“Kids living like domestic animals”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Interview with a director passionate about humanity and fictional romance, who tackles a burning social issue in his sixth feature
Winner of Best Director and Best Screenplay at San Sebastian in 1993 with his debut feature Lost In Transit, Philippe Lioret went on to direct Proper Dress Required (1997), Mademoiselle (2001), The Light (three Cesar 2005 nominations in the categories of Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Score), and Don’t Worry, I’m Fine (Cesar Award 2007 for Best Female Newcomer and Best Supporting Actor, nominations in the categories of Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay). Cineuropa met with him in Paris to discuss the genesis of Welcome [+see also:
interview: Philippe Lioret
Cineuropa: What prompted your interest in the situation of migrants trying to cross the Channel in Calais?
Philippe Lioret: A simple discussion. It was a strong subject with dramatic potential; I had to go there and see for myself. I found the unimaginable: kids living like domestic animals, voluntary workers... I had a real shock: here was a burning issue. I wondered if I had the right to draw inspiration from what is unfortunately a form of human destitution to make a commercial narrative film. However, the volunteer workers thought that a film could perhaps have more impact than any written or televised reports, everything that appears in the media amidst a flood of information.
How did you balance the film’s documentary aspects and fictional structure?
I always start with the characters. In Calais, I met some migrants, including a young, 17-year-old boy who wanted to be reunited with his girlfriend in England. For there are not just economic and political migrants; many want to go and join their wife, father, or cousin. But they are all in a serious situation. Afterwards, I heard about some kids who tried to swim across the Channel. I merged both stories into one. Then I met the husband of one of the volunteers, a man who was a bit weary of the life his partner was leading, and he provided the inspiration for the other main character. Using this as my base, I co-wrote the screenplay with Emmanuel Courcol.
Simon, the swimming instructor character, is initially unmoved by the situation of the migrants.
He’s like many of us, a bit like me: we see all this and say to ourselves it’s very unfortunate, even “disgusting”, but we don’t do anything about it. To begin with, he doesn’t choose to help out of compassion, but just to show his wife that he’s capable of getting involved and perhaps even more so than her. And then the situation surpasses him. He has a human encounter with this kid and a fraternal-filial bond forms.
But he puts himself in a very difficult position with regard to the law and article L622-1 (assisting and helping illegal immigrants), which the volunteers are very careful about. For they know that in order to catch them out, officials will argue that the more people help illegal immigrants, the more they will arrive, which is an absolutely ridiculous idea. And when you see people having their homes searched at dawn to find out if they are lodging illegal immigrants, it has horrible echoes of the Nazi “brownshirts”.
Why did you insist on shooting in Calais?
Economically speaking, for a film like this – which was quite expensive for the 11-week shoot included lots of night scenes and required many extras – it would have been easier to secure the budget if we had filmed in a Romanian port. But it wasn’t possible: the identification and characterisation would not have been strong enough elsewhere. Moreover, the more I advance in the profession, the less I fake things. And I’m lucky to work with producer Christophe Rossignon, who has become a true partner.
The press has compared Welcome to Ken Loach’s work.
I’m delighted for I consider Raining Stones and Riff-Raff as seminal films. But I’m just as inspired by directors such as Mizoguchi and Arthur Penn (Four Friends).
What does the nomination of your film for the European Parliament Lux Prize mean to you?
I am proud to see that the film’s subject is of interest to an important European institution, especially as the request for modification of article L622-1, rejected in France, is now in the hands of the European Court of Justice.