How do you turn a nine-hour stage production, Lypsynch, into a 90-minute feature film called Triptych? The answer according to director Robert LePage is very slowly and by turning it into something else entirely.
Though LePage is Canada's pre-eminent theatre artist (Tectonic Plates, The Dragons' Trilogy, The Seven Streams of the River Ota) he has also made five feature films (including Le Confessional, Possible Worlds). This time out, though, he says, he wanted new input in adapting the latest work he developed with his Quebec-based Ex Machina theatre company. He enlisted co-director Pedro Pires, an Emmy Award-winning visual effects specialist.
"I've made films but I'm more of a theatre guy than a film guy," Lepage said in a TIFF interview at the Intercontinental Hotel this past weekend. "I wanted Pedro to help create something that was more about images than dialogue."
Triptych follows three intersecting stories taken from the nine of the original play. There is the story of Thomas (Hans Piesbergen), a German surgeon with a career-threatening tremor; then there's Michelle (Lise Castonguay) a Montreal book-seller and poet who suffers from schizophrenia; and, finally, her sister, Marie (Frederike Bedard) a jazz singer who, after a brain operation, cannot remember the sound of her late father's voice.
Though it's still a story about voices, Triptych is full of striking visual moments, from a sustained closeup of a scalpel cutting into a brain to a studio recording equalizer graph that suddenly morphs into a night-time city skyline. The entire film was created on a DIY basis. It took over three years to create, with the filmmakers shooting sequences when they had time between other projects and the actors were available, and then editing them on Pires's home editing software.
"We had to risk the actors aging over the course of the shoot," LePage says.
And he may have to risk them aging some more. Triptych, which is being distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, is only a slice of Lipsynch, which LePage describes as "really a trilogy of triptychs.
"We thought we'd develop this part and see if it finds a niche, and perhaps we can do the rest. Well, we'll have to see about that."