(it may contain spoilers)

Passionate about Polanski and Fincher, the French director Cyril Roc is constantly searching for tension and thrill for his stories. Besides his personal film projects, mainly fictions, he writes a lot of scripts for clips and commercials.

His short film A punishment (Une punition, 2016) tells a story about a student who comes to his punishment, guarded by one of the most feared high school teachers. But the punishment will gradually turn against Professor.

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Cyril Roc, director of “A punishment”

How much of Polanski and Fincher will we find in your film?

Cyril Roc: What I learned from Polanski is a way of achieving a movie with a few means. As I was producing this story, I wanted to be as creative as possible with the least possible in terms of scenery and characters. David Fincher has had more of a technical influence. While digital effects serve mostly imaginary worlds, I like the way he uses them to show everyday life in surprising ways, for example the plan coming out of the brain in Fight Club. This is both spectacular, it develops the meaning and is very original. His way of framing and constructing the genre of thriller was also inspiring.

Can you give us some thoughts and insights into the making of A punishment?

Cyril Roc: Among all the reasons that led me to make this film, the most obvious for me is perhaps the least avowable: to testify what a restraint can be, considering the many hours I have there the same past. This fiction is above all an opportunity for me to recount an arm wrestling, a balance of power, a vector of tension and drama. Drama for the subject of nepotism in the first place, a theme that is close to my heart because I have known it.

I wish to bring the viewer to this delicate subject, question him on this subject without falling into ideology (because others are better at politicizing the problem, I do not wish to do in the “fact of society” but in fiction, romance and pure cinema or the true heart of this fiction is actually a story of family, that’s why the piano theme is sad).  I have chosen to express this theatrical and minimalist dimension – the “behind closed doors movie”, as called “huis-clos” in French. With a writing favoring the psychology of the characters, their moral ambiguity and their actions in turn deviated by their good intentions of departure. It is above all for me to relate a fable that is sincere, dramatic and full of surprises.

Is the problem of impartiality and favoritism in schools that seems to me to be the main topic of your fictional narrative, a real problem in the French educational system? 

Cyril Roc: Through this movie I wanted to emphasize the problem of nepotism: as Grégoire Tirot, French sociologist, says, the hard conditions of the liberal world led meritocracy to fade before the return of birth and the family. This is a real reversal that must be pointed out.

I wanted to tell the story through a boy who can can avenge his mother in order to overthrow the Oedipal cliché first of all. Secondly because the pressure that teachers put on their own child can make them crazy, as I have seen for a friend who has been convalescent at the psychiatric asylum. The story of “A Punishment” is a mix of these feelings and observations through a revenge-movie which tells how a “soldier” will perform the revenge on a son. And I hope it will be painful but I do not like graphic violence. I prefer it when it is suggestive – psychological violence.

“The real sanctions are often the responsibilities we inflict to ourselves”, is one of the powerful lines from the film. Is this your personal understanding of how the educational system works in general?

Cyril Roc: Yes, in a way every constraint you choose is a form of self-punishment. I had disappointments about freedom and consequently, constraint is an excellent source of creativity in my work. It is unexpected due to the choices of the constraints that we make that can prove to be trials worse than a punishment. For example, during filming, the crane that carried the 5000-watt projector almost fell on a chapel classified as a historical monument. I almost spent my life reimbursing the insurance… In school I was a dunce but not having good grades does not affect me anymore. Contrariwise, it shapes your personality, and when you know that most geniuses didn’t have good grades in school, it doesn’t intimidates you if you do not rely all your life on the judgment of others. And I wanted to laugh with punchlines on the copies that the teacher corrects.

Can you tell us a little more about your career? What are you working on at the moment?

Cyril Roc: I’ve been a very big cinephile from the childhood. I took a vocational training at the International Institute of Image and Sound near Versailles. Afterwards, I completed two comic shorts, some advertisements and videos clips. I have also worked as assistant director with Gela Babluani and recently with Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk, his big war movie about the evacuation of the royal army in 1940s. I am currently writing TV Show for France 3 and also for the American independent young cinema. Meanwhile I developed an idea for a feature film which contains some of the themes of “A Punishment.” The script is being read at Gaumont Studios.

 author: Teia Brînză