Sébastian Marnier’s psychological thriller Origin Of Evil, starring Call My Agent! actress Laure Calamy as a factory worker who discovers the father she never knew is a wealthy businessman, opens Venice’s Horizons Extra sidebar on Thursday.
Embarrassed by her humble background when she meets her father and stepmother and sister in their luxury Mediterranean mansion, Calamy’s character pretends she is an entrepreneur on the verge of success. But nothing is as it seems and the lies begin to pile up.
Calamy was in Venice last year in Horizons title A Plein Temps for which she won the best actress award for her performance as a single mother trying to get to a job interview during a transport strike.
In Origin Of Evil, she is joined by a high-profile ensemble support cast featuring Canadian actress Suzanne Clément, French veterans Jacques Weber and Dominique Blanc, and Doria Tillier.
Marnier was previously at Venice with the chilling drama School’s Out, starring Laurent Lafitte as a teacher in charge of a class of disturbed teenagers, who witnessed his predecessor commit suicide.
The film is lead produced by Paris-based Avenue B Production with Canada’s microscope and Marnier’s Poison Productions. Charades handles international sales.
Ahead of Thursday’s premiere, the director talked to Deadline about his new film for which we can also reveal the first clip.
DEADLINE: What was the inspiration for the film?
SÉBASTIEN MARNIER: It is the story of my mother. In her 60s, she rediscovered her father, who had left when she was just four.
She was extremely left-wing, a communist and we lived in a working-class suburb. What she discovered was a conservative, bourgeois man living a comfortable life in the provinces, but she immediately fell in love with him and idolized him. Everything she had taught my brother and I flew out the window.
I’ve also always been interested in class wars, I felt there was enough material in this confrontation between a poor woman and this wealthy family to make a genre film, verging on a fairy tale, rather than naturalism, or realism.
DEADLINE: The film has a very 1970s cinema feel to it. Was this deliberate?
SÉBASTIEN MARNIER: Quite simply, I adore [Claude] Chabrol. There are a number of us directors in France reflecting on how to make genre. People say there’s no tradition of genre in France. But when you watch Chabrol, all he did was genre. He decrypts French bourgeois society via suspense and violence.
I was really into horror as a youngster and it was through the cinema of Chabrol and [Georges] Franju that I discovered French cinema. Chabrol’s films often lead the spectator to side with the bastard or the madman or woman, or at the very least not be judgemental of their acts. This use of the outsider to undo the bourgeoisie is something I’ve taken up in the Origin Of Evil. This film pays tribute to his films of the 1970s, especially those with Stéphane Audran.
DEADLINE: The father’s grandiose beachfront mansion is a character in its own right.
SÉBASTIEN MARNIER: The house takes inspiration from the mansion in Sunset Boulevard with its magnificent staircase. Most people would dream of living in a mansion by the sea, but this house becomes extremely dangerous and toxic, a reflection of the family that inhabits it.
We wanted to create the idea of a sumptuous place that has seen better days. We must have filled it with 3,000 objects. It wasn’t easy sourcing props as we were still in lockdown when filming started. We had one stroke of luck with the stuffed animals, after a museum, which was closed due to the pandemic, agreed to lend us its artefacts. It would have cost us a fortune to hire them individually.
DEADLINE: Calamy’s role marks a departure for the actress after her good-natured characters in Call My Agent! and My Donkey, My Lover & I. Without giving too much away, it’s the kind of role we might expect to see Isabelle Huppert play.
SÉBASTIEN MARNIER: I adore Isabelle Huppert and of course, she is very linked to Chabrol but given her filmography, when she turns up in a film, you know things are not going to go well.
What was interesting and marvellous for me as a director was to have this cast and bring it into a new place, especially Laure. The public loves her and associates her with characters that are good-natured, smiley and a bit frivolous. The audience’s empathy for Laure was an added bonus for me, especially given that most audiences love to be manipulated.
One of the common points between all three of my features is that I take well-known actors [Laurent Lafitte in School’s Out and Marina Foïs in Faultless] into something which is very physical and taps into that madness that all actors possess. Until now, they’ve all accepted this challenge.
DEADLINE: What is it that attracts you to genre?
SÉBASTIEN MARNIER: One of my pleasures in making films is to cite or find the same sensations I felt when watching genre films, from America or Japan, as a child, which makes for this strange mix.
I’ve always been attracted by genre because it can be political and take a look at the world around us without being too didactic, or preachy Filmmakers like Romeo and Carpenter, who are important directors for me, had a sharp eye on the world and American society, or even today Jordan Peele shows how through genre you can be political. I haven’t finished with that yet.
DEADLINE: Can you give any details about your next film?
SÉBASTIEN MARNIER: It’s still in development but I want to explore the injunctions around family, sexuality and gender and the confrontation that is currently taking place between the old world order and a new one, which is more fluid. It won’t exactly involve horror but perhaps pure terror and will involve characters in their 20s, fighting for their rights, in the vein of the youngsters in School’s Out, but a few years down the line.
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