Morgane Sarah Becerril directed ‘The Session’, An edgy, romantic-comedy set in a New York S & M dungeon, and tracing the developing relationship between Daphne, a newbie dominatrix and her client. The film screened at the 2016 Edinburgh Short Film Festival and also won 1st prize at the 2016 Montreal World Film Festival. We talked to Morgane about the film, working in a sex dungeon and film-making in general:
We loved ‘The Session’ it’s a great two-hander and a unique cross between psycho-drama and romantic-comedy, how did the concept for ‘The Session’ develop and what was the germ of the idea?
The Session is the story of two people helping each-other in an unexpected way, connecting.
What Alexei and Ashley (the two leads, producers of the film, and writers of the original play After the rain) wanted to capture, and what made me fall in love with the story right away, is a very pure encounter, two people healing each-other by being open to one another, being present, without judgment, and true.
That story could have taken place anywhere but it was a good opportunity to shine some light on a world that people have a lot of misconceptions about. Telling that story through an S&M relationship, our goal also became to shoot an anti-50 shades of Grey.
To me at least, everything in the film revolves around the notion of bienveillance, which I can only poorly translate by “approaching the other with generosity”.
Did you have any influences in mind when you made the film?
I am very scared of stories that should be plays or novels. After the rain is a great play, so I had to focus on what theater couldn’t offer to the story: the shot list. And as the film is also really one dialogue, I had to repress my French instinct, I kept telling myself “don’t you dare make a new wave-wannabe movie out of this”.
To keep it dynamic, keep action and scenography in mind, I kept watching old friends like Fight Club, Minority Report, The Matrix, Trainspotting.. hoping they would influence me. I don’t know if it worked.
So, the film was shot in an actual S & M dungeon in New York, what unique challenges did filming in that kind of location present?
The challenge was that the dungeon was in activity when we were shooting!
It was a bit of a constraint for the crew because the mistresses were very careful about the privacy of their clients and their confidentiality, so we had to shout to know if we were allowed to leave the room we were in to go to the gear room across the hallway, we had to wait for their permission.
But really it was fun, and we obviously wanted to be respectful of the establishment and their work, so it wasn’t a real issue, and I think the crew secretly loved it.
There was also the sounds from the other rooms… but it was very low, you could tell the soundproofing of the place had been thought through!
Did the location force you to make any changes to the film; eg script, scheduling or otherwise?
I started working on the shot list once we had found the location, so it was so convenient.
The only thing that did limit us though were the mirrors.
Every single wall of that room, selling included, was a huge mirror, as you can see on Olga Goworek in some of the behind the scenes pictures. And because we were only allowed in two small rooms and couldn’t stand in the hallway, we had to hide a least 10 people in the room all of the time, plus the camera, the dolly, the boom, and the lights.
It took all of Stefano’s (DP) talents to pull that off. And the patience of the crew, because it was underground and we had to kill the air conditioning for sound, so it was very very hot.
How have different audiences reacted to The Session?
Everyone has such a strong opinion about it, even when people don’t like it it’s always for great and interesting reasons. I think when people love or hate a movie, it’s a great sign that you succeeded to take a risk. And of course some people understand things we didn’t put in, another meaning that their own experiences offer to the movie, that’s the magical part.
My favorite reaction though is a man that the film had moved but he couldn’t figure out why. And also people from the S&M world who said it was an honest movie, that was the best compliment.
We’re very glad you came to Edinburgh for the screening last November, how has the film fared elsewhere and what was it like to win 1st prize at the Montreal World Film Festival?
I’m actually very jealous of Ashley who got to go to the the Montreal World Film Festival! it seemed so intense. I couldn’t go there from France, but from what she told me it was very well received.
The film also got in to Holly Shorts, it was at the short film corner in Cannes and the Atlanta Film Festival. A lot of people were very enthusiastic each time and a lot reached out, so we didn’t expect the reaction to be that great. But to be honest for me as Edinburgh Film Festival was the first screening in Europe and the first I could attend, until then everything was very abstract. And then we came to Scotland, I met an audience for the first time and it was insane.
What are you planning on working on next?
Alexei and Ashley’s next play, definitely.
I do have a few things happening in the mid time, the post production of my next short and an adaptation of a French tale that we are trying to finance with two friends, but I’m working on a few scripts and I know Alexei and Ashley are too, so we should find something to shoot together soon I hope!