Cannes Hidden Gem: 'Mobile Homes' Captures Life on the Margins

Imogen Poots stars as young mother trying to keep her family grounded amid a rootless existence in Vladimir de Fontenay's Directors' Fortnight entry.

Writer-director Vladimir de Fontenay was inspired to make his Directors’ Fortnight selection Mobile Homes, a dark drama about rootlessness and dislocation, by a sight that took him by surprise: a massive mobile home towed by a truck on an upstate New York highway.

“I was dizzy and tired and all I could see was a floating house, and it was so weird and incredible at the same time,” says the French filmmaker, who made his feature debut with 2015’s Memoria, starring James Franco.

The ungrounded home led de Fontenay to first write and direct a 2013 short film, also named Mobile Homes, about a young woman trapped in a sex trafficking ring and her son, who are both seeking a way out. He then expanded this narrative of rootless lives into a feature that stars Imogen Poots as a young mother, Ali, living just above the poverty line with her son, Bones (newcomer Frank Oulton, in his screen debut), and Evan, her dangerous, unstable boyfriend, played by Callum Turner. The trio live like gypsies in forgotten towns along the American-Canadian border, jumping from one motel to another, surviving by selling illegal fighting cocks. But when Bones’ penchant for running away detours Evan’s business plans, Ali faces a crisis that ands her in a mobile home community.

For Paris- and New York City-based de Fontenay, the mobile home became a metaphor for his characters’ desperate search for a sense of permanence and security and offered the opportunity to examine the lives of dislocated people struggling for a sustainable life. “I think the story is very universal, while our angle on the mobile homes and the community and the moving houses is original and intriguing,” he says.

Poots says she was drawn to her drifter role because her character is both brutally honest and foolhardy. “There’s something feral about this character. And her circumstances are really shit, as there’s no one else to rely on as she struggles for some sense of safety and home,” she explains by phone from London, where she is starring in a West End stage production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

De Fontenay is looking forward to launching Mobile Homes at Cannes, where it will be on offer to buyers via CAA (domestic) and Mongrel Media (international). The director says he hopes that after Cannes, when the film rides the festival circuit, its intimate portrait of life on the margins will continue to resonate with a diverse audience.

“You really get to see what makes us different,” he says, “but ultimately makes us care about de Fontenay the same things.”

This story first appeared in the May 20 Cannes daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.