Before my heart falls is a moving story about a girl growing up on
the wrong side of the track. At the Rotterdam Film Festival, where it had
its international premiere, I had a chance to interview the co-writer and
director of this impressive work of art: Sébastien Rose.
Were there elements in the story that were autobiographical?
SéBASTIEN ROSE Not a lot. Of course I have been a teenager and tested my limits. I did
stupid things. One night I was out with my friends, completely high, we were
walking our dogs in the suburbs, and we rang the door with a plastic gun,
and we just said 'Stick up'. The man right in front of us almost had a heart
attack. The police arrived. We could have been shot! You realise you do
stupid things, that can have really crazy consequences. This little girl,
(Sarah in the movie) is totally unconscious, egocentric, she doesn't have a
heart. She is still a child, and she just plays around along the highway
stealing from people, and one day a man dies in front of her. She could go
on living like she did, but instead, something changes. That's what I wanted
to talk about. It's the birth of a consciousness.
What was the inspiration of the criminal side of the story? Are there many
youngsters that live this kind of life in Quebec?
Everybody asks me that, because Quebec is just a small part of Canada. I
think this type of character you can find anywhere. United States, France,
The Netherlands: these little bums exist everywhere.
I liked the fact you used the high way. Walking along the high way you don't
take part of normal life, but then if you hitchhike, step in a car you could
go anywhere, you don't know where you end up. That's how it is for Sarah in
that stage of her life: it can still go anywhere.
In fact I wanted to make a road movie, where you're travelling. My film is a
static road movie, those two youngsters are dreaming of going somewhere
else, some place nice, but they are stuck. Life is passing by. They are
missing the train.
You co-wrote the script with Stéfanie Lasnier. How did you divide the work
between the two of you?
Working together is much faster than writing alone. As soon as you have an
idea, you can test it right away. It's like a ping-pong. I have an idea, we
discuss it, we build together. At first you need a general idea of the
story. We talk for weeks. We don't write the dialogue, we just make some
notes and talk. I think it's very important to know in advance where we're
heading, what is the end: it's the meaning of the film. We separate the
scenes, then we write a first draft of the scene, I send one to her, she
sends one to me, we change it... So in the end we don't know who did what.
Sometimes I think I did something fantastic, but she did it... everything is
mixed up. It's really like a cocktail (laughs). It's a blessing to work with
I understand you selected Clemence (playing the 16 year old Sarah) out of
200 actresses. Was it difficult to choose?
It was very important to choose the right person. She carries the film on
her shoulders. We saw a lot of girls, but Sarah we met the first day. So
already we had a certain connection, she had something in her eyes, a
certain wisdom, she had some experience, I think you have to be very
intelligent to be a very good actor, to understand all the subtleties of
life. Difficult to explain why you choose somebody, it's like love.
She acts very natural, there is vulnerability in her performance. You have
made several features now. Is there a certain style that you have developed
to reach this level of performance with your actors?
I think with any actor, the most important decision is casting. If you cast
the wrong person you're dead. When I chose Clemence it was done. It's not on
the set that I revolutionise everything. Clemence is Clemence, I have to
work with her. What I did is: less is more. She is good, she is natural, I
was not talking to her. Just do the scene.
The scene where she is in the wardrobe talking to herself, there I was
looking for a precise way of saying the lines. That was an example of a very
precise direction. Playing in the film was a real pleasure for her. It's an
existential action film, there is not a lot of talking. For her, being a 16
year old, the running and doing some stunts like car surfing, was very
exiting. The film is very dramatic, but we had a lot of fun doing it. For me
it was like doing my first film. We were not wasting much time with the
technical side, because we were shooting with the available light. So it was
a real pleasure giving space and time for the actors. To explore!
So you created this time for them to explore?
Yes, usually we try a scene this way, then another way, but with Clemence, I
wanted to preserve her freshness. I wasn't experimenting as much with her as
with the older actors, because they are professional.
In the film we travel with Sarah. We start out with the violent side of her.
Do you think we can all have this violence inside us, when we are put in a
I hope not, but I think it's unbelievable what people can do when they are
in a bad situation, I'm sure we all have this violence in us. It depends.
Violence is contextual. You could become a monster in a bad situation.
Luckily in this case, this girl she could just have gone on the same
track... but she is not an animal. That's the difference with a human and an
animal: it's gaining consciousness, a feeling for the other. I think it's so
difficult for her. It's taking all her strength. She is fighting before she
says 'I love you'. It's the first time she says something like that, it's
tough for her.
I read you studied philosophy in Strasbourg. Do the subjects that you
studied recur in your movies?
That's a good question. We were discussing violence. If you study Konrad
Lorenz, for example, there’s a theory, where a man is a wolf, what's the
saying? "L'homme est un loup pour l'homme". We are wolves, we are all
potential aggressors, of course it's part of us.
How long did you work on the script of this feature?
Well no one should write a script too quickly, also with this one. We made a
lot of mistakes. It took maybe four years. But I learned a lot. You have to
make mistakes to learn (laughs).
When you watch a film you don't see the mistakes anymore that already have
been corrected. Could you say something about the mistake that you made in
this film, especially in the writing?
When you're writing in detail, you create scenes that are interesting on
their own. But if you can retract them from the film they are not necessary,
so you end up cutting them. You waste so much time. I could show you drafts
of this film... you can't believe how much the story changes, it's
unbelievable the detour we took. So it's really important to determine in
advance what's the end, the goal you want to achieve. A script is to follow
the steps to reach the goal. It's easy when I say it, but it takes a long
It's very difficult to cut out things that you have created, the scene is
good but it doesn't fit with the rest.
Like the philosopher Hegel said, there are two ways of writing: writing with
Dionysus, like when you're drunk, a free stream of consciousness, vroom,
just go, or the other way is to know at what point you're heading, or else
it will be total chaos. Of course I like chaos! I'm a big fan of Apocalypse
Now, but even that is not a total chaos; there's a goal. There is always a
goal. For a long time I was in the stream of consciousness. A scene can be
fantastic, but it has to fit with the film.
I read that, in the editing process, that whenever you don't follow Sarah,
it's cut out of the film.
It's true, everything that wasn't in Sarah's view was rejected from the
Most of the film, let's say 99% of the shots of the film are made using
wide-angle lens. There is a lot of depth of field, so it gives a more
natural look. When you use a long lens on the other hand, you're more in a
fantasy world, like commercials, everything is perfect, is nice, in my film
everything is raw, is dirty. It's the real world. Like we see it with our
So that was a very conscious choice. Did it come from you or from the
It came together. Very early in the process, I felt this film had to be shot
hand held, to be really with Sarah, with her internal struggle; to be very
close to her. When you shoot with a long lens you're far from the character;
whereas if you use wide lens you are really close to her. The cameraman was
always near. It's really a documentary style in fact. Close in the action,
very close to the actors. And this is something the little girl had to
learn: to be able to play and to let herself go in front of a camera. Not a
little I-phone, a 35 mm camera with a cameraman, and all the crew around.
There were a couple of things that looked a bit dangerous along the high
way, did you...
Of course there was security, when there was the truck...
It was all planned out?
The only thing that was stolen was the girl walking in the middle of the
high ways. We were not allowed to do that. The police tried to arrest us. In
fact she was arrested, because once, there was a concrete wall with the
house next to it. She was walking right beside the wall on the highway and
she got arrested. We tried to film that. This type of images you can't get
on authorisation, they will never give you an authorisation. We tried to
So you had to move quickly.
Exactly. It's cool to be able to move quickly, to have a small camera, small
crew, not with every film you can do this type of guerrilla style. In a big
American film, like The Matrix, it's impossible; you will just have to
recreate everything. It's a total different approach (laughs).
So she was arrested and you had to come to the police station to pick her
No, we were very lucky, they just dropped her off at the next exit, and we
went to pick her up. We were very lucky because after that, we did the shots
that are on the film, you remember when she was in the middle of the highway
with the traffic jam? This shot was stolen too. You see this is my criminal
side: after my main actress was arrested by the police we did some
infractions again. (Laughs loudly). So you see it's partly autobiographical.
You have to be a criminal to portray a criminal?
And did her mother know about this?
No she was never on the set. Once she visited. Write that down: “mother
never on the set.” Very important.
I think there would be pressure from her if she were there?
Of course they came once, but I didn't feel too much difference. But
Clemence must have felt something. It's not easy to play in front of your
parents. But then when you are a good actor, you forget about it. That's
Have you been acting yourself?
I tried. In secondary school I loved it. I think in fact most directors are
would be actors. They are principle partners on the film. Once I tried to do
the scene to give an example in front of the camera, ooph it was so bad.
It's good to have a team of people with all their own qualities.
Yeah, that's it.
Thank you very much!
Thank you, it was nice to talk with you.