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LES G YMNOP E D I S TS

Issa Sabah - AS Film Studies - 12P

Erik Satie circa 1886


“Je suis venu au monde très jeune dans un temps très vieux.”

synopsis - cinematic ideas - screenplay - evaluation


Practical Application of Learning - Les Gymnopedists 2

Synopsis
Following the life of Erik Satie, composer and pianist of the late nineteenth century, we delve
into the mind of a man living in the middle of the Parisian avant-garde, trying to reconcile his ac-
ceptance of the past with the way he perceived and understood his present. Aged 18, he signs his
first composition off as Erik Satie - musician, humourist and precursor (to impressionism, Dadaism,
surrealism, minimalism, ambient music and conceptual art to name a few).
All the whilst, a century and some later, awkward 17-year-old Caleb Karol hears Satie’s world-
renowned Gymnopédie No. 1 for the first time in The Royal Tenenbaums and starts tearing. Caleb is
conscious of his effect on people emotionally and yet feels unacknowledged and friendless.
Satie’s moderately successful musical career highly accentuates his wish for reaching out, to
the extent of changing his style of music, despite several young groups’ appreciation of his music.
Similarities and coincidences aside, parallels are drawn between their lives and we soon see
how time doesn’t really change much. Caleb grows up and finds himself on a personal pilgrimage
non-depriving of man’s hedonic nature while Satie grows older eccentrically finding sadness in
separation, love in society and self-fulfillment in education.

Cinematic Ideas
My screenplay aims to loosen the audience to being receptive to a heartbreaking-low in which
perhaps they’d recount their own first lovesick experience. It takes place near the beginning of the
movie where our two protagonists realize their first true love - Erik Satie with Suzanne Valadon, an
artist, and Caleb with Florian, the younger brother of his best friend.
Like all pivotal scenes, this one employs Satie’s pieces, illuminated by Trois Airs À Fuir the
piece is slow and haunting and unexpectedly turns into a slight breezy waltz smack in the middle of
the composition. This music works with the scenes’ candlelit nature and proliferates the modest na-
ture of Satie’s love with brown (mise-en-scène-related) almost-musty undertones while providing a
sort of contrapuntal tone to Caleb’s confusing first love.
Being of a emotional nature; the scene aims to indulge and involve the viewer directly into six
months of inconsistent reciprocated love with the use of quick fades which cut to human movement.
Cuts focusing on Satie are tinged slightly in brown while Caleb’s are in violet. The colour schema
also applies to objects that signify love in our two protagonists i.e. Caleb giving Florian a grape
Mentos each time they meet and Erik thinking of Suzanne holding a sombre wooden plank as he
draws a portrait of her.
Practical Application of Learning - Les Gymnopedists 3

Screenplay
INT. KAROL HOUSE - CALEB’S BEDROOM - BEFORE SUNSET

From Caleb’s P.O.V., Caleb is looking at his left hand as he


forms a C-shape with his forefinger and his thumb, bleak
against the long fluorescent light-bulb. He’s wearing a wife-
beater with the text WIFEBEATER sprawled across the front and
is covered in a white bed-sheet with purple Chinese characters,
eyes half-asleep.

CALEB (V.O.)
I don’t want to forget. I just don’t.
I know it’s wrong, he probably does
to.

As he moves both his hands to his face to dry his tearing eyes,
while trying to stifle a sob, Satie’s Pièces Froides - Trois
Airs À Fuir starts playing. Camera cuts to Caleb’s lips.

CALEB (CONT’D)
(incoherently while
lips mouth)
I just wish he doesn’t die.

FADE TO:

INT. SATIE’S APARTMENT - BEDROOM - NIGHT

The camera shows frantic legs, slender on pale. The camera pans
to slowly expose candle-lit Satie and Suzanne Valadon in the
middle of making love. The camera cuts to their sweaty faces,
Suzanne brushing her long hair aside revealing her nibbling on
Satie’s right ear. Stifled sounds with thrusts in time to the
rising crescendo in Trois Airs À Fuir. The camera still on
their faces.

SUZANNE
(excitedly)
This is your first time?

ERIK
(out of breath)
Yes.

The camera cuts to a tight close-up on Erik’s face.

ERIK (CONT’D)
(trailing off)
Have I disappointed you?
Practical Application of Learning - Les Gymnopedists 4

Slam cut to overhead shot of the couple in bed with the final
thrust bringing about a slow, calm-like breeze in both the mu-
sic and the candle-lit room. Their bodies ebb into relaxation
and the thin brown sheets fall towards the floor. Camera zooms
to Suzanne’s face, covered partially by the brown shadow of
Erik’s shoulder.

SUZANNE
You haven’t.

FADE TO:

INT. SCHOOL BUS NUMBER 11 - SECOND TO LAST ROW - MORNING

Caleb’s right hand gently ruffling Florian’s soft blond hair as


Florian lays his head on Caleb’s left shoulder. The camera pans
down showing Caleb moving his hand to remove a grape Mentos
packet from his shirt pocket and placing it into a somnolent
Florian’s shirt pocket. Caleb notices the soft white cloud that
emerges every time Florian exhales and stares perplexed for a
few seconds. He then shuts the wide-open window. Caleb wraps
his hand around Florian trying to comfort the boy against the
cold. His half-embrace, an embodiment of everything he wants to
be to the younger boy.

FADE TO:

INT. SATIE’S APARTMENT - KITCHEN - MORNING

Camera on fresh croissant being taken out of a brown paper bag


bought by Suzanne as she prepares coffee into two bowls. Camera
cuts to a three-fourths view of the kitchen. Suzanne prepares
the kitchen table delicately, dressed in a yellow sun-dress.
She makes sure to avoid touching the seemingly random arrange-
ment of sheet music on the floor. She walks to the adjoined
bedroom.

CUT TO:

INT. SATIE’S APARTMENT - BEDROOM - MORNING

As Suzanne enters the bedroom, a sheet falls from the bedside.


She walks to the bed and as she picks up the sheet, the camera
focuses on the title Gnossienne No.5. While placing it back on
the end-table, she jumps in fright and anxiety as Erik Satie
holds her suddenly by her arm. He turns her to face him.

ERIK
Let me be with you. Marry me.

The camera cuts to an extreme close-up of Erik’s pleading eyes.


Practical Application of Learning - Les Gymnopedists 5

FADE TO:

INT. KAROL HOUSE - CALEB’S BEDROOM - JUST BEFORE DAWN

With the fade comes a ballad-like part of the musical piece. We


see 3 sloping, rising and falling, shapes. The camera focuses
to reveal the dark mop of hair that is Caleb’s. He’s sleeping
between his best mate Francis on his left and Francis’ younger
brother Florian on his right. Caleb and Florian are slightly
closer to each other than friends have the right to be. The
camera cuts to a canted shot of Florian’s sleeping face as he
lazily open his eyes. His previously solemn face softens as re-
alization dawns on him. Cut to an airy overhead shot showing
the three under sheets with Florian snuggling up to Caleb. Cut
to a medium close-up of the two boys; Florian kisses Caleb on
the cheek before returning to sleep with his arms around Caleb.
As Caleb rouses up awake, the camera pans to an end-table with
an empty grape Mentos wrapper.

UPWARDS WIPE:

INT. SATIE’S APARTMENT - KITCHEN - MORNING

Camera on Suzanne’s hands wringing each other under the kitchen


table.

SUZANNE (O.S.)
(stuttering)
I... I can’t. You know I can’t, do
you not? I’ve so much I want to do,
to see.

Camera pans up, through table, to a close-up of her reddened


face as she is interrupted by Satie.

ERIK (O.S.)
(deadpan)
No, I don’t.

The music ends with a harsh note as Satie’s last syllable was
said. The note holding true for a few seconds as the camera
pans down to a half-finished pain au chocolat.

FADE TO BLACK:
Practical Application of Learning - Les Gymnopedists 6

Evaluation
I originally intended for this ‘collection’ of scenes to not only impregnate the viewer with a
subconscious idea of how the characters are bound to react to future scenes in the film i.e. character
development, but to also focus on how much of a ‘human’-based film it is; in terms of subject and
display. Unlike other films, I intend for my drama to show the connections that human beings make
with each other or with themselves. Satie’s character, with the help of historical facts, shows the
collective aspect of humanity while Caleb’s character shows the individualist in everyone.
To this extent, the screenplay consisted of shots mainly exhibiting humans at work. The screen
is usually filled with a body part. I do this to force a reaction out of the viewer; to grasp their atten-
tion and make them involved with the character’s lives, the same way soap operas do. The scenes
when viewed alone function the same way a flashback or flash-forward does. Although when
viewed in relation to the ‘flow’ of the film; it tends to generate a very easy (to watch) and yet
poignant series of events.
The first scene with Caleb’s reflective thoughts aims to establish that this character is a troubled
teenager. The viewer immediately begins to wonder where this is going to lead, but is suddenly
thrown into flash-forward after flash-forward of love and its various expressions. These mini-scenes
employ a rather voyeuristic approach to camera-shots with camera angles and the way a subject is
viewed. They are always partly obscured as if the camera is struggling to see them. The multi-angle
shots are part of the drama genre in which camera angles play a pivotal role to how a character feels
at a certain moment. The sudden extreme close-ups on the other hand is a technique borrowed from
the suspense genre to heighten the viewers emotions.
My inspirations for the film’s plot were drawn entirely by
Erik Satie’s compositions and his history. The controversial
love between a male teenager and a younger boy was included
as a means of exploring the ‘new love’ genre that is seeming to
form a trend these days with movies such as The Darjeeling
Limited (siblings trying to find themselves), Birth (a widow
slowly believes her husband is reincarnated in a 10-year-old
boy) and The Dreamers/Innocents (slightly incestual with im-
plications of a functioning three-membered relationship). It can
also be seen as a coming-of-age type of film and has many The Dreamers
similarities in that aspect; puppy love, realization, rejection, Bernardo Bertolucci
Practical Application of Learning - Les Gymnopedists 7

downfall and hope. The scenes represented in my screenplay have appealed to some of my peers as
being highly accepting of the idea of ‘hope’ in a highly impractical, albeit loving relationship.
Most of the response has been
positive, highly emotional, visual,
etc., but there is one distinct point
that I feel I could have honestly
worked harder to fix and that is
the sense of an emotional cliff-
hanger at the end of the last
Birth
scene. If it wasn’t for the fact that
Jonathan Glazer
this screenplay takes place near
the beginning of the film, I would have considered my screenplay a failure. But the fact that an
emotional connection has been formed and that my audience have the actual ‘want’ to see the rest of
the film confirms that I have managed to direct a proper sense of emotion in the viewer.
Overall I think I managed to convey the meaning of my sequence rather vividly while allowing
the audience to draw their own conclusions as to how the plot-line will progress. This, all tied with
the influence of Satie’s music, on both the sequence and the drama renders me to consider this as a
highly effective screenplay.