Marie Monge, a Deadline One To Watch this year, received strong notices for her debut feature, Treat Me Like Fire (Joueurs) here in the Directors’ Fortnight section. The film stars Tahar Rahim (A Prophet, The Looming Tower) and Stacy Martin, a breakout in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. The trio visited the Deadline Cannes Studio to discuss the film’s themes of addiction and the challenges of leaving intense experiences on set.
Martin is Ella, whose life is turned upside down when she meets Abel (Rahim). Irresistibly drawn to this elusive lover, the young woman discovers the cosmopolitan underground world of Paris’s gaming circles, where adrenaline and money reign supreme. Their love story begins as a mere bet, but turns into a devouring passion.
Monge wrote the part of Ella with Martin in mind and the actress says, “I fell in love with it. Her tenacity as a director, and how she viewed the characters being completely independent and dependent of each other. I loved that as a love story where it’s viewed by the eye of this woman, but at the same time the story doesn’t exist without the male protagonist. They create a beautiful sort of yin and yang in the story without compromising either of them.”
Rahim who has worked with some established directors says working with first-timers is exciting. “The newcomers as directors they’ve been fed with a new mythology of movies… So you got a lot of influences from all over the place, all over the world, and that brings something really new and a bit more, sometimes maybe they dare to write characters bigger than life and they believe in that.”
Martin’s research included working on “the emotional dependency that you have or the codependence in relationships, because she’s addicted to the love and she’s addicted to what they are and how they function and how she’s viewed in his eyes and how he’s viewed in her eyes. I sort of focused on that more so than the gambling addiction, because that was something that he brought in.”
To portray Abel, Rahim visited the gambling circles that are making a resurgence in Paris. “I’ve been really impressed in a way to see how in this illness in a way, everybody’s equal. You can have some lawyers and workers at the same table. No matter the color, no matter the social ladder, they’re here in a way to lose, and I was impressed by this. Just physically I had to play just to feel what it is to win and to lose, and I’ve been hooked for a second… So I said to myself, ‘Okay, I got enough now.’”
Rahim says he used to have difficulty leaving behind an intense role, but now, “When I go home and I watch myself in the mirror, I know who I am, so that is way much better… At some point my friends told me like, ‘Ah come on man, we don’t want to be with your character,’ and I did not understand at that moment. It was unconscious, and I agree with them. I mean we actors, as us we can be boring if we talk always about it, and you just want to have a drink with your friends sometimes and that’s it. When I go home I want to be with my family. With them, not my character.”
For Martin, it takes a while. “I sort of go into a weird state of depression. It sounds really upsetting, but it’s just like I kind of hibernate at home to kind of come back. I just put all of my energy, sort of my life stops for three months and everything goes into that, so then coming back to who I am and my life, my friends, and my family. It’s something that I enjoy and I say it kind of, they bring me back to normality.”
Monge says she’s not so distanced yet. “I mean maybe I’m going to fall into depression like Stacy. My life is so mixed with my work that I don’t go home and leave it behind, so like you, so I don’t know. I finished the film a week ago and I’m here now, so I didn’t go back to normality.”
Finishing the film at the same time as a post-production strike in France ultimately did not present a challenge. Says Monge, “Actually, I didn’t have issues, there was a strike when we were finishing. The sound mixer was on strike for one day. I had to totally support what they strike for. It was not a problem, and we finished on time so everything went good.”
While Monge mulls her next project, Rahim is doing Lone Scherfig’s next and Martin has wrapped Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux among others.