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French director Frédéric Jardin has made quite a name for himself with his action thriller Sleepless Night. Following the movie’s premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Warner Bros. picked up the rights for an American remake. The crowd-pleasing action flick, about a cop attempting to save his kidnapped son from a mob boss after a drug heist gone wrong, is set almost entirely in one location – a nightclub – and utilizes every inch of the setting’s space to pulsating effect, thanks to numerous adept technical flourishes.
Sleepless Night was screened at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, and Jardin spoke with Spinoff Online about the unique way he imparted the movie’s omnipresent feeling of claustrophobia, his influences, and his thoughts on the American remake.
Spinoff: I basically white-knuckled my way through this movie. It’s just incredibly intense, from the very beginning. How did you motivate your actors to maintain that level of intensity throughout the shoot?
Jardin: I’m behind them. I’m really engaged physically. It’s hard to explain, it’s not very concrete what I’m saying. It was quite serious the whole time.
Something else I was really struck by is that you treated your location like a character, and developed it throughout the narrative as such.
Yes. As a matter of fact, the place is really in three countries. The dance floor is in Belgium, the restaurant is in Luxembourg. … I had to shoot in France, Luxembourg and Belgium. And when I wrote the script, the idea is having just one place … but I had to shoot in very different places everywhere in Europe, so it was very special and crazy.
I had no idea, as an audience member, that it wasn’t one set. It’s interesting to know that your struggle behind the camera was to make it look cohesive because of all these different shooting locations.
I thought of another master of the single-location setting while watching this — Hitchcock. Even in your use of lighting and colors — reds, yellows, greens, blues.
It’s funny that you’re talking about Hitchcock — why not? — but I wasn’t thinking about Hitchcock. When I wrote the script, I was very inspired by the South Korean cinema from nowadays. Like The Chaser or Oldboy or Memories of Murder. It’s a small country, but the film noir there is fantastic. It’s so imaginative, creative.
The way that you imparted claustrophobia in this film is really incredible.
Yeah, in a car, in the office, in a corridor, it’s always in a small place all the time. I was obsessed by the idea — don’t ask me why — but I wanted to make a claustrophobic film until the end when the light is coming back, and then we have some air. It’s a trip. I wanted to be in the skin of Vincent, for the audience to be with us in Vincent — in his fight, in his nightmare.
I really love the shot where you navigate the camera from the women’s bathroom to the men’s bathroom through the crawlspace. But even the sheer scope of those massive club floor scenes with all the extras was awe-inspiring. Was there one particular scene that was most difficult to coordinate and film?
The dance scene of the film was quite complicated, because when you have to organize the chaos, it’s very complicated — but very exciting! [laughs] I remember when he’s [Vincent] trying to hide in the middle of the dance floor … when he’s dancing with the people and there’s chaos, it was hard to organize. It was having to choreograph everything, and I wanted it to be realistic, as if I was in the middle of the discothèque, and I take my camera and I was there. And some people say, “Oh, you shot in the middle of a real crowd?” No, of course not. Everything was planned. So to have the feeling of improvisation, of the mess, the sweat, the blood, everything dirty, not too clean. That was tough.
And as far as the fights: Tomer [Sisley] did all of his own stunts, correct?
Yes, everything. That’s why I chose him. Because I wanted a new face. He’s a new face in France, in Europe. And because he’s very physical — he can do everything. He can drive very fast, he can fall very naturally, he can run — he’s interesting to film. He’s physical but fragile.
Some of the fight sequences are really strikingly choreographed — that fight between the two men in the kitchen, or Vincent and the woman in the walk-in cooler.
That was hard to shoot, because actually it was in a very cold room. And I wanted him to be very violent with Lizzie [Brocheré], the actress. And Tomer loves the actress very much, so it was a nightmare for him to shoot. We did one or two rehearsals. It was not improvised with the text. I was very precise; I wanted the actors to follow the script very clearly the entire time.
How did you craft the omnipresent feeling of claustrophobia in the film?
When we were in the toilet, I wanted to put the camera right in the toilet — not to remove the wall and everything.
Wow, so you didn’t remove any walls to accommodate the camera or create special set pieces for these locations?
No, never. It was a game for me. In the car driving, it’s really the guy driving and I wanted to be realistic all the time. So it was quite hard for the team sometimes, exhausting for the team. If you remove, behind you, everything, you can feel it even if you can’t see it, little by little. I think the audience can feel it.
What do you think about the American remake of your film?
It’s an industry. So it’s good for us, it’s good for my next film.
Do you know where it’s going to be set?
I’ve heard so many things! I don’t know, really.
What are you working on next?
It’s an action thriller with a female character.
Which actress would you love to have as a lead in that film?
In France we have several actresses — perhaps Marion Cotillard or Louise Bourgoin.
Marion Cotillard as a lead in an action film? Now that I’d love to see!
Sleepless Night is available on VOD, and opens May 11 in select cities.