Q&A with an up-and-coming Quebec director

Prank is an unique piece of Quebec cinema by Concordia grad Vincent Biron.

Vincent Biron speaks candidly about his new film, Prank, now in theaters

Keep your eyes open for Prank, an unusual piece of Quebec cinema that is certainly an acquired taste. It’s vulgar, it’s immature and it shows teens doing what they do best—stirring up trouble in nasty ways, all while finding themselves and growing up, however slowly and unwillingly. The Concordian sat down with the film’s director and Concordia grad, Vincent Biron.

Where was the film shot?

A lot of places. Some of it in Montreal, some of it in Sorel… I wanted to create a non-existing place. I didn’t want to set it in Montreal or any given small town. I liked the idea of a no-man’s land.

That’s interesting, given that the film feels kind of universal, which could explain why it’s being talked about abroad.

Well, we all live through adolescence and, even though we all live through it differently, some experiences are quite common. They’re usually both difficult and enlightening at once… And you can find these kinds of nameless suburbs pretty much anywhere in the world.

Did you try to make the film more universal or specifically French Canadian? Or a mix of both?

I think it’s a mix of both. Because, you know, I do acknowledge the reality of French Canadian life, but I’d like to think that the art I create can be viewed as having a larger significance, rather than simply a part of its local context. Particularly in the sense that French Canadian films haven’t had an audience for a few years now. So I would be denying myself a larger audience. Cinema is an act of communication. There’s nothing sadder than a film that is not seen… That’s why we’ve been very involved in promoting Prank—I want people to hear our message.

You have experience as a cinematographer. Was it hard to make the jump to directing?

Not really, since I’ve made a lot of short films since I graduated [in 2006]. I do direct, but I’ve chosen not to become a director in the commercial sense. I was at a crossroads after I graduated: I was starting to work on cinematography, and I was asking myself what I should do, because you have to choose. It’s very hard to actively do both [cinematography and directing], and I decided that cinematography was a good choice because it didn’t require me to be as emotionally involved. As a director, I’m extremely passionate about my work and I get nervous at the thought of having to shoot commercials.

Were you involved in the cinematography on Prank?

I was actually the cinematographer. There were only three of us. I was shooting and directing, one of the co-producers was working on sound and another co-producer organized stuff… I usually don’t do cinematography on my own projects, but this time I wanted to avoid having to hire someone else because it’s a beautiful job, but it’s a demanding one. It takes assistants and lighting, and I knew I wanted to make the film using nothing.

Let’s go back to the theme of adolescence. Most descriptions of the film claim that it’s a coming-of-age story, but to me it’s rather a story of the characters refusing to come of age.

Yeah, I do think the characters [are being made to come of age] kicking and screaming. I think that’s how we all live through it… It’s a moment when we all kind of reject the adult world, and there’s some of that in the film because the adult world is very dramatic.

It’s like they’re two separate worlds.

Right, and that was deliberate. And your analysis is correct—it’s a film about refusing to be a part of that world… I really like sad humour. That allowed me to explore the adult world through that lens.

What surprised me is that we never see the main character’s parents, even though there’s a scene that his mother should logically appear in.

Yeah, that was deliberate… The screenwriters and myself didn’t want to make a “message movie.” We didn’t want to make a statement about a generation, because there’s something reactionary about that… I didn’t want to make an “old fart” kind of movie. I didn’t want to make a film about “young people.”… Adolescence, in my view, is a very insular experience.

How old are the characters supposed to be? I feel like the older ones are about 17 or 18 years old.

I knew we wanted to leave that ambiguous. I’d done an initial casting session and screen tests for younger actors and it was a bit boring. The contrast between them and [the main character] is more interesting if we feel that there’s more of an age difference. They’re more interesting to [the main character] because they seem more experienced … I’m a big fan of John Hughes, you know. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick was 22 or 23 years old when it was shot, not 16. But the logic of the film sells it to you. As filmmakers, we’re too scared to let go of reality. Especially in Quebec, we have a strong history of documentary filmmaking, so people want to make stuff that looks real.

Do you have any future plans?

We’re writing another full-length film with the same team. I really enjoyed shooting this way, with no money, and I learned a lot doing it. I’d like to repeat that experience… It gives you complete freedom to say whatever you want, and not to wait. Because from the moment that you say you’re waiting to get [a larger budget], you’re gonna keep on waiting.

Prank is now in theaters.

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