Director Lucile Hadžihalilović on Evolution

Director Lucile Hadžihalilović talks to us about the fantastical and personal inspirations behind her latest film, Evolution

Evolution was born from a fascination with both the depths of the ocean and the hospital, at first glance a more ordinary, even reassuring place, but a place nonetheless where the body is given over to an all-powerful staff and can be subjected to a variety of bizarre practices. The juxtaposition of these two worlds provides the perfect backdrop for the major themes of the film: relationships to childbirth and the journey through puberty, seen here through the dark lens of a fantastic tale.

The film is above all the nightmare of a 10-year-old child unable to tear himself free of the ‘maternal waters’, who suffers a deeply disturbed relationship to his own birth and imminent physical changes. ‘‘What will happen to me when I grow up?’’ The question asked by the little girls in my previous film Innocence also troubles Nicolas, the protagonist of Evolution.

The film is a sensory voyage, an exploration of mysterious and ambiguous territory: atmosphere and details are as important as narrative, and organic matter forms the film’s heart. This is a world Nicolas must touch, sense and feel if he is to understand, move forward and grow…

The universe of Evolution is enclosed, located in a parallel reality with its own laws, a world reached only by slow degrees. It exists outside all time and geography, both physical and mental, like the worlds depicted in the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. I hope the audience, losing their bearings little by little, will find themselves in the same uncertain but exciting place as the young protagonist, who never knows what will happen and suspects everything he sees. Indeed, reality is not what it seems, and the true nature of things animate and inanimate reveals itself only gradually, beneath the surface. The film leaves itself very much open to interpretation, compelling the viewer to invest in its world and its characters, to make them his or her own. I hope this will allow the film’s mysteries to remain longer with the audience.

On this isolated island, bound by the sea, with no men, populated by troubling women and sick children subjected to strange medical procedures, fear of death mixes with an underlying eroticism. And over everything hangs a strange melancholy, the ever-present melancholy of a lost paradise. Water could recall an amniotic innocence and provide an opportunity for games, but from the start, the children’s relationship to this element is more complex. Nicolas and his companions are never just children playing, even in the first part of the film – never carefree, they possess a sort of seriousness that gives them a greater depth.

Finally, what awaits Nicolas at the end of his experiences is not the comfort of the real world but a new stage, perhaps a new ordeal during which his fears will take on new forms – no one is ever wholly cured of nightmares.

The volcanic landscapes and desolate villages of Lanzarote, the island in the Canaries where the film was shot, confer a harsh beauty and a unique dramatic atmosphere. As for the hospital in which the film’s second half takes place, through careful work on the decor, lighting and sound, it gradually transforms into a wholly phantasmagorical realm.
The film aims to retain a powerfully subjective, mental aspect throughout, in particular through the sound design with its sparse use of words and effects, and in which music and noise are sometimes combined.

Despite its dreamlike nature, Evolution is steeped in elements from my childhood. The arid and barren seaside landscapes, the rough sea, the 1960s-style hospital refer – albeit in a stylized and distorted fashion – to the places I knew as child, where my parents, both doctors, lived and worked.

Evolution screens at HOME from Fri 6 May. Book tickets and find out more here.

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