Déjeuner nu (2024)

Fleur Melbourn

During the EMAP residency Fleur Melbourn will complete her ambitious video series Déjeuner nu which began in 2019 as her first video work produced with solely professional actors. The group play the roles of gendered archetypes: The Mother, The Whore, The Victim, The Writer, The Stud and The Judge. For Déjeuner nu Fleur is collaborating with the actors Marion Bottollier, Marie-Caroline Le Garrec, Marina Cappe, Xavier Delattre, Fabien Aissa Busetta, and Mattieu Rocher.

Déjeuner nu is a spoof soap opera involving multiple perspectives and no consensus. Hidden within the clichés of the daily soap are disguised a series of moral discussions about power. Episode by episode, six philosophical dialogues build upon one another, mapping the protagonists’ shifting relationships to gender, class and sexuality in an often satirical way.

In the plot, six friends reunite at a dinner party one night in Marseille, as the evening matures and alcohol and desire storm the room, power struggles turn each character’s account into an elaborate puzzle, in which fiction and reality blur. The series highlights everyday patriarchal and class warfare, using Kitchen sink realism as its starting point.

As the series develops it becomes unclear which stories are real and which exist solely in the character’s imaginations. All three couples live in this one block. Their social hierarchy and position within the group are ranked in ascending order from the ground up. The block is a parody of La Cité Radieuse, built as Corbusier’s vision for all, resided in by an elite.

Desire and rejection lurk around the plot, creating a smokescreen. As the episodes progress the series plays on the idea of language itself, eventually generating it’s own logic.

The videos are built from layering multiple takes with green screen, in real life and fiction, including smoke and tricks, that add to the feeling of a manipulated reality, taking place on an abstract timeline.

Language is at the centre of Fleur’s work. Through narrative, her videos discuss the gap between people’s experiences of the world, to what they are told is happening, inevitably prompting us to ask what we can do about how we perceive reality if it has been hijacked by structures of power.


In Dialogue: Artist Talk with Antre Peaux:

Antre Peaux: During your EMAP residency, you will be working on a video project starting in 2019: Déjeuner nu. Can you tell us a little more about the genesis of this project?

Fleur Melbourn: The idea for the project began whilst I was on residency at Triangle France in 2019, when I originally proposed to make a short film. It became apparent from my surroundings (around the corner from the set of ‘Plus Belle La Vie’), and after a visit to La Cité Radieuse, that the film should instead be a series of films, an intertwined collection of plots about the lives and loves of a group of Marseillais. It would be an opportunity to explore a layered script and character-led narrative at length.

The series highlights everyday patriarchal and class warfare in interpersonal relationships, using ‘Kitchen Sink Realism´as a starting point. Soap operas inherited their name from the detergent companies that sponsored them: they were immediately gendered and as such de-valued as low-culture, ‘trash TV’ for housewives. But I think soaps are in fact ripe testing grounds for exploring multi-layered plots where multiple characters and events expand and weave amongst each other. They do not close or summarise, they expand. Ambivalence and contradiction is characteristic of the genre.

On a personal level I was very affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017. Growing up in South London in the 2000’s I saw our communities wiped out by gentrification, and the erection of huge glass blocks for an elite on the ashes of social housing. For me, the class division in London is epitomised by this single event, the death of those 72 people, including undocumented subtenants, migrants and asylum seekers. The blackened tower still stands seven years later, justice has not been done. The fire was caused by a cladding placed on the block, and many like it across London, to make it appear more attractive to the bourgeoisie neighbourhoods surrounding it. After production for Déjeuner nu began, I realised state and corporate manslaughter had also happened in Marseille - in Noailles in 2018 and at La Cité des Flamant HLM in 2021. Parallels surrounded the project.

And the city’s most famous monument, the paradoxical Cité Radieuse, built as Corbusier’s vision for all, resided in now by an elite was the perfect metaphor. La Cité Radieuse is known colloquially as ‘la maison du fada’ meaning the house of the crazies, this reference for the protagonists, and the fact the building is staged as a city epitomised in one block, with shops, ‘streets’, a school and restaurant cemented the idea for the satire I wanted to create, that La Cité would be an allegory for the class warfare that unfolds in the streets below.

Antre Peaux: This project adopts the codes of TV series in order to hijack them in a satyrical way, and more, you deconstruct clichés and power relationships based on patriarchy and social class. How do you address these issues in your work and in your discussions with your collaborators?

Fleur Melbourn: Exactly, the idea is to borrow the themes and style of a soap to uncover something much more sinister, that gnaws at the bones of power dynamics in interpersonal relationships, and that between the elite and working-class. My work traces these discussions abstractly, inventing flipped worlds that bring to the surface these perversions of the everyday. Using non-linear, layered narratives, characters are placed in a continual tug of war between fiction and reality.

Déjeuner nu may follow some sort of narrative thrust, but the meat of the soap's content can be found on the bones - that is the script - which conventionally aims for realism and seamlessness, but instead is foregrounded in this series. The use of broken language and layered script explores social and political issues at length: narrative is repeatedly broken down at the level of the sentence, eventually negotiating it’s own rationale. In this way the series functions more like a play, where dialogue is staged and bickered over in the contained setting of dinner.

With the collaborators, the actors in the series, this abstraction is doubled down on. Language becomes inverted again, through translation. For example, gender-based slurs descend from early etymologies tied to different culture’s uses of exploitation. The word ‘scrubber’ in English, fuses classism and sexism to describe scullery maids or other low-ranking women in domestic service. These were often young women viewed by the elite as licentious and dirty due to their class and as such they were often forced into sexual relationships with their employers. The term remains, merging the promiscuous definition of a woman with the word for a cleaning rag. But in French, aside from ‘putain’, there is no similar translation, we instead used the term ‘traînée’ which derives from ‘to be dragged’, the idea was to highlight the linguistic origins of rape culture.

With the translator, Célia Hay, and in read-throughs with the actors, we found comparative meanings between French and English that edged wordplay between both languages. Working and editing in another language adds to this abstraction, the words become removed from me as the writer, and are left with the actors to interpret, while integrated subtitling ties the original English translation to the imagery.

Antre Peaux: In what way does so-called ‘new media´play a part in your project? To what end?

Fleur Melbourn: New media is something of a paradox in the context of Déjeuner nu, the style of the series looks almost amateur. Like the dialogue, the chopped up narrative is felt in the imagery too, fragmented and cyclic, multiple shots are montaged atop one another, all edited to poorly dubbed narration: further adding to the increasing gap between fiction and reality. The filming techniques are more of a nod to the style of 90’s soap operas and the New Wave French cinema of the 60’s. In a lot of my other videos I use POV filming, where cameras are placed on different points of the character’s bodies, fusing the camera to the person to create intimate moving portraits and shifting perspectives of the same scene. Similarly, in Déjeuner nu the women continually break down the fourth wall by looking directly at the audience, aware of the fiction or perhaps looking at their mirrored counterpart facing them on the table. This centres the characters around the viewer, turning the camera itself into a protagonist.

Therefore new media in the series is an inversion, where modern technologies are hijacked to create the feeling of dated effects; 4K footage is degraded to recreate the low-resolution style of 90’s soaps, allowing for the use of literal smoke and mirror techniques, which amplify and humorise the cinematic conventions of New Wave cinema. Green screen is used throughout, often with inaccurate shifts between scenes, making a play again at the illusion of reality. Characters blink and the scene shifts, playing with the timestamp and narrative continuity, smoke conceals transitions between the steam of a bathroom to burning food in the kitchen and cigarettes in the salon. New media is even a parody in Déjeuner nu.
In future episodes the use of drones in outside shots will pull the close-up portraits of the group and the suffocating apartment into the wider context of the city.

Antre Peaux: What will you do during your 2-month residency at Antre Peaux and when will we be able to see the final results?

Fleur Melbourn: With the residency beginning in mid-June, the first weeks will be spent revisiting the scripts, preparing a translation, creating the green screen set and finalising production. The actors arrival at the end of July will begin the first shooting phase, lasting a week. After a month break we return to Bourges, first visiting Marseille to film on-location scenes in an apartment and in the city itself. Back in Bourges we will then have another week to complete the filming of all green screen scenes which will then mark the final phase of the residency, where I begin the final edit for the remaining episodes in preparation for the group show in October. For this show, I am hoping to create an ambitious mise-en-scène style installation that will stage the works in a mock domestic setting, with the videos orbiting around an exaggerated pristine kitchen island.

I am also excited to be organising a series of live events that will run alongside my residency period, including a film screening and talk, and a staged performance of the final episode of the soap: Spot-lit on a stage, the characters enact the script live, improvising as they go to a live audience. At their normal setting of the table, large projections behind them show the continual perspective of two cast members who are holding cameras. This brings the idea of authorship and perspective into the films’ already slippery distinction between fiction and reality. This live performance, captured by two of the characters, will be edited into parts of the final episode.