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Primal Castings: Emmanuelle Escourrou

As quantity dilutes quality in this ever increasingly battered art form called Cinema - which serves more peripheral interests than any other - there is one aspect that tends to bring a comfort of sorts. Believing in a character, whatever the scenario or type of production, has long proved to be the key element to the success of a film. If that fails, everything else becomes superfluous. That is, if you are setting out to deal with human emotions, interactions or psychology in a semblance of a story or traditional narrative. Casting is therefore the side of filmmaking that relies less on technical knowledge and more on instinct. It's when you place your trust in the skills of another human being whom you hope has the ability to be, precisely or paradoxically, a true human being within a fictional world. Yet, once in a while, an added dimension to a successful casting hits you like a sledgehammer; when you have the sense that, in every respect, no one else could have played that character. This was never more the case than with Emmanuelle Escourrou in the French cult horror flick Baby Blood (1990). In this gory low-budget piece, Escourrou plays Yanka, a young woman who becomes the host to a creature whose cravings for blood propel her into a killing spree. The film's episodic structure is deceptively simple, allowing us to keep track of the fleeing Yanka throughout the gestation period, but it's made extremely effective by means of Escourrou's presence. The portrayal of her transformation from ingénue circus performer at the mercy of predatory men into a murdering fiend who, despite destitution, is liberated from an otherwise oppressive world is remarkable. Her early unkemptness mirrors the rudimentary touches that populate the film, whilst the sight of her as a heavily pregnant murderer covered in her victims' blood is as grotesque as it gets. There's something intensely primal about Escourrou's physical appearance - a quality which prompts a very basic animal response of unease and that is cleverly highlighted in the attention that the camera gives to her body. Whilst some would see this as a sign of a very male perspective, others would recognise that a film of such contours, in which a distressed woman overcomes fear within extreme scenarios, is the ultimate feminist statement. She is certainly objectified throughout, but that goes hand in hand with the nature of the plot. It is as intrinsically coherent with the tone as the (inner) dialogue the creature growing inside establishes with her. But more importantly, Baby Blood expresses deep-seated male anxieties about pregnancy and female sexuality. It would make no sense for a film that formulates such an extreme metaphor to become apologetic or too gender conscious, and the fact that Emmanuelle Escourrou embodies those fears with such natural freedom explains why, 18 years after its making, she was to revisit her character in a sequel. It could be said that Lady Blood (2008) does take the much reclaimed female perspective. After all, it's based on an original idea by Escourrou herself and she co-wrote the script. But where the original showed 'vision overcoming lack of resources', this higher-budget sequel reveals itself to be very poor in most respects. Escourrou's concept of having Yanka as a character who's now fully re-integrated into society, but who is gradually pulled back into the carnivorous, blood-soaked world of the creature by means of their earlier connection is a solid template for a film. Yet the extremely poor direction, uneven pace and tacky characterisation compromise everything. Despite the confidence and knowledge of her own character, Escourrou seems lost and under-valued in scenes that are badly covered in visual terms, despite qualifying to the eyes of some as stylish. It reminded me of the various short films that you would see up until recently, which - having attained resources through funding of thousands of pounds - still denote a complete lack of cinematic discernment. The more mature Escourrou now carries a particular kind of wisdom, though. Such wisdom is no less disturbing or rooted in a primitive darkness of the human soul than her earlier screen presence. Her dark eyes communicate the long-forgotten moment in which we evolved from natural animals into beings that were tampered with by less than benign forces. These are the eyes that I feel utterly privileged to have cast in my most recent project, as Emmanuelle Escourrou will have a special appearance in the pilot episode of my long-nurtured web series Where Her Dreams End. Escourrou had been an admirer of my work for some time and as an actress who, like any other, has had to be involved in many average projects, leapt at the opportunity to be part of something as groundbreaking as we're all intending this project to be. Whilst I retain my right to keep a veil of secrecy over the contents of the series, Where Her Dreams End actually evolved from a short film I made last year. Its concept - of two women who had been each other's imaginary friend from childhood meeting in a dream - is now the starting point of something bigger, more ambitious, but still 100% character-driven. Having attained enough support to get a pilot episode into production, we are intent on releasing something that takes a very personal approach to themes that are often taken for granted, all in a truly independent fashion - without the interference of the broadcasting mammoths, for example. I am writing this prose after a week of intensive auditions to fulfil a key role in this project. That's a tiring process which has as much of the exhilarating as it does of the frustrating. I have the satisfaction of having followed my instinct and I feel confident to have found the right individual, but only time will tell. By the time this goes to print, I will be directing Emmanuelle Escourrou, amongst others, in a brand new creative challenge. I expect to resume my Now Then duties in two months' time... The pilot episode of Where Her Dreams End will be available online from April at JOÃO PAULO SIMÕES IS A PORTUGUESE FILMMAKER LIVING AND WORKING INDEPENDENTLY IN SHEFFIELD - HIS WORKS INCLUDE ANTLERS OF REASON AND AN ARRAY OF MUSIC VIDEOS AND DOCUMENTARIES: CAPTURAFILMES.BLOGSPOT.COM )

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