How Montreal filmmaker Marc-Antoine Lemire wilded out with his ambitious feature debut

Breakups, alien abductions and a furry retreat feature prominently in Mistral Spatial, Lemire’s followup to his award-winning short Pre-Drink.

In 2017, if you were a fan of short films, Pre-Drink was unavoidable. The intimate film by Marc-Antoine Lemire was about a pre-drinking session between two best friends, Alexe, a young trans woman, and Carl, a gay man. That night before going out, they decide to have sex together for the first time, potentially shifting their relationship forever. 

Lemire had high expectations for his first feature film, mainly as many people expected him to expand his short film success into a feature. It was at almost every major festival and won many awards. “After Pre-Drink, I felt a lot of pressure. Everyone asked if I would turn the film into a feature or continue the story. To deflate that pressure, I really needed to do something else,” Lemire explains over the phone. Going in a completely different direction, he made Mistral Spatial

Mistral Spatial is a low-budget, high-concept film about love. As the movie opens, Sam and his girlfriend Cath are breaking up. In the middle of the night, he walks into the streets of Montreal and hears a strange musical sound. He passes out. A folly artist with a collection of sounds, he becomes obsessed with determining what happened to him. Could it be aliens? 

At its heart, Mistral Spatial is about a very universal feeling. “When we’re faced with something beyond our understanding, in this case, a breakup, we tend to search for explanations,” he says. “It’s not rational in the sense that finding answers will magically make it easier to move on. The best way to move on has always been to go with the flow, to abandon yourself to the present.” 

The alien abduction and the breakup follow a parallel trajectory in the film. The alien storyline helps articulate the uncertainty and unfeasibility of Sam’s quest. “It was a challenge to shoot something that we don’t actually see, things that defy easy interpretation.” Whether love or alien, the film explores the intangible elements of our existence — how we can’t ever fully understand the totality of our life experience, all with a light and playful tone. Despite the heavy themes, the film feels warm and approachable as it takes pleasure in mining the unknown for impossible answers.

Mistral Spatial Marc-Antoine Lemire interview
How Montreal filmmaker Marc-Antoine Lemire wilded out with his ambitious feature debut

Making the film with a small budget (about $230K, about a 10th of what SODEC categorizes as a “small budget” feature), Lemire faced the challenge of bringing a rather ambitious film to the screen. It not only features (theoretical) aliens but extended animated sequences. 

On the phone, it’s clear that Lemire likes a challenge. His love of cinema is vast, and his sense of adventure is palpable. “It’s like, I wanted to unravel myself a little,” he says. 

Yet, the constraints imposed by the budget turned out to be liberating. “It felt a little like making your first short film out of school. You’re passionate and ready to give your all. It was like that and totally liberating,” says Lemire. “I wanted to take risks and push things as far as possible.” The process itself was also long. Just because they had no money, it didn’t mean they wanted to cut corners. 

“We first started shooting in 2019. Then we did a second section of the script in the summer of 2020, a brief moment during the pandemic when things opened up again,” says Lemire. “We were a small team, and all of us were close. I like the artisanal side of things.” The kind of art-school feel was also intentional. “I’ve always liked films with a little ‘Arts and Crafts’ feel,” he explains. “There’s a different kind of freedom when you mostly finance the film yourself.” 

Working with limited means necessitates strong collaborations. Lemire wrote the role with actor Samuel Brassard in mind. “We’ve seen Sam in supporting roles, but I wanted to give him a chance to be a leading man,” says Lemire. “When I’m working with a character in almost every scene and every shot, we need a lot of mutual trusts. It allowed both of us to push things even further.” Brassard joined the process early, and Lemire often asked him questions about the character: “What would he do in this situation?”

Lemire also emphasizes that the time needed to complete the film allowed the movie to really come into its own. Whereas most films are produced in a time crunch, they had three years. Mistral Spatial features extensive animated sequences, which would not be possible under normal circumstances. Lemire brought these sequences to the screen with animator Vincent Ethier. “Ethier joined very early in the process,” allowing him to have years to complete the animation required. “These scenes are really important to me,” says Lemire, “because they serve as a kind of climax as Sam, this cerebral character, can finally let go.”

Divided into three main parts, the film’s final act takes place at a furry retreat. Everyone chooses an animal they identify with to dress up as, attempting to connect with their inner animal. This ties into an earlier memory where his ex-girlfriend asks Sam if he’s more of a dog or a cat. Sam, cerebral and introverted, has feline tendencies. Closing out the interview, I wondered what animal Lemire would choose. “At first, I thought I was a cat like Sam, but really, I think I’m more of a dog who has been socialized as a cat, if that makes sense.” 

Mistral Spatial (directed by Marc-Antoine Lemire)

Mistral Spatial by Marc-Antoine Lemire is currently screening in Montreal theatres.

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