The Arnhem edition of Pluk de Nacht kicks off with This Summer Feeling, the fifth feature film by French director Mikhaël Hers which was filmed in Berlin, Paris and New York. “I wanted to escape the landscape of my youth to explore new territories.”

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In Hers’s films, the places his stories take place are often the instigators. That’s true for This Summer Feeling as well. “I made my first four films within an area of a few square kilometers, in the suburb in the southeast of Paris where I grew up. With this new film, I wanted to escape that landscape, to explore new territories and experience a sense of strangeness and disorientation. Berlin, Paris and New York are cities that I have a strong emotional connection with, and filming gave me a chance to look anew at these places that I love, as if I’m prolonging an era of my life without actually ending it. I think we partly make films or write books to fight against the passage of time, creating a semblance of eternity.”

These three metropolises, as well as a vacation village on lake Annecy, become the locations for a story about two thirtysomethings in mourning. The film opens with the sudden death of a French young woman in Berlin, and subsequently follows her boyfriend and sister as they try to come to grips with her absence over the years. Hers: “The film speaks of this human drama which we all know. We’re all confronted with loss or and absence at some point, whether it’s through a death, a separation, an existential crisis, or the end of an era. In that sense the film touches on something universal.”

This Summer Feeling has a remarkable sunny tone for a film dealing with such heavy subject matter. “I like the idea of treating somber or melancholy subjects in a gentle way, with a kind of benevolence”, says Hers. “I don’t think this takes away anything from the violence or the ambivalence of the emotions which drive them; they just become more buried. It’s important for me that the audience feels good in my films, that they are embraced by them, like you can be by a melody that affects you.”

That soft touch is partly due to Hers’s choice to shoot the film on Super 16. “I love using natural light as much as possible, which Super 16 allows me to do. And I love the very particular grain that this format has. The image is less defined, less smooth, less perfect than it would be when we would have used another format. It has this feeling of an entanglement of different eras, as if the cinema allows us to retain a memory and eternally reinstate it in the present.”

The film’s hazy summer vibe is reinforced by the acting, which has a loose, scraggly feeling. While there was little improvisation, Hers says there was always room to allow for happy accidents. “It’s fundamental for me to find ways of injecting some sense of novelty every day. For instance, I changed little things in the dialogues every morning, as a way to allow the actors to rediscover with a kind of innocence, but also to keep them on their toes in reacting to what the sets or a light could evoke in the moment. There’s a sequence at the lake in Annecy where Zoe’s daughter tries to catch her mother’s shadow. That day the shadows were quite harsh and well-defined. The main actress had found herself in the same situation wither own son a few days earlier, and we decided on the spot to add this little game to the film.”

A dinner scene early in the film, right after the funeral in Berlin, also changed completely. “It was much heavier and more oppressive in the screenplay, an expression of the dejection and numbness of such moments. But when we came to film it, I didn’t recognize myself in it anymore. That’s when the idea of adding this laughter came up and after that the sort of scene found its own rhythm. The characters try to appropriate this moment, each in their own way, and this creates a mosaic of feelings which is much more rich and astounding than what the screenplay could have offered.”

Despite its far-flung filming locations, all the places you see in the film feel of a piece. “For the apartments, that’s undoubtedly caused by the summer light, which drowns them out slightly”, Hers says. “And I like to film in high places, because of the views, the escape routes, and the possibility of being in one place while seeing another. As for the exteriors, it probably has to do with the fact that I often film similar things, regardless of which city I’m in. I’m constantly searching for the same landscape – probably the landscape of my childhood, a mix of wooded areas and more urban elements. Even when I go abroad, I’m still seeking that out.”