Is a home an island of vertical stability in a slippery sliding horizontal world? What happens when you can’t find one, or are forced to leave? And is it always the best thing for a mother to stay with her child?
“Mobile homes” is a film that happened because a chance encounter while driving connected with an unanswered question in the film-maker’s mind. And this meshing of inner and outer led to explorations in both realms.
The three main characters, Ali, her 8 years old son Bone, and his father Evan, are only all together at the beginning and the end, because Evan’s abusive treatment of Ali reaches a crisis when he starts to involve his son in drug dealing. She escapes with him one night, but it is he who rescues her as well, having found a hiding place for them in a caravan park.
From then on, they step into a marginal world, living day-to-day, running out from diners without paying, or ‘Dine and Dash’, as she calls it, hitching rides and eventually stealing a mobile home from someone who had taken them 1500 miles for free.
In conversation for The Prisma, Vladimir and I discussed the questions that he had been wondering about, which he explored in the film: what is a home, does it have to be a constraint on freedom? Can being a good parent sometimes mean leaving your child?, an issue that was central to the film “Paris Texas”, by one of De Fontenay’s favourite directors, Wim Wenders.
How did you come to make the film?
I was in film school in the US, and in my 2nd year I did a short film with the same title.
I was driving one day and was overtaken by a truck with a house on the back, driven by a woman. The image of a floating house went against my idea of a home as something rooted, but I could also relate to the idea of mobility, having lived in different countries, not wanting to be tied up, confusing mobility with freedom.
How did the short film morph into the feature? Are the characters the same?
The setting and Evan, the male character, were more antagonistic to make it work in 13 minutes. It was basically: young mother in an abusive relationship, young boy on his daytime discovering a nearby mobile homes sales lot, and then she grabs the boy and runs. And the last image is the one you saw of the back of the mobile home on the truck, disappearing to the horizon. I wanted to make it more nuanced, show how love can also be a source of friction – and explore the world of mobile homes.
And motherhood: the mother would always have to negotiate with herself about whether she could provide a good environment for her son. I’ve always wondered whether sometimes being a good mother involves recognizing that you can’t, and the best thing to do is to hand the child to someone else.
Turning the cliché upside down, because there is such a stigma against mothers abandoning their children.
So, the film is the journey of a woman who is not really a mother at the beginning, but truly becomes one when she makes that selfless decision.
The kid is 8 years old, what has she been doing all that time?
She realises that she is putting him in danger, and the only solution she can see is to get him away from her. And at the end, I wanted her to be rewarded for doing that. And witnessing that, Evan decides that he wants to get her back, and I’m hopeful that they’re going to make it work – in “Mobile homes 2”!
How did you research the cock-fighting? It isn’t the most obvious thing for them to be involved in.
I stayed in motels every so often and saw a lot of couples living on the margins long-term, and they always had to deal with mobility, and often lived in illegality.
Drugs being the obvious way of making a living?
But I liked the idea of transporting something from one place to another, like they were doing for themselves. And a friend of mine told me that cock-fighting was widespread in Pennsylvania, which goes against the common image that it’s a southern thing, closer to Mexico. And the idea that they were transporting animals, linked with the idea that they had an animal sort of relationship to each other – they smell each other, their bodies speak a lot…
It brings intimacy
Definitely, and I work in an instinctive way, and things get absorbed into the world of the characters. They are transporting animals. They reward themselves or they punish themselves for mistakes, like with Dine and Dash, and I thought about Ali and Even giving the kid a present, what should it be? Maybe a hen, something that reminds them of their previous life. And how would the kid relate to the hen? Maybe mirroring the parents’ relationship and show there was still something to be saved– that could be interesting!
And the cock-fighting is very visual.
It seemed choreographed, balletic, no sign of blood or injury
There was blood on the side of the ring. They were actual fighting roosters, their owners were extras in the film, and we had fake plastic spurs made for the birds. It was slow-motion. I wanted to show the kid’s point of view, its mesmerising effect. My father took me to bullfights as a child, and it would be a lie to say there is no fascination. I wanted them to do something you could condemn them for, and yet still not judge them.
It could be seen as abuse for the kid
Definitely, but he is also being accepted into a community, treated nicely, I wanted to blur the lines and the cock-fighting allowed that. Even is behaving like a father, but then of course he takes the chance to sell drugs, and he uses the kid to do that too.
That’s when he puts the kid in danger, and it triggers her to run away.
The woman didn’t seem very independent, all her relationships with men were about what she could get, even when they were genuine.
It’s survival and that is multiplied when it´s also for your son. When I write, I let myself go with the movement of the narrative, without worrying about truth. When I feel I’ve got the makings of a film I might want to watch, then I do a lot of research. And that only ends when the movie is screened.
(Photos authorized by the interviewee)