Please Don’t Tell’s Deidre Driscoll had the pleasure to sit down with Mathieu to ask questions about his film and his creative process.
I read that you are a self-taught writer and director. What or who are some of your major influences in both writing and directing?
I grew up with a camera and a lot of time on my hands. I'm from the skateboarder and Jackass generation and that's what influenced me to buy a camera in the first place. When I started creating content, my influences were more American. I think of legendary music video directors like Joseph Kahn and Anthony Mandler or David Fincher — directors with a very pop and fresh style. Over the years, my inspirations have aligned with the reality of our Quebec market and budgets. Today I draw a lot of inspiration from real life emotions and from directors who are able to portray it in a raw and human way, like Andrea Arnold, Jean-Marc Vallée, Lucas Guadagnino, Sofia Copolla, some of Denis Villeneuve's early work (Un 32 août sur terre, Enemy, Prisoner, Incendies).
You were born and raised in Montréal and, as far as I know, do not speak Russian or Ukrainian — what made you decide to write, cast and film Goodbye Golovin in Ukraine?
I saw a documentary by I-D magazine in 2017, “Exploring Ukraine’s Underground Rave Revolution”, just a year before we shot in Ukraine. This documentary was about the rave culture in Ukraine, but behind it there was a renaissance of Ukrainian youth after Ukraine fought for freedom back in 2014-2015 when they made the revolution against their government that was run by Russians. And no, I don’t speak Ukrainian and I don’t even understand Ukrainian nor had ever been there before but it’s really when I saw this I-D documentary that the hope, strength and disillusionment experienced by this youth inspired me to tell a coming of age story. I also found inspiration behind the architectural aesthetics of Kiev which inspired me a lot.
What was your experience like filming in Ukraine? And what were some obstacles that you faced while filming there?
Yeah there definitely were some obstacles but when I think back, this experience was a bit of a leap in the dark. We wanted an adventure first and that's what we got. I was amazed to meet a youth that resembled us and with whom we could share common values of artistic expression, love for culture and openness to the world. That’s really not something that I was expecting. I must also admit that I find a lot of inspiration in new things and this new environment was very inspiring. The biggest challenge was communication. Naively I thought that Ukrainians spoke English and this was not the case for everyone. The challenge was to direct the main actor despite the language barrier. The most fascinating thing was to realize the universal power of body language, which allowed me to understand which lines of the script the actors were playing without even understanding what he was saying. I was, like, oh yeah that’s the line that I wrote in French first that got translated to English and then translated to Ukrainian and Russian.
(Laughing) It’s like a game of “Telephone”.
Yeah and that was so scary because I really wanted to make sure that the message and the intent was the same when it was being said in Russian and Ukrainian. And the actors were such a big help in terms of understanding what the film was about and making sure that the way they were communicating it was exactly the way it was first written.
There is a line near the end of the film where Masha says to Golovin, “You think by changing the audience, we can change who we are?”. Could you elaborate on the meaning behind this statement?
“You think by changing the audience, we can change who we are?” This is the essence of the film right there in that sentence and it’s probably the most important sentence in the movie. The protagonist has a somewhat bewildered conception of his life or he believes that his problems will disappear only by changing the city or the country but sometimes the problem is within oneself. Ian is basically running away from himself and this is what Masha is trying to gently make him understand.
I’m curious as well, do you see yourself in Golovin’s character at all or in that question?
Yes, I think in a weird way I once felt like him before back in my twenties where I wanted to leave Montréal and find a new place to live and start over and have better opportunities for myself. So that’s the point of view I took writing the film — so, yes definitely I can see myself a little bit, in some ways in that main character.
Your film is a response to the question “when home is a hopeless place, is it more courageous to stay — or to go?”. Do you have an answer to this question?
I still haven't found an answer to this question. It is surely the great human conflict of our planet with the more common occurrence of migrants moving. It's probably one of the hardest choices we can make in life...knowing that none of these options will bring peace and happiness. If you do it (leave), you do it for your children, you don’t do it for yourself because sometimes staying is going to be hard but leaving is also going to be hard. So no, I don’t really have an answer.
There’s a part in the film where Golovin is describing his father’s presence as an institution or regime and now that his father is deceased, the protagonist feels like he can be himself. Since the setting of this film is in a post-soviet country, were you trying to create some parallels or metaphors of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union and, if so, could you elaborate?
Thank you for pointing out that analogy. Gotta say, the first thing that is important to me is that Goodbye Golovin is not a political film. We never name the city and we never address the political issue but it is indeed a wink that we can afford to make. This parallel refers directly to the revolution of 2014, Ukraines Fight for Freedom.