Héléna Klotz Interview – Director of ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase

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Héléna Klotz’s sophomore feature, Spirit of Ecstasy, peers into the life of a gender-nonconforming 24-year-old who has an insatiable hunger for financial success. The film, named after the small statue that sits on the front of a Rolls-Royce, examines the sacrificial and selfish lengths a person will go to chase their grandiose ambitions.

Spirit of Ecstasy contains a mesmerising performance from French pop star Claire Pommet as Jeanne, who is caught between an addictively enticing stock firm that may be a key to freedom and the familial dramatics of living in a military community. All this between unsteady finances and the return of an ex-flame.

After Spirit of Ecstasy had its world premiere at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival as part of the festival’s Platform competition, we sat down with the French director to speak about her exploration of gender identity, casting a pop star, and the world of finance.

This interview has been edited for publication.

Projektor: Claire Pommet delivers a fantastic performance. What was it about her that made her perfect for Jeanne?

Héléna Klotz: When I’m casting films I do not see a lot of actors. I usually have one or two actors in mind. I love the idea of falling in love with a character and seeing someone and saying, “Yes! This is the person I want to work with. This is the person I want to bring this to life.”

I heard an interview with Claire on French media and I was very impressed by her. With her background in the music industry, I thought she [would] understand what this character is going through and she will understand the challenges they are facing. Perhaps also, because of her experience in the music industry, Claire will bring things to the character that I hadn’t thought of myself.

What intrigued you about exploring the pairing of gender identity and the business world?

I was very intrigued that a business suit could let a character transcend themselves. Putting on this male business suit, the character transcends her social background, age, and identity. The suit in the film then takes on the role of a suit of armour or actually a realistic costume of a superhero. By wearing the suit she creates a new identity for themself in this world.

What kind of research did you do into the world of finance and stocks?

It’s part of our contemporary mythology. It’s so present in our minds and the role that it plays in our lives and yet it’s something underrepresented on screen; we do not see many of these people. This world is also a largely male world—it was a world I was interested in exploring and discovering.

You mention individuals like Jeanne being underrepresented on screen, but did you have any existing inspirations for them that you drew on?

Well, first of all, I was inspired by myself, my own emotions and my own experience. The protagonist of the Paul Schrader movie, The Card Counter, played by Oscar Isaac, inspired me a great deal. Also, Robert Bresson’s movie Mouchette was a great inspiration. There’s a manga, Ghost in the Shell, too—physically, just as a character, she reminded me of Claire’s character.

Given Claire Pommet’s music background, can you tell me about the film’s atmospheric soundtrack that uses noises from her character?

I wrote the soundtrack with my brother [Ulysse Klotz], who’s the composer. We spent several years living in the same flat together which was 30 square meters; it was a tiny spot and I would hear the music he was listening to. When Vangelis died, it brought to mind the soundtrack he wrote for Blade Runner. There’s a voice in the soundtrack for that movie that reminded me of Claire’s voice. I had the idea of having this voice not saying words but simply singing to express their inner emotions and give us access to their inner life. 

The suit in the film then takes on the role of a suit of armour […] By wearing the suit she creates a new identity for themself in this world.

Tonally, the film balances a cutthroat business with familial tenderness. How was it crafting that balance?

Yes, that is true. You have this incredible tenderness between the brothers and sisters, but it’s also in a military base which is extraordinarily tough. You have these two towers that represent two contemporary mythologies. On the one hand, you have the business towers and on the other hand the towers of the military world.

Why did you want to include that military context in the background of the film?

I lived in one of these suburban developments and it was a male world; there was very little room in it for women. When I was writing the film I was asking myself the question: what would the future of a young girl who had been born and grown up in a military base be? I thought it would be interesting to see a character who grew up there but didn’t share that mindset or those aspirations and instead was trying to find a future elsewhere.

Does the idea of Jeanne existing in masculine worlds also apply to you in the film industry?

When I first fell in love with films, they were movies from male directors about male protagonists. When I thought of cinema then, it seemed like a male world that presented male protagonists. My father is also a filmmaker and when I decided I wanted to make films, I had seen very few female protagonists with whom I could identify. Though in recent years we’ve seen this explosion of incredible talent from female directors like Andrea Arnold, Céline Sciamma, and Kelly Reichardt.

The first shot of your film sees Jeanne emerging from a tunnel; and in the final shot, we follow them back into a tunnel. Why did you want to bookend the film with these connecting shots?

Wow, you have said something I have never realised. I knew at the end of the film I wanted to end with her crossing a bridge. To be perfectly honest it had never occurred to me that that’s how the film begins, in that we are accompanying her, entering the film and her character. Wonderful analysis!

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