Interview with Director Kim Farrant and Producer Su Armstrong on their psychological thriller, Angel of Mine

When the US producers of Angel of Mine chose Victorian director Kim Farrant to helm the remake of the hit French film, L’Empreinte de l’ange and local screenwriter Luke Davies to rewrite the script for Australia, the next logical step was to look at filming it where it was set.

We spoke to Kim and Producer Su Armstrong about why they decided to shoot in Melbourne, what the city brought to the look of the film and the impact of the assistance they received from Film Victoria's Location and Production Services team.

Angel of Mine is an adaptation of a 2008 French film, L’Empreinte de l’ange (The Mark of the Angel). What drew you to the project?

KF: Angel of Mine adopts the central premise of the original 2008, L’Empreinte de l'ange but then it takes quite a departure from that version in both plot and tone. Ours is a psychological thriller and theirs is a drama. What drew me to the project is the central theme of when grief fuels obsession and how we deal with grief and how it's perceived. It’s messy and fraught and the pain of loss is untenable and so we reach for people, places and things to fill the void. In Angel of Mine, Lizzie’s inconsolable pain drives her into obsession with another woman’s child, and from this desperate place of need, her actions become reckless and dangerous and that’s electric and suspenseful to watch. 

The original film was set in Paris. Why did you choose to set Angel of Mine in Melbourne?

SA: Angel of Mine is a story that could be shot in any urban setting, almost anywhere in the world. With Australians Kim Farrant at the helm and Luke Davies on the script, it seemed logical that Australia should be the location for the project. Of all the cities in Australia, I always felt that Melbourne was the top – if not the only – choice. It is a multicultural city and has a distinct European flavour which I thought would suit the tale.

KF: This story ultimately could happen in any city with a range of wealthy areas with big homes, beautiful gardens and parks, as well as more modest apartments and suburban streets. I’m from Melbourne originally and shooting in my own country, with the plethora of amazing talent both cast and crew that we have there is something I wanted to experience.

Did Melbourne influence the look, palette and tone of the film?

SA: Melbourne definitely gave the film a distinct look. We hoped to be filming in summer (due to the swimming pool scenes) but we ended up filming in autumn. This actually gave the film a great look particularly with the changing autumnal colours, and a much softer light than Melbourne’s more northern relatives.

KF: We were shooting in autumn heading into winter and so that definitely influenced the palette and I think provided a beautiful sensuality of colour and texture. Melbourne is a beautiful landscape to shoot in and it offered all the different aspects we needed to create the world in this film.

Our Location and Production Services team assisted with scouting locations when you were deciding where to shoot. What was the impact of their assistance?

SA: Film Victoria’s Location and Production Services team are a tremendous asset. The team are knowledgeable and helpful which makes setting up the production much more efficient. 

KF: Film Victoria were tremendously helpful in providing all sorts of locations to scout and explore. Their impact, resources and knowledgeable staff were wonderful as we had a tight pre-production period and a really tight 27 day schedule. 

Australian writer Luke Davies co-wrote the adapted screenplay with David Regal. What did Luke bring to the film?

SA: Luke is an exceptional writer particularly when telling stories with deep personal emotions. Angel of Mine needed to walk a fine line between the emotions of the two mothers and Luke understood that requirement. He was also able to transpose the story from France to Australia, without losing the essence.

KF: Luke brought a vulnerability to the characters which I think is so precious and beautiful. He is so in touch with his feelings and empathy that he also brought a vivid and complex dimensionality to them, particularly the lead women, yet also managed in the fewer scenes with the male supporting characters to give them depth and specifics as well. There is one scene, which we called the intervention scene, where the writing is eight pages long and it’s six characters and it flies by. The dialogue Luke wrote for Lizzie (Noomi Rapace) and Mike (Luke Evans) in that scene was searingly raw and powerful. It is one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen Luke Evans perform. And Noomi was brilliant as always. 

Angel of Mine explores themes of motherhood and grief over the loss of a child and has two strong female leads. Was it important to have a female director?

SA: I believe it was a great asset having a female director for this story. Kim is masterful with performance and the actors felt safe being directed by her – helping them to deliver, in my opinion, some stellar performances both from the adults and the children.

KF: So the question that everyone asks – the female director question. Don’t get me wrong, I know all too well only 16% of films in Australia are directed by women, so I am all for promoting female directors, however I think the question itself speaks to the inherent issue that’s causing the inequality: the fact that there even is a category of “female directors”. The title female director is somehow implying that only men can perceive and portray certain issues and only women can perceive and portray others. And I think that summation is fundamentally flawed. Personally, I am both feminine (whatever that means to you) and masculine (whatever that means to you). I experience feelings and sensations associated with both and, like most everyone else, I have empathy and an imagination. Whilst I don’t have a penis, that doesn't mean I don’t experience a whole lot of emotions and understandings that a man has. And vice versa. Just because Luke doesn't have a vagina, doesn’t mean he couldn’t tune into what it is to love a child deeply from the core of his being. Yes, on a physical level, he can’t birth a child, but he can relate to loving someone so deeply, that they feel like a part of you and losing them feels like a part of you dying. So I really think we as a culture have to look at how we define and limit ourselves and others by our physiology and how this creates nothing but separation, disconnect and a lack of people really being seen and valued for the immensity of who they are. Asking if only a female director could direct this movie is just buying into the old paradigm. I was asked to direct this movie by the producers, I think because they sensed I understood grief and I wasn't afraid of intense feelings and wild behaviours and was in touch with sensuality. Really, I could have been male, female, gay, straight, bi, young, old, black, white, trans, non-binary, pan-sexual, whatever. I am a human. I feel. I see. I create. Like everyone else. 

How was the experience of filming in Melbourne?

SA: Excellent! We were able to be fairly contained with our locations which helped with the schedule. And local councils were on the whole very helpful.

KF: I loved it! Melbourne is such an easy city to navigate. People are friendly and accommodating, and the food and culture is amazing, so having international stars, it was easy to both accommodate and entertain them when necessary. 

Describe working with Victorian cast and crew.

KF: Our predominantly Victorian crew were wonderful and very experienced and lovely and down to earth. The Victorian cast were sublime and I loved their talent and no fuss attitude. 

Angel of Mine is your second feature film and you’ve also directed short films, TV drama series, and television and feature film documentaries. What are the benefits and challenges of moving between formats?

KF: Documentaries keep me anchored in the reality of human behaviour, the nuances and particulars of people, as well as the chaos of daily life. And I like that. It's honed my truth metre. TV has taught me about shooting quickly. Being super well prepared so that if it’s a crazy tight schedule, which ours was, then I can adapt. We shot 30 locations in 27 days and for ten of those days we were in one spot. So really, we shot, 29 locations in 17 days which meant one location move on average per day – we were shooting super-fast!

Angel of Mine at the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival and is now showing in cinemas nationally.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the individual involved and do not necessarily represent those of Film Victoria.