Lucy Grizzli Sophie anne émond interview

Anne Émond on her latest film Lucy Grizzli Sophie, a techno-thriller about online harassment

The filmmaker talks about Fatal Attraction, online harassment and difficult women in a frank conversation about digital worlds.

In 2011, Anne Émond released her feature debut, Nuit #1. It was a harrowing, compelling film about a couple who meet at a club and hook up. They don’t even know each other’s names but soon get lost in an endless night of philosophical conversations that twist through the cold, bleak darkness. It’s a movie of shocking simplicity that captures the impending violence of masculinity and the fragile despair of contemporary life. It’s a movie about yearning, the charged intensity of sex and the emptiness of it all. Nuit #1 echoes through many of Émond’s follow-ups, from her masterpiece Nelly (an adaptation of the writing and life of Nelly Arcan) to her latest film Lucy Grizzli Sophie, an adaptation of a play of the same name.

Lucy Grizzli Sophie is a techno-thriller. Though most of the film unfolds in a country house in Bolton-Est, it’s a movie about the weight of online harassment and hate. The lush countryside locales are punctuated with an almost violent ping of notifications that inevitably come in torrentuous waves. Other parts of the film are entirely online; screens of 4Chan-like messageboards, violent discourses, and snippets of aggressive videos and games dominate the screen. It serves to narrow the gap between the online and IRL experiences. 

The film follows Sophie (Catherine-Anne Toupin, who also wrote the play and script) as she escapes from her life in the city. We’re not quite sure what she’s running from, but she seems unable to function without a daily bottle of wine and any brand of clear liquor. As she arrives at the doorsteps of her summer getaway, she’s already drunk. She holds herself together with remarkable grace as she faces off against her new housemate Martin (Guillaume Cyr), before vomiting clear bile over herself. He leads her into the house with a certain amount of gentleness and an uncertain tenderness, as if her body were radioactive, alluring and dangerous. As the film progresses and the pair seemingly grow closer, we also piece together Sophie’s backstory and what led her to this particular house at this specific moment. 

“I read the play, and I just thought it was incredible,” says Émond. “It’s a real slow burner.” She was interested in Sophie’s character, the type of woman we rarely see in films. “A feminine character over 40 is rare, even if it’s becoming more common. Usually, these women are pressured by family, jobs or lovers. Sophie is not like that; this is a woman who doesn’t know how to define herself or her life, which is a major theme within the film.” 

Catherine-Anne Toupin, Lise Roy, and Guillaume Cyr all reprised their performances from the stage. Their performances are rich and embodied, rippling with tension. Although Émond loved the play, she could never see it live due to being out of the country during its run, allowing her freedom to adapt it. “They already knew their characters perfectly, and so they were able to dive even deeper into their complexity, which allowed me to dive deeper into transforming it into cinema,” she says.

First and foremost, she informed herself about the landscape of the thriller – relatively uncharted territory for her up to this point. She mentions Hitchcock’s Psycho as an influence, but also the films of Lynne Ramsay, mainly You Were Never Really Here, which she sees as a movie representing a “midpoint between an auteur film and a genre film.” Then, of course, she leans on the thrillers of the 1990s like Basic Instinct, Misery and Fatal Attraction

Lucy Grizzli Sophie anne émond interview

She remembers watching Fatal Attraction when she was young. “Glenn Close was completely crazy, and I can’t say how influential it was for me… not that I would ever boil a rabbit alive, let’s be clear (laughs). But it’s also made me thankful how much female characters have changed and evolved onscreen.” 

Another major influence is the film Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven, which is also rooted in video games. In that movie, Isabelle Huppert plays the CEO of a gaming company who is attacked in her home, an incident that transforms her entire life. “It’s one of my major references, but Catherine-Anne Toupin doesn’t like it! I find it super interesting, ambiguous and complex. I understand it doesn’t appeal to everyone. I hope we feel confident enough as career women to watch movies like that and a film like TÁR, which I adored. I understand feeling confronted by difficult women, but I hope our society is equal enough that we can engage with these types of characters.” 

As the film’s mystery is pieced together, we understand that Sophie has been the victim of an online harassment campaign. Her phone is not a tool for communication but a beacon of hatred. The movie brims with similar stories, such as a young woman working at a local dépanneur who had an intimate video leaked to her friends and family. In depicting the long stretches of screens that share and engage with that online hatred, Émond explains that she wanted them to be challenging to watch, almost unending in their brutality. “Online harassment is infinite and goes on for a long time. I spent a lot of time, too much time, on Reddit and 4Chan on pages that we could describe as brutally ‘incel.’ They were misogynist, homophobic and racist — the real lower depths. And I want to emphasize that what we depict in the film is soft compared to what it’s really like, to the scale and depth of the violence we can experience online.” 

“I wanted to make sure that parents can take their teens to the film,” she says, “so we had to be careful not to get an 18+ rating. I also didn’t want to be guilty of portraying even more violence by showing it. The world has enough violence as it is.” She explains that most of what is in the film is rooted in reality. One of the games we see, which features Sophie, is a “punch the bitch game,” which Émond says is a direct reference to what happened during Gamergate, and a game created about Anita Sarkeesian and other female game creators. “Billions of people amused themselves by beating up this woman in this online game.” 

Émond relates a little to the experience. When she made her film Nelly, about the writer Nelly Arcand, a movie that explored the life of the writer as well as her sexuality, she experienced online harassment. “I’m not even very well known, and I received so much hatred online that I left social media. Men were just sending me hate, saying that I’m not a filmmaker, that I’m a whore like Nelly (Arcand). All for nothing. All I can think of is someone who is a radical feminist with a real following — how much worse it must be.” 

The film, as seen through the eyes of Sophie, is invested in the experience of a woman losing her identity amidst hatred, but it similarly tackles the fragility of masculinity. Much like Nuit #1, which saw a young man with a thinly veiled contempt for women, we sense through Martin a boiling resentment for the opposite sex. It’s the kind of tension that is explosive and ripe with sexual undertones but also just outright violence. It’s the lifeblood of a dark and compelling film. 

As one of Quebec’s greatest working filmmakers, with Lucy Grizzli Sophie, Anne Émond brings a challenging and contemporary film to the screen. It’s a compelling thriller that similarly evokes the “reality” of online worlds that are no longer abstract digital landscapes but have tangible, real-world implications. ■

Lucy Grizzli Sophie (directed by Anne Émond)

Lucy Grizzli Sophie is now playing in Montreal theatres.

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