There were several of them

2012 - 2016


Contributors: Philippe Troyon, Director, Julien Pornet, Editor and the entire team from the Institut Curie Paris. 



For the last few years, F93, filmmaker Philippe Troyon (with the help of film editor Julien Pornet) and researchers Mathieu Piel and Claire Hivroz along with their team (Institut Curie), have been working together to make a documentary. In late July 2016, a film was born – the director gave it the title “Nos vies minuscules” (Our Tiny Lives). In September and October 2016,   the viewing of the film became the subject of a written discussion between the head of F93 and the film director – below are extracts from this discussion: 


Hello Marc,
(…) I wanted to ask if you’ve had time to watch “nos vies minuscules”. We screened it for the researchers and other trusted individuals. They were very moved by the personal nature of this work, which they hadn’t expected and which they found very rich – and which makes a change from the films made about them and about biology in general. They’re hoping to do a lot of work with the screening of this film. We’re in the middle of post production (calibration and mixing). Julien and I would appreciate any feedback - however “tiny” - from you…


Dear both of you,
I’ve set up a viewing protocol that isn’t finished yet. I think it’ll be finished sometime next week. We could meet up afterwards, during the week of 26th - 30th.
Would that be good for you?


Dear Philippe, Dear Julien,
I suggest that you come to F93 next Friday, the 23rd, in the morning.
Would that suit you?
Thanks in advance,


Dear Marc,
We’re busy with the post-production of the film until mid October (sound editing, voice recording, mixing, calibration, DCP). Nevertheless, I could come and see you next week as initially planned (week of 26th). Let me know when it’s a good time for you. Julien can carry on with the work without me. I’ve got quite a lot to tell you about our work, the film and its future. We’re limited by the complicated availability of the Studio, the labs and the technicians. We’ve made some substantial changes since we made the version that you have. I’ve got an interesting schedule to offer this film at different festivals, various educational events, etc.   Looking forward to talking to you about it. 
Warm regards,


Marc’s viewing notes, passed on to Philippe.

“First Viewing”
Originally, the project was called “Là où c’était plusieurs/There were several of them”. This was also a code to stay the course, so it can be changed. However, I’m a bit doubtful about Philippe’s suggestion, “Nos vies minuscules” (too similar to Pierre Michon).
The voice-off by Philippe, the film’s main narrator, is a great success, which is a real surprise. I wouldn’t have betted on it. Philippe and Julien tried an actor and according to them, it didn’t work.
I’m not totally satisfied with the music used in the film. I think Julien organised this (did Philippe give instructions?). It’s a little caricatured at times (“independent movie”).  Above all, it lacks a clear working line. The soundtrack seems slightly dictated by thrift – as though we don’t have enough money to be creative (so we’re using “free” sound). At the moment, it’s a little bland; the music needs to “confront” the images more to take the film further, or to “consolidate” it in some of its sentiments (intuitions). Should this be done by someone else (?) or should Julien be given a freer rein?
I don’t like the interview sequences very much (1st section). Definitely not. I’ve already spoken to Philippe about this. It’s not new. To be precise, I’m not against using interviews (someone talking or even confiding in front of a camera that frames them). But I’m troubled by these particular interviews, although I admit their presence along with other sequences does work quite well (but that’s more to do with the rhythm of the film). I’m just disappointed about the images and words that I saw and heard. More often by the image, in fact. Which means that I would keep some “spoken” things but with different images. Right from the start, these sequences seem to me like a crutch (a certain narrative tradition, resorting to a kind of didactic writing). All the more so because it’s as though it’s to please F93 (the audience), to supply it with elements of science, to create “scientific culture”, etc. 
What worries me is that Philippe loves these moments, to the point of keeping them “in spite of everything”.


“Second Viewing”
It is not only Philippe (alive) and the death of his friend (Valérie) that’s the issue here, but the entire context of this story – a cancer research institute that Philippe is beginning to learn about. With the “Curie” experience, he expands his own memories of Valérie. At the same time, this tragic event is not the whole film; there is also Philippe’s childhood. Philippe ends up talking about his childhood. For a child, events like the death of a loved one are totally unjust, often traumatising the child for life.  
The death of Valérie “enlightened” Philippe about his own life, the intensity of his sadness making him very lucid about himself and what’s around him: “Only the things around me, only things at the Institut Curie!” This is what makes the film feel familiar to us. Nothing is, strictly speaking, extraordinary in what Philippe is saying – neither the research scientists, nor Curie, nor his childhood, nor his friend. The marvel of it all lies in the symphony of the whole, in the movement that brings it to life… it is a question of making all the elements transparent in order to create comings and goings between them despite their complexity. 
Philippe needs to accept that his film focuses on him and his awareness of things. At a certain moment, this was the only reason he made it. Without this, he would have stopped. He needs to make sure he doesn’t juxtapose his own awareness with a “false awareness” that is learned or dictated, otherwise we sense a lack of harmony and the film no longer says anything. If there is a problem with the film, it will be personal, it will be his personal problem. From then on, he can say anything and everything… objectivity and subjectivity no longer exist.    
Philippe’s feelings for Valérie, as well as his feelings for some of the research scientists are not mere details or narrative effects. These feelings define the entire film; this is the film’s truth.
In the film, Philippe tries to show us what he personally knows about the Institut Curie; what he’s seen of it. In his images of life in the lab, we sometimes feel that it wouldn’t take much for things to be different. Thanks to this, we feel involved in the life of this research; it gives the film the feeling that it could carry on and on, supplemented by other narratives. With Philippe’s camera, we become “Curien” – by watching the Institut, we become part of Curie’s world and its life.
I don’t really like the interview sequences (2nd section). Philippe should not let his real characters (e.g. the research scientists) influence him. He needs to cultivate his own “psychological” situation, even if it’s small and fragile – the night he spent next to Valérie at La Salpetrière (and later, his brother’s death of cancer). The words of the Curie researchers (Mathieu, Claire, Michel) often cause a problem because we know all this already (so to speak). And even from a sociology or documentary point of view, these speeches are not very interesting. To me, it seems as though Philippe, to whom these sequences with his friends the researchers are very important, has not always managed to put them in such a way so that they no longer know what they were going to say. 
The film was built around Philippe’s despair more than the Institut Curie, science or scientific culture. It’s having been through this despair that often gives this film its grace (to be slightly more precise, what I like about what I’ve seen is that it is no longer about trying to belong to something like a film or filmmakers’ community). We need to preserve this. Where does Philippe end and his characters begin? We should no longer know. And how do we achieve this?  Through style, obviously, “by leaving things unsaid”, by “de-cluttering” the film somewhat. We need to try and remove a little of Philippe’s “self”, which tries to chat with science, to leave room for the “self” who is filming. He needs to let go of narrative function a bit. He should continue to tell his personal tale that he lived in secret, knowing that this raises a real problem of decency. How can we express this experience despite the walls we put up around us to protect ourselves? Challenged with this difficulty, the film should gain in rigour.
The shifts between childhood memories, sadness at losing his friend and the sequences at the Institut Curie should become a musical syntax. At times, they’re still separate small islands. This approach using repetition should erase the motif of science and scientific research. This should almost be a hallucination. The Institut Curie mustn’t intersect Philippe’s private narrative (Valérie’s death, his brother’s death, his childhood). Philippe’s personal story is a musical territory on which Curie and its researchers (Matthieu, Claire, Michel) land.
At the same time - and Philippe foresaw this - his film cannot be the simple account of his experience; he has to be able to move beyond this story. This is where it gets difficult – how to film this experience but without corrupting the possibility of a film with the Institut Curie researchers?
Philippe should continue to seek out his role in this film. The role of a director in a film is crucial - finding the film’s relationship with its author… Philippe’s place is beside the researchers, not opposite them. Just as Philippe would have wanted the doctors from La Salpetrière to be beside Valérie and not in front of her.
Philippe has contributed many elements to his film and now it’s time to let the film do its work. Making a film means moving over to make room for the person who only appears at the editing table, the “visitor”, i.e. the film itself.

My dear Marc,
(…)I read very carefully the two pages about your two viewings of the film and the impressions you had. First of all, thank you for the sensitivity of your words and how you expressed what you felt concerning me and my work. I completely understand what you’re saying and it would certainly be worth continuing to discuss this tomorrow morning. Even though I feel the written word is sometimes better for expressing some things without getting bogged down with certain misunderstandings or disagreements face to face.
I also read the Roland Barthes’ piece, which is, of course, his very good way of expressing how hard it is to write, wanting to write before writing. I recommend you read Antoine Compagnon’s essays on the subject that also makes reference to Marcel Proust. I think that, whatever the case, one should be lucid about all the possible and impossible forms of any desire for cinematic writing and its results. It’s also a collective work unlike literature, painting and music, and therefore a long road full of compromise. Bizarrely, it’s also a work that is collectively received, unlike others that can be received in a solitary way or else it’s a kind of plastic “sound and vision” installation. I “lugged myself around” at the Institut Curie, it was my reality for two years and it takes a long time to move on from that. To attain the “pure” object, you have to go through several temporal, material and intellectual strata. To reach the goal directly, you have to be totally available, supported and… loved (cf Roland Barthes). In film, you can’t lock yourself away to write or shoot, except when it’s fiction that has been filmed after the event.
At the moment, I’m still finishing the form of the film that you’ve seen, having changed a few things. With these adjustments, I find it very coherent, generous and beautiful. It probably doesn’t have the fluidity of an accomplished, very personal work, but it is one of its foreshadowings. I need to see this through, this “filmed-edited” object before moving on to the next one.  I know that I love the silences, the sounds, the images and the length, that aren’t there… Editing wears you down, it fills your head with noise… it’s exhausting, especially when it’s connected to a transformed reality. This project, as you said, was called There Were Several of Them, and I’m beginning to understand why…  
See you soon, and thank you!