‘Days of Happiness’ Director Chloé Robichaud on Creating a Modern Conductor for the Big Screen

Filmmaker Chloé Robichaud would often listen to classical music in the background to help focus her writing process — a subliminal influence that led to the creation of the main character of “Days of Happiness,” which world premieres in Toronto Sept. 9.

Her third feature follows gifted young conductor Emma (Sophie Desmarais) at a pivotal moment in her career as she tries to reset her relationship with her controlling father (who is also her manager) and strengthen a complicated new romantic relationship. Visit is handling U.S. sales; Item 7 is the production company and is handling international sales.

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While “Days,” like “Tár,” is about a female conductor — still not a common sight on the podiums of major orchestras — the comparison stops there. Robichaud’s film has a warmer emotional arc.

“I thought it would be cinematic to have a conductor who is struggling with her feelings and to have the music help her experience those feelings, and I immersed myself in that universe,” she said. “The film is Emma’s journey, but it’s also about how I see classical music today, in a modern way.”

While writing the screenplay, Robichaud brought on Yannick Nézet-Séguin — the artistic director and principal conductor of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain, which “plays” the orchestra in the film — as a consultant and talked to female orchestra conductors. “I was going to rehearsals and observing every detail of how conductors use their hands, and how they speak with the musicians.”

The tone and tempo of the film is carried by the performance of Desmarais, who starred in Robichaud’s 2013 feature bow, “Sarah Prefers to Run,” which premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard.

Cast three years before filming (which took place in 2022 once pandemic restrictions were completely lifted), Desmarais put herself in extended conductor bootcamp.

“Sophie is brilliant and works really hard,” Robichaud said. “She did a lot of research and rehearsed for two years, with three conductors, trying to perfect it — so she had good tips for me, too.”

Demerais regularly sent Robichaud videos of herself honing her conductor moves. “It was amazing to watch her gain confidence, and very moving the first time that she had to rehearse in front of the orchestra,” the director said. “Imagine how crazy it must be to pretend to be a conductor in front of a real professional orchestra.”

The film also reflects the pleasure Robichaud saw in the orchestra members in their working environment. “I wanted to present classical music as something that has modern appeal, where a conductor can be a woman my age [mid-30s]. Mostly the film is about relationships — the music is a character in itself.”

Robichaud is now in pre-production on an adaptation of the legendary Quebecois cult film, “Deux femmes en or,” with a script by Catherine Léger.

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