MUBI is exclusively showing Antoine Bourges' Fail to Appear (2017) as part of a collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center for their Art of the Real showcase of innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking. The film is playing May 7 - June 6, 2018 in most countries around the world.
I became interested in the relationship between caseworkers and their "clients" after spending several years in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Vancouver. I often saw these pairs talking in cafes or walking together in the street, and I did not understand at first what the nature of their relationship was. There was an act of confiding—discussing very private subjects like personal finances and mental health—but at the same time, there was something controlled in their ways of being.
I wanted to explore the distance that can exist between these people, how it can seem insurmountable because their roles are defined in response to each other, almost as if opposites: a caseworker and a client. I felt this could offer a window into our own relationship with people in different circumstances than ourselves and our inability to completely comprehend them. Over the course of several months, I gathered information, stories and court documents, and started writing a simple narrative thread that would portray two characters, a caseworker and her client.
What interested me in portraying Isolde, a beginner caseworker, is how she learns to deal with the weight of helping people. There is a certain safety in working through a protocol that allows for her insecurities—and her humanity—to be slightly repressed, but still visible. I was curious to confront this fragility with the character of Eric, a man living with symptoms of schizophrenia who seems to resist the help he is offered. In their coming together I wanted to see what is revealed about them, and also what is misunderstood or lost.
I approached this film as a "documented fiction." Through re-enacting moments I had observed, or building scenes guided by existing protocols, I wanted to create a simple narrative following the thread of Eric’s case, from the initial paperwork to an eventual human interaction. I was curious to discover how a narrative could emerge out of this process.
I met many of the performers in different support centers in Toronto while I was doing research. Like in my previous films, I am interested in working with people familiar with the subject matter. This is not so much for the sake of realism rather than to maintain the sense that the person on screen can be at once a character and themselves, fiction and documentary. I like this approach because it creates an awareness that echoes the complexity of a character like Eric, and hopefully voids a reading of his marginality as a fixed identity.