Alexa-Jeanne Dubé, From Actor to Director
Alexa-Jeanne Dubé is taking Québec by storm. Over the past five years, she has acted in a number of high-profile arthouse films and has many more on the way. She is perhaps best known for her recurring role on the award-winning web series, Féminin/Féminin (2014–). In 2017, she made her debut as a director with a short film, “Oui mais non,” which is about a cold winter’s night and overwhelming but unreciprocated longing between neighbors.
Her most recent film as an actor is Claire l’hiver (2017), a naturalistic narrative about a young woman in Montreal whose life falls apart as a malfunctioning cargo spaceship threatens to crash to Earth. Written, directed, and starring Sophie Bédard Marcotte, the film is a revelation of the first-person narrative as the titular character seeks to document all aspects of her life through her portable camera. Her lens becomes our key into her world as she goes through a difficult break up, moves, and tries to pursue a career in art.
Alexa-Jeanne Dubé plays Isabelle in the film, Sophie’s impulsive best friend.
This spring, Dubé also debuted her daring second short film, “Scopique” (2017), at the Regard Film Festival in Saguenay. With light pink letterboxing, drone shots, and a deliberate disconnect between image and sound, the film is an audiovisual essay on intimacy that teeters on the brink of being experimental. Mixing graphic sex scenes with awkwardly personal sexual recollections, the film channels a discordant vulnerability.
Alexa-Jeanne Dubé sat down with Kinoscope at the Cinémathèque québécoise to discuss her work as an actor and director. The interview was conducted in French and later translated.
As an actress, what kind of questions do you wish journalists would ask about your work?
I’d like to be asked more about my process and the creative aspect of being an actor. We don’t just learn our lines and play a random character, we ask ourselves a lot of questions and the process is bigger than just the performance.
The interview would have to be a discussion on how the character emerged and focused more on the aspects of performance that are hidden. I’m frequently asked about the results but not necessarily the human experience that I lived, which is disconnected from what ends up on screen. What is on screen doesn’t belong to me as an actor.
Has becoming a director affected how you approach a performance?
I need to understand the film that I’m in. What excites me is learning how the director will shoot the film, so I can comprehend the tone and the film as a whole.
I realized what interested me most was not the character but the totality of the film. I’m very creative, so finally, that fascination with the ensemble of the film brought me to directing.
For Claire l’hiver, how did you approach the role of Isabelle?
There are similarities between Isabelle and myself in the broad context of a young woman living in Montreal, but Isabelle is a lot more spontaneous, more colorful, and more “hype” [A Québec expression close in meaning to “hip.”] than I am.
I’d say that the most important thing for me was working with Sophie and understanding the tone she wanted for the film. She wanted something realistic and natural. We used a subjective camera, and sometimes we’d shoot the scene as it was written, then afterward
we’d try something completely different with improvisation. It was all about the chemistry with Sophie as an actor and director. We found the tone, and that’s how the character emerged, on the set through improvisation.
How was it working in these single-take scenes with the subjective camera?
I really loved it! Sometimes, you only see our hands and not our faces. It was liberating as an actor. As there were no cuts in any of the scenes, every take could be different. I didn’t have to worry about continuity, so I could completely change my approach from one take to the next.
[Furthermore,] the identity of the film was more important than any individual identities. It was more collective, so I don’t have “my close-ups,” and I don’t have “my shots.” The camera is in the corner because that’s where the character puts it. The form takes prominence more than the performances.
So far, your directorial efforts deal with eroticism. What is it about eroticism that appeals to you?
What interests me most is not exactly eroticism as much as intimacy. For me, intimacy in its most complete form finds itself through a kind of eroticism. When we are naked with someone in bed, there is not really a moment more intimate than that. That’s what I like; I like that closeness. When I’m writing, it’s what I keep coming back to.
In “Scopique,” it wasn’t about making something to “turn people on.” It was about vulnerability. Eroticism is a way to communicate things that are not rational; it’s about the body and our animal nature.
“Scopique” is formally disconnected as well. The film is shot using drones, and you have a deliberate disconnect between narration and image. What motivated this structure?
The title is a term from psychoanalysis that means voyeur. The film is meant to be a voyeuristic experience. Through image and sound, I wanted to create two separate voyeuristic experiences. In the film, you see and hear things that you should not be seeing or hearing. My goal was for the audience to experience voyeurism and give them the choice to look or to listen. With the voiceover, the film becomes a narrative documentary on intimacy.
With my first film, “Oui mais non,” I wanted to prove I could make a film. I wrote a story and did everything you are “supposed to do.” I found out I could direct, and I have a film to prove that. Afterward, I had a desire to express myself more sincerely and that’s how “Scopique” emerged. This film is my universe. I did not compromise; I didn’t even try to make something good. I just made something that I wanted to see.
What about the drones?
It came out of a practical need. In the first scene, we have the couple making love in the canoe in the middle of a lake, and I wanted to have them shot from above. I wasn’t sure how to do it. I couldn’t just stick the camera on a pole; the shot is in the middle of a lake! It was Rafaël Ouellet, my DP, who turned to me and said, “You have to shoot with a drone!” Everything came together that way because the drone served what I wanted to achieve. I don’t think I’d reuse it if it didn’t fit what I’m trying to do.
There are three interviews in the film, how many did you do?
The film was constructed over a year, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. When I had some time with my director of photography, I’d say, “Want to go shoot something?” The order of the film is the order that we shot it in.
I also thought it would be cool to have some narration, so I interviewed people who told me stories. I’d always be moving forward like this, always coming up with a new idea. I was searching [for the next point of inspiration] and eventually, the film became these three vignettes.
The ending was the only thing I was sure of from the start. I absolutely wanted my grandmother to talk about her sex life with my grandfather and their lifelong monogamy.
Then, on screen, I inserted these images from an orgy.
Are you planning on making any feature-length films?
I have two short projects in development, but I’d love to make a feature film. I already have an idea for one, a documentary, about anxiety that mixes illustration and video. It is a political film rather than a reportage. It is very personal to me, so I’m not sure if I want to start with it, but it’s always there waiting!
Alexa-Jeanne Dubé’s “Scopique” premiered at the 22nd Regard Film Festival in Saguenay.