Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre‘s directorial debut “The Mustang” was “a passion project that took five years of my life.” Any first film is “the most difficult baby to give birth to,” she reveals, if for no other reason than “you need to convince yourself” that you can do it. Watch our exclusive video interview with de Clermont-Tonnerre above.
The Focus Features release stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman, a violent inmate whose hardened soul is softened when he’s given the chance to participate in an animal rehabilitation program training wild mustangs. The film co-stars Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon and Connie Britton.
De Clermont-Tonnerre began working on the script six years ago when she first read an article about a penitentiary that used this form of therapy. “I thought it was very interesting, because there was this combination of poetry with the animals and the very aggressive environment.” From that came a short film, “Rabbit” (2014), which played at the Sundance Film Festival. “We shot that film in Rikers Island,” she recalls, “and that was the first step in observing this field, which is so specific.”
Then she learned of a prison in Nevada that used horses, and she knew immediately, “that’s the feature film.” So she traveled to the facility to try to understand “the impact of this very singular rehabilitation program.” She spent years researching the project, including interviewing prisoners in an attempt to understand “anger and violence, the sense of punishment. I found so many resources and materials to really dive into deepening the script and the characters.”
Thematically, she was fascinated by the similarities between “those horses and those men, the way they’ve been abused and treated.” She liked the idea of “starting with the point of view of the animal, shifting to the point of view of the man, and discovering Roman through the journey of the horse.”
Clermont-Tonnerre won the Gotham Award for Best Breakthrough Director and contends at the Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature (Shoenaerts is also nominated there for Best Actor). This year she also helmed three episodes of Hulu’s Emmy-winning limited series “The Act.”
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