Entirely shot in the elevator of a retirement home, “At Night, I dream”, is a documentary about tender encounters with fellow human beings. A tale about age, aging, loss, love, longing, mourning and the power of human connection.
“La Nuit, je rêve” touches the daily life of the residents, their relationship with the care staff, their relationship to life and finally also our own relationship to age and to the elderly, who are so often excluded and sidelined from our lives. The lift interested me as a place of exchange because it is a central feature in a retirement home, since without it, people remain confined to their rooms. The elevator also symbolizes them being stuck in a place they not necessarily all want to be in or are happy to be in.
The elevator with its very short ascents and descents (about 60 seconds) allowed me to get to the essential, the “real talk”, in my exchanges with the residents. At first I thought I wanted to ask essential, existential questions. During the filming, I chose not to ask questions, to be just there, listening, or to ask light questions, to let them come without forcing.
The elevator operates as a bubble of intimacy, a magical, poetic and surprising space-time. This film, which I wanted to be very simple, is knitted of beautiful people, looks, silences, confidences, anecdotes, gestures of tenderness, bursts of laughter, deep despair, offerings, nostalgia, furious joie de vivre. It is as multifaceted as life itself.
I filmed myself on IPhone 8, 4k with FilMiC Pro, and a Shure microphone – partly because the small size of the location made it necessary (the intimate subject too – I had to be face to face, alone with my exchange partners) but also because I wanted to see if it was possible to bypass the usual financing and production scheme which is too slow and tedious for this kind of personal project full of urgency…. because I had to make this film… sit there with them. I grew up among elderly people who played a central role in my life, placing me at the center of theirs.
I met the boarders for months to establish a bond, a bond that was not to become too strong, since at the beginning of the film I am a stranger, almost an intruder in this very special place that is the elevator. I felt out of place for the first few days of shooting and then, slowly, as I spent my days stuck to the back wall of the elevator, in the middle of that hot summer, the magic of the human connection worked, often. I am and remain fascinated by the ability of human beings, strangers, to connect, to see each other.
What was confusing was that some people did not recognize me the next day, despite our complicity on the day before. I was a stranger again, whereas the day before we had spent time in that elevator. When memory is variable geometry, it opens up a very wide field of possibilities: residents who have lost their memory are somehow reborn every day (as they approach the end of their lives), and do not bother about the past. Not recognizing myself, I myself was a new person every day, through their eyes, for the time of this very special filming.
Other residents became very attached to me during the filming. I became, in spite of myself, a character in the film.
This led me to wonder about the responsibility of holding and pointing a camera, of breaking into people’s lives. Others didn’t want to be filmed and still others insisted that I film them day after day, they became almost masters of filming.
I didn’t expect there to be such a disparity in the emotional state of the residents, in their attitude to life, to the end of life, to age. Some have an infinite capacity for happiness, are strong and in the moment, whereas others are as if stunned by their experience of loneliness.