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Sibyl 2019



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Manipulation, imposter syndrome, and the relationship between fiction and reality.

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About Sibyl 💬

Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a jaded psychotherapist, returns to her first passion: writing. But her newest patient Margot Vasilis (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a troubled up-and-coming actress, proves to be a source of inspiration that is far too tempting. Fascinated almost to the point of obsession, Sibyl becomes more and more involved in Margot's tumultuous life, reviving volatile memories that bring her face to face with her past.


Q: Like AGE OF PANIC and IN BED WITH VICTORIA, SIBYL is the portrait of a woman struggling to balance her professional and personal life, grappling with her emotions and anxieties. Are your films always a form of veiled self-portraiture?

Justine Triet: I take inspiration from certain things happening within my inner circle, from research, from films, and no doubt a little bit from myself, but honestly, I'm not Sibyl. My co-writer Arthur Harari and I really had fun going deep into fiction, deliberately damaging our characters. I get the impression that in the end, they no longer resemble me at all. Woody Allen's film ANOTHER WOMAN haunted me from the moment I started writing. Oddly I don't love that film, but its main narrative fascinates me: a woman seeking calm and inspiration is confronted with another woman, who plunges her into a dizzying abyss that makes her life break apart. That film was my initial reference.

Q: Did you do any research on psychanalysis?

Justine Triet: No. I did meet a number of shrinks and asked them if they'd ever had an unsettling experience with a patient. One of them confessed that she'd gone through her father's grave illness at the same time as one of her patients was going through it. Her own father died sooner than the patient's did, and she had to end the analysis because she felt extremely brutalized by the patient. That nourished the script, as did the television series IN TREATMENT.

Q: The film explores a number of motifs: motherhood, filiation, creativity, couples, passionate love, the mid-life crisis, duality, how neuroses are passed down... What is the dominant, central theme?

Justine Triet: It's how we handle the question of our origins. How we find ways to forget them, and how they suddenly reappear. It's a film about identity, roots. Where do I come from, who am I, what have I done, can I reinvent myself? Sibyl is haunted by the origins of her child, her book, and Margot. It was important to me that Margot come from a modest background. She hates her origins and is fighting against them. She appears out of nowhere with a dilemma that sends Sibyl careening into her own past. In a certain sense, she is Sibyl in a reverse mirror. Sibyl is also attempting to work against her origins - her mother, alcohol - as she builds her life. Writing is her way of escaping them as she reinvents herself. As she begins writing again after meeting Margot, Sibyl opens a Pandora's box that leads her into both fictional folly and a vertiginous identity crisis.

Q: This leads us to the question of immorality. Sibyl transgresses the code of ethics when she records her patient for use in her future book. The film also features a filmmaker who models her actors like clay. Does the creative act always require some form of vampirism or predation?

Justine Triet: To an extent, yes. But beyond that, in the film, everyone is manipulating everyone. In Sibyl's case, her need to write prompts her to break all the rules. She leaves reality and enters fiction in order to experience certain things. At the same time, it's playful. Creation is like a game with no rules. Of course, Sibyl goes too far, because her life had gotten bland. She gets carried away. The writing and the book turn her into a locomotive that runs off the rails no sooner than it starts chugging. She feeds not only on Margot but on everything and everyone around her... including herself!

Q: The film within the film reflects the game you refer to, playfully combining comedy and cruelty.

Justine Triet: By this point in the film, we need that blend, because this is when things really start going off the rails. When Sibyl goes to the island, she's entering a world of fantasy, no longer entirely real or normal. It's far away, it's beautiful, it's fake. The shoot was perfect for that. I needed it to bring the comedy and the insanity, two elements that shouldn't necessarily mix. Sandra Hüller really helped me combine those elements. She achieves a perfect blend of comedy and drama as she embodies her explosive character, turning her pain into a nutty energy. We don't know whether to laugh or to suffer right along with her.

Q: At one point on the shoot, Margot says the movie business is crazy and she's afraid she'll lose her mind. Do you sometimes worry about that yourself?

Justine Triet: The movie business is a microcosmic society where life speeds up and intensifies. Everything takes on monumental proportions. The tiniest problem becomes a tragedy. The hierarchy is brutal and completely grotesque. It's a ridiculous, comical milieu, but when you're living in it, experiences are heightened. I enjoyed making fun of it, and it served the story. It almost begs to be satirized. Altman's THE PLAYER was a reference in that regard. Even in a serious film, like Minnelli's TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, everything that has to do with the film biz has a comical, satirical side.

Q: There's a duality between Sibyl and Margot, Sibyl and her sister, Gabriel and the little girl born of his love with Sibyl... Can you talk about this motif, that runs through so many films?

Justine Triet: There is also a duality between Sibyl and Mika, Gabriel and Igor... Between Sibyl and Margot, it's more of a reverse mirror. Sibyl kept her child; Margot wants to abort. As for Mika, she wanted a child, like Sibyl, but didn't have one and is mourning that. I tried to multiply the duality motif, as though Sibyl were penetrating all the film's characters. Towards the end, Margot escapes that and we realize she may be less fragile than Sibyl. The stronger one may not be who we think. Margot has blossomed and matured. She's no longer a victim and seems happy and proud at having inspired Sibyl.

Q: In terms of mirror images, the presence of the children is striking. What role do they play in the story?

Justine Triet: The children are very important, but they are sort of hidden characters in the film. The child in psychanalysis, Daniel, is a strange presence, not necessary to the story, but always there when Sibyl remembers her past love. Daniel is like a ghost of the child she made with Gabriel. In the beginning, when Daniel and Sibyl are playing Monopoly, he tells her "you're going to lose." This is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When I wrote the script, I was told there were too many characters, that I wasn't making a series, that Daniel wasn't necessary. I felt, on the contrary, that he reflected a key element of the main story. To me, he is covertly a very important character. As for Sibyl's daughters, initially, they're in the background, but gradually Selma comes into focus and we understand that she is the secret core of Sibyl's life.

She inherits it all, without knowing it. She is both a trace and a prolongation. The film needed to end on her. She speaks her own mind and truly sees her mother for the first time, hence beginning to exist just when Sibyl has decided to pretend her life is fiction and that the people around her are characters. The child unknowingly comes along and contradicts her mother.

Q: After a very urban first part (as in your first two films), SIBYL heads for the light and the wide-open spaces of Stromboli. Why this place, so loaded with symbolism and cinema?

Justine Triet: The island's history has been transformed by cinema. Shooting there was somewhat of a mystical experience, and beyond the reference, the volcano evokes all the emotional and sexual metaphors. Though SIBYL is in no way a rereading of Rossellini’s legendary film, we had fun filming a German director imagining herself shooting a love story on Stromboli. The idea was to use the location to make the film erupt. It was the first time I'd ever shot in a natural landscape and I loved it! (I have one thing in common with Sibyl, I spend more time in fiction than in reality, and filming elements like the sea, the wind and the sun was a new challenge.) Stromboli provides such a contrast to the Parisian apartments that it seems almost unreal. Sibyl calls her sister from the island and tells her she feels she's no longer in any reality, which is ironic, because this is where she is the most proactive, where she really dives into life.

Q: The film is bursting with characters, stories inside stories... How do you kick off such complexity? Did you and Arthur Harari set challenges for yourselves when writing the script? Or were you seeking to expand upon the vein of VICTORIA? VICTORIA was fairly complex in terms of interconnecting stories, but it was quite down-to-earth, whereas here there's a more cerebral dimension: we're in Sibyl's head.

Justine Triet: Challenges have nothing to do with it. We explore a lead, and for this film, that immediately implied complexity and overlap, because there are multiple levels of reality: the present, Margot's story, Sibyl's past, the writing of the novel. It was complicated to organize because I don't do much theorizing. I need a kind of chaotic accumulation that I then make sense of, taking things out, clarifying. That continued in the editing, where we had to once again ask questions, break it all down and reorganize it. At that point, the editor Laurent Sénéchal and I had to decide how all these elements might add up to a particular tone: straight-up comedy, drama, or a mix. I realized that we shouldn't systematically aim for comic efficiency, that it wouldn't work with this film. It's a drama, or maybe a dramedy. A film like James L. Brooks' TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is a great example of that. Genre goes out the window, it's a hybrid.

Q: How did you approach the love scenes, which are relatively explicit?

Justine Triet: It was new for me and I tried to film them like action scenes. I asked myself, should I approach it with a fear of lowering the camera, or should I see it as a mechanical thing? We directed these scenes with mechanical precision, especially since Virginie had no desire to improvise. She asked me to tell her exactly what I wanted her to do. It was pretty comical. I spoke to them as if teaching them to ride a bike or rebuild an engine. It was concrete.

Q: This is your second film with Virginie Efira. VICTORIA was a career milestone for her, and it seems like you two are starting to form a cinematic bond.

Justine Triet: With this film, I felt I was discovering new faces of Virginie. She understands everything I'm looking for, we worked quickly. The ice was broken, I could ask her anything and she trusted me. She abandoned herself completely. And she doesn't limit herself to the primary logic of the script. She's prepared to explore all facets of her character down to the illogical contradictions. I took an almost physical pleasure in filming her, molding her like clay. I wanted to rough her up, but in a good way: see her cry, fall apart, stumble and get up.

Q: The ending is beautiful, highly ambiguous and very open, at once happy and unhappy... As Sibyl gazes at her daughter, we think of Truffaut's words in another context, "Looking at you brings both joy and pain." Joy at seeing her daughter, pain because she is reminded of Gabriel.

Justine Triet: Yes, that's right. The end of the film is impure. We can read in liberation or appeasement, but the wound has not healed. Sibyl doesn't show her daughter her tears, and we feel the child is a bit lost, wondering not only where she comes from but also who her mother really is. We don't know who she is either. Her life is brimming with lies. But they are not malevolent, they are arrangements with reality, loving lies. To keep love in her life, she lies.

Sibyl Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Justine Triet

Writing Credits

Justine Triet and Arthur Harari (Screenplay)

David H. Pickering (English dialogue)


Virginie Efira

Adèle Exarchopoulos

Gaspard Ulliel

Sandra Hüller

Laure Calamy

Niels Schneider

Paul Hamy

Arthur Harari

Adrien Bellemare

Lorenzo Lefèbvre

Jeane Arra-Bellanger

Liv Harari

Cinematography by

Simon Beaufils

Genre: Drama

Countries: France, Belgium

Sibyl Official Trailer

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