feels strange and alien, it's always a very difficult thing to adjust to. Did he see similarities between the experience of becoming disabled and what's happening to the world?

“Yes,” he nods. “it's a kind of metaphor of what's happened to him and what's happened to the world. I was also interested in this kind of crazy race today between people, to elitism. A very important shot for me in the movie is when the brother Lazaro, at the end of the contest, he's in the pool and he's in front of the bad guy and wins the exercise, because at one point, he remembers not his brother, but the kid in the wheelchair. For me, it symbolises how today, you need this kind of time, this kind of poetry and this kind of prose to accept the world and how it is, instead of this crazy race of trying to be the best in every different system.

“This moment when Lazaro thinks about his friend in the wheelchair, who just does nothing, just turns around and just feels nature, the skies, the sun and all this moment of poetry - it's a very important vision and break in the story. Instead of this race of people who are like Robocop. The two brothers are kind of military mind-fucked by our society and that's why this shot symbolised for me what we missed today.”

We talk about the different forms of masculinity in the story, with the aggressively competitive young men trying to make the grade and the much calmer, more controlled older men giving them instructions, before going on to discuss the brothers’ mother (played by Marta Nieto), who is prompted by Tristan’s disability to reflect on how much she has already given up for them and to reconsider her own priorities. Edouard says that whilst she might seem simply to be a nice person, she’s complicated and, like the others, not fully in control of herself.

in casting the brothers, he says, he looked for people who had the right physical skills and level of fitness, but what really sold him on Peres and Cobo was their genuine passion for society, ecology and the space race.

“They were very invested not only in their characters but in something bigger. They are great actors and it was interesting to have their vision also because they are younger and they were very involved with their characters. That's why probably Lazaro has this kind of sadness in him because in real life he’s very like that. He’s very concerned about what's going to happen after the pandemic, very concerned about their future.”

It must have been a struggle to make a film on this subject on a low budget.

“We were lucky because I approached the French Aérospatiale and the people from the CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) and from Arianne, who are the French Space Programme. They were very helpful and we had a lot of discussion with them. We were able to visit the place where they train. They explained a lot of things. When you talk with them about space, and about why there is the space programme, they say, and it’s not an exaggeration, ‘Well, the world has collapsed so we have to find a solution for where we are. So today, we are able to send one, two or three people in a rocket, but the idea is in 100 years to send 100 people in the same rocket.’ So they are very focused on that, it looks like science fiction, but it's not. What's also interesting is that the training camp is in France and I think that they don't have a lot of money. It's not like an Avatar movie, it looks more like a Seventies. training camp. So we are not very far from what it’s like in terms of training.

“I always love shooting. But for the last week of the shooting, we went to French Guiana, where they launched the rocket, and all the last part of the film was shot in French Guiana. For me it was a kind of childhood dream to be able to shoot there. It was quite crazy to be able to shoot in the middle of the jungle in this space camp.”

He’s currently working on a TV show for Canal+ in France, he tells me, and he has another science fiction film in the works which addresses some similar themes, though he doesn’t like to tie himself too closely to any one genre. In fact, festival audiences have been a bit confused by Tropic because it follows its own path, he says.

“People are a little bit disoriented because it's not a classic sci-fi movie or classic genre movie. It's more of a drama, we play with the genre...People like to put the film in a kind of box. I like to play with genre and mix them and have something original.“

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