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CANNES 2018 Critics’ Week

Guillaume Senez • Director

"What happens if the balance is thrown out of kilter?"

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- CANNES 2018: We met up with Guillaume Senez, whose second feature, Our Struggles, toplined by Romain Duris, has been presented in this year’s Critics’ Week

Guillaume Senez • Director

2016 saw the release of Keeper [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
interview: Guillaume Senez ­
interview: Kacey Mottet Klein
film profile
]
, the feature debut by Guillaume Senez, which was widely circulated at festivals all over the world, winning a number of awards. The movie tackled the issue of an unwanted teenage pregnancy from the point of view of the (young) father. With Our Struggles [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Guillaume Senez
film profile
]
, presented in the Critics’ Week of the 71st Cannes Film Festival, the director once again deals with matters of fatherhood (and lines of descent) through an "inverted" situation, that of Olivier, who finds himself alone with his two children after his wife walks out on them out of the blue.

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Cineuropa: How did the project come about?
Guillaume Senez:
I separated from the mother of my children five years ago, a while before I shot my feature debut, Keeper. I found myself alone with them, with joint custody, and I had to learn to listen to them, watch them and understand them. That was very difficult but, at the same time, very beautiful because I learned so many things. I wondered what would happen if the mother of my children disappeared. How do you strike a balance between professional commitments and family commitments in these situations?

How do you cope with modern-day life, as it were?
That’s exactly it: it’s how to cope with this societal change that has such a serious impact on family life. It’s also a movie about the repercussions that work can have on the family. What happens if the balance is thrown out of kilter? In a very theoretical way, that brought me back to wondering how the family can survive in the face of this “capitalism 2.0”.

The film poses the question: what does it mean to be there for your children?
It’s a question that was often discussed while I was writing the screenplay with Raphaëlle Desplechin. What really counts? The quality of the time you spend with your children, or the quantity of it? What appealed to me was showing how difficult it is to help the people we love. Wherever there is affection, it gets extremely complicated. Olivier is a character that can’t quite manage to help the ones he loves. He can’t help his wife. With his kids, it starts off being the same thing, and then he gradually learns how to communicate with them and how to become a father. What I like about his character is that he is often very clumsy when he does things, but he knows it full well and apologises for it, and that’s very touching.

The scenes in the packaging factory have a very strong aesthetic and emotional impact.
Initially, the world of the trade unions had a heavier presence in the film, but as we wrote the script, we refocused on the family, as that is where our struggles lie. I wanted to show the world of work today, the Uberisation of society.

This gigantic factory enabled us to put Olivier’s situation into perspective in a very visual way. His position in the working world implicitly fuels the character. It’s important to know which world the characters are living in.

How did you choose to deal with the absence of the mother, Laura?
The challenge was making Laura’s character continue to exist after she had disappeared. It was vital not to blame her character. But a mother who walks out on her children is a big taboo! Whereas when a father walks out on his wife and kids, no one bats an eyelid – or almost. Here, Olivier never blames her, and continues to love her, just like the characters that surround and support him.

How did you settle on Romain Duris?
He came along very early on in the process. He’s an actor I like very much; I knew he liked putting himself in jeopardy. We met before the screenplay had been written; I talked to him about my working method, and he found that particularly interesting.

Speaking of your working method, can you tell us a few words about it?
I work without any dialogue, which means everyone has to be present, listening carefully. We search for the words, we talk over one another, accidents happen – and these are the things I am looking for, that spontaneity. We work a lot on the characters and their development, and I show films or articles to the actors. Often, it’s the first three or four takes that allow me to put things in place. Little by little, we get to the dialogue. It’s the actors who write their own lines, in complete empathy with their characters. I’m not a stickler for dialogue, as long as the intent is there. That’s it, actually: we work on the intent of the scene.

(Translated from French)

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