Joan Chemla "New Voice in European Cinema"

French director and scriptwriter who worked as a journalist before turning to filmmaking with the shorts Mauvaise route (2008), Dr Nazi (2011), and The Man with the Golden Brain (2012). Her debut feature If You Saw His Heart (2017) was premiered in Platform Section at Toronto International Film Festival. Joan Chemla won the Best Director Award at  the Warsaw Film Festival for her debut feature. 

After an initial stint in Law School, Joan Chemla opted for a journalism career in her native city of Paris. She worked for 'Le Figaro' for two years before she decided to dedicate herself to film making. She was about 23-24 when with her small savings, she produced her first short at Super 16 – Mauvais route. Chemla has been cinephile since her childhood - her mom rented her tons of VHSs. At age of 12 she was already a fan of Hitchcock films but the discovery of the work of Stanley Kubrick has literally changed her life. As she said: "the person who most inspired me and made me most want to do this job is Stanley Kubrick! He is an absolute master of creating an entire universe. He’s one of the rare directors who can make art films that also have a spectacular and lyrical dimension."

After Mauvais route Joan Chemla chose to go off the beaten path by making a short film Dr. Nazi, an adaptation from a Charles Bukowski short story. The film won the Canal + Prize in Clermont-Ferrand and was selected in Créteil, at the International Women's Film Festival.

"I like using literary texts as a jumping-off point for inspiration and appropriating a pre-existing world."
Joan Chemla


If You Saw His Heart, starring Gael García Bernal and Marine Vacth, is Chemla´s first feature film. The film inspired by the novel Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales. As Chemla said: "It’s a very free adaptation. More than anything else, I wanted the film to keep the book’s substance, as well as the sensations I felt while reading it. The novel’s first sentences immediately set the tone: "The house said ‘boarding home’ on the outside, but I knew it would be my tomb. It was one of those marginal refuges where the desperate and hopeless go – crazy ones for the most part, with a smattering of old people abandoned by their families to die of loneliness so they won’t screw up life for the winners." I was immediately immersed in this atmosphere, which was simultaneously tragic, absurd, romantic, lyrical... all tainted with dark humor."

 

 

The story of a pair of lovers who find each other in a motel run by the local mob, and the loneliness and self-destruction that ravages them both was workshopped at TIFF’s Talent Lab several years ago and competed in the Platform Section in 2017. For Chemla was the biggest challenge "to make a film that was radical, uncompromising, and on a par with my ambitions. To hold fast and to go the distance!" The composer of If You Saw His Heart said about Joan Chemla: "In a rich and diverse French film industry, Joan is one of the true originals, who is outside the system. I’m sure that, as she matures, her personality will sharpen, and her style will be even more chiseled."