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An Interview with the Director and Star of 'The Animal Kingdom'

By InCinemas  /  16 Nov 2023 (Thursday)

The Animal Kingdom is a French-Belgian film set the near future where a mysterious phenomenon strikes humanity and unexplained mutations gradually transform parts of the population into human-animal hybrids. The creatures, considered a threat by any, are sent to specialised centre in an attempt to stop their mutations from progressing and to control their apparent violent tendencies. When a convoy bringing hybrids to a new facility crash in a forest, paranoia spreads in the local community as the surviving creatures scatter into the wild.

François (Romain Duris) and his 16-year-old son Emile (Paul Kircher) embark on a desperate search for his missing wife Lena who disappeared after the crash. As François clings to the family’s past, he progressively loses his grip on Emile, who has started to notice transformations in his own body, leaving his fate increasingly uncertain. But as he secretly bonds with creatures he met in the forest, Emile opens his eyes to their humanity, leaving him and his father forever changed as the authorities close in.

The fiction adventure film is directed by Thomas Cailley with Adèle Exarchopoulos and Tom Mercier starring alongside Duris and Kircher.

We spoke with the director and actor Paul Kircher while they were in town for the French Film Festival 2023.

On what drew them to this project.
Thomas Cailley (TC): The story was important to me as I wanted to tell Emile's story of emancipation and growth. His relationship with his father was something I personally experienced as well so it was nice to be able to work on that through the film with these characters played by Paul and Romain.
Paul Kircher (PK): For me it was the strong script about life and adventure! I love that my character Emile was able to tell his story through fantastic metaphors in this beautiful universe where people turn into animals. Sometimes in life you can't choose what happens. Emile is apprehensive of the transformation at first until he starts to experience it for himself and begins to open up to the change. I liked how there is growth in his character to learn about himself as he goes through crisis with his family and friends.

Kircher was one in 200 over boys who had auditioned for the role of Emile in the film. Both he and Cailley spent time together to better understand each other and build his character. Cailley commented that despite Emile being created for the screens, there is also elements of Kircher embedded within. The actor talked about his preparation for the role.
PK: We worked with a choreographer to learn how to interact with the world differently as these complex human characters turning into animals. I really worked hard on the instincts and senses my character goes through. Thomas also showed me some films to watch about father and son relationships which helped a lot because as much as The Animal Kingdom explores human-to-animal transformations, I believe the human relationships between the characters were the main subject.

On the hardest scene to film.
​TC: It has to be the manhunt in the cornfield scene for me mainly because there was a rainstorm happening during our shoot. There was mud right up to our knees and it was horrible to maneuvre through but it was an intense and important scene as well so we managed to pull through.
PK: For me it was the scene in the lake where I had to clean driftwood. It was tiring and I also got hurt in the process. The accumulation of tiredness from days of filming prior made it harder.

On their favourite scene.
TC: I'm impartial to the final scene because it was one of the last things we shot. It was an indication to the end of filming as well as the film itself, it was a goodbye between the characters as much as it was for the actors as there was no more scenes between them after.
PK: The final scene is my favourite too. I remember it being really special to shoot and there were strong emotions involved.

We touched on a specific scene set deep in a forest where Emile, having embraced his change, lets out an animalistic sound after seeing his bird friend Fix successfully take flight for the first time. 
PK: Apart from the choreographers, we also worked with people who animal sounds to deeply explore the vocal techniques to produce these sounds. 
TC: There was a technical approach to filming this scene in particular. We used a drone and I was watching from a few hundred metres away but the moment I heard the sound Paul made, I had the impression that Fix was in the air. You could almost feel the smile in his scream.
PK: It wasn't so much about being an animal but finding a way to express the animal instinct through the body of a human. I didn't want to imitate the howl of a wolf or a bark of a dog. I wanted it to come out naturally as the sound would from a human's perspective.

And to end things on a lighter note, we asked which animal they would transform into if they had the option to choose?
PK: I would like to be something that could move fast and climb things.. so probably a monkey.
TC: A Komodo dragon! They can live on both land and water.

Experience The Animal Kingdom early as part of the French Film Festival or see it in cinemas when it officially opens 23 November.

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