“The Man of Clay”: for her first film, Anaïs Tellenne stages the sculpture of desire

“The Man of Clay”: for her first film, Anaïs Tellenne stages the sculpture of desire


By the nature of things, any successful first film is first and foremost a lesson in economics: how to do a lot with not much, not burn out your ammunition too quickly, go the distance… So it is with the first feature film by Anaïs Tellenne, trained actress, discreetly screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2023, and which, from a restricted premise, obtains real fictional delights. Specifying in passing the pedigree of the director, daughter of Karl Zéro and Daisy d’Errata, former troublemakers of the PAF, will not reveal much about her Man of Clay , the antipodes of the parody-schoolboy spirit of the press group and Jalons publishing house co-founded by his parents.

If this first attempt attracts attention, it is first of all by the extreme modesty of what it tells: in a small rural area, the meeting “between two beings who are completely opposed”, as the established formula. An old antiphon here regenerated by the grace of playful and relaxed writing, establishing a stimulating commerce between reality and imagination.

Although it is anchored in rural banality, The Man of Clay nonetheless borrows form and motifs from the tale. In a Burgundian manor lost in the countryside, Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry), 58, serves as a handyman. Shy colossus, cut with a billhook, he lives between his mother (Mireille Pitot), the taunting old guardian of the estate emptied of his masters, the visits of a sassy postwoman (Marie-Christine Orry) and the bagpipes that he teases evening came.

One stormy night, Garance (Emmanuelle Devos), heiress of the place and a posh contemporary artist, arrives in a taxi for an indefinite stay. Seeing in Raphaël a model to sculpt ( “You inspire me like a changing, rugged landscape, a canyon,” she says), she convinces him to strike a pose, and him to take an indescribable passion for her. . Between the elegant city dweller and the gruff forester something of the complex of the princess and the toad, even of Beauty and the Beast, develops.

Seal of Poetry

The Man of Clay is immediately intriguing with its clear line which could be that of a comic strip (and its generic castle worthy of Moulinsart), its pinches of truculent but never mocking humor, its oscillation between small true details and unusual projections (Raphaël playing the bagpipes at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, or the fanciful creations of Garance, who collects his tears in vials).

From one shot to another, Anaïs Tellenne leads her story from the angle of secrecy and the seal of poetry, describing the mutual approach of her characters through sinuous detours and deferred revelations, accompanied by the impressionistic modulations of very Belle Epoque music (oboe, harp and clarinet, among others), and sometimes some outdated hit ( Madame , by Claude Barzotti). Throughout, the film sails on the edge of dreams, alternating between diurnal and nocturnal aspects, and moves step by step towards a certain paroxysm without fanfare, where the completed “work” ends up coming to life before our eyes.

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