Annie St-Pierre interview: ‘Les Grandes Claques’ writer and director
The live-action short film from writer and director Annie St-Pierre, “Les Grandes Claques” (also known as “Like the Ones I Used to Know”) premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and focuses on a father (Steve Laplante) who goes to his former in-laws’ house to collect his children (Lilou Roy-Lanouette and Laurent Lemaire) on Christmas Eve. After winning the Academy Award-qualifying Grand Prize for Narrative Short at last year’s Indy Shorts International Film Festival, the h264 film has now been shortlisted for the 2022 Oscars. “I really wanted to do a [story about] ‘double coming-of-age,’ because I wanted to think and talk about how family links impact our capacity to grow,” St-Pierre tells Gold Derby in our exclusive video interview (watch above).
“I really think that… we are impacted by the path of the other members of our family,” St-Pierre continues. “So, I think that when someone is growing in the family, [other family members] have the opportunity to grow [as well].” The Canadian writer-director, who has described this film as being about the birth of empathy, explains that she wanted to look at how the suffering of divorced parents affects the impacted children, but in a way that encourages people to grow and be more empathetic. It’s the reason there are no ostensibly unvirtuous people in the story; instead, what is presented is a group of people who are strangers to the situation depicted in the film. “Empathy is, for me, a really big part of our evolution,” underlines St-Pierre, who expounds that father and daughter, Denis (Laplante) and Julie (Roy-Lanouette), are forced to face exactly this together in the film.
The fact that the story unfolds over the course of specifically Christmas Eve only accentuates the coming-of-age nature of it, per St-Pierre. “I really used Christmas as a tool to… reveal our links with the family,” elucidates the writer-director, who also elaborates on the symbolic meaning of Santa Clause in the story. “There’s a step in your childhood when you stop believing in Santa, [when] you’re not in this magic world where you’re naïve and you can believe that your parents will do everything to make you think that that this world is easy.” Viewers watch Julie go this step in the film when she is no longer able to see Santa Clause after witnessing her father’s suffering.
Even the film’s 1983 setting plays an important narrative role. “For me, the ’80s were important because it is this specific period, this specific moment [that] I used to call the ‘golden age of experimental custody kids’… They used to give the kids to the mother [while] the father could have some kind of custody,” a situation in which only few people found themselves at the time, according to St-Pierre. In that regard, she divulges that she could directly relate to these circumstances, in that she and her slightly older sister were the only children in their then-respective school classes with divorced parents. “So, it’s also normal that the other members of the family act awkwardly — because they are not able to relate to what happened to Denis and Julie… it’s just too far from what they know.”
Also in our exclusive video interview, St-Pierre discusses the process of developing backstories for the characters, working with child actors and framing both Denis and Julie in very distinctive fashion. To date, the film has been shown at more than 50 international film festivals, at which its won numerous awards, including Best Direction from South by Southwest (SXSW).