“A very universal, poetic story”
by Anne Feuillère
- For his third feature, Sam Garbarski has tackled an adaptation of Jiro Taniguchi’s cult manga A Distant Neighbourhood. At the start of the shoot, Cinergie met with the enthusiastic director
Cinergie: Why have you transposed the Japanese setting of A Distant Neighbourhood [+see also:
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film profile] to Europe?
Sam Garbarski: I know Japan a little and I really like the country, but I wouldn’t have dared make a film over there, without really understanding the language, with Japanese actors.
Was the transposition difficult?
It was lengthy work. One would imagine it would be quick, that a comic book is almost like a storyboard ready to be filmed, but this is a trap. What is distinctive to comic books is not at all the same in cinema. Not least because of the pace, which is very different. When we read, we set our own pace, we choose the amount of time we spend on each box. In cinema, the pace is dictated by the film as a whole.
There were also lots of pitfalls we had to avoid, especially as I’d fallen under the spell, believing I was much closer than I was in reality. But it was fascinating work. Moreover, in the end we worked as a team of three, with Philippe Blasband and Jérôme Tonnerre, and the film is much more of an interpretation than an adaptation. What interested me was the emotion. What I loved about A Distant Neighbourhood was the story’s soul, its atmosphere. It looks as though we managed to retain this whilst transposing it to a European setting.
And how would you define the story’s soul?
It’s a tremendously moving family story, a very beautiful and profound dual relationship between father and son. It’s a very universal, poetic story, full of gentleness, even though some quite harsh and painful things happen in it. When Thomas returns to his past, he is 14 years old, but he is inhabited by his history as a 50-year-old man. He is even older than his father was at that time and finds himself in a similar situation when the story opens. His relationship with his wife is beginning to erode, he is about to fall into what is known as a repetitive pattern. This maturity gives him a magnificent dimension, which is very interesting from a cinematic point of view. We’ve nonetheless altered the original story a bit, but I’m not going to give all the details away! [laughs]
Did the casting take a long time?
It was quite quick. Léo [Legrand] is fabulous. He is going to have an incredible career! When I found Léo, Pascal Greggory became an obvious choice, they look so alike! Greggory isn’t an actor, he’s a Stradivarius! He is so imposing, he has such depth that he haunts his teenage character, mainly through a voice-over. When I wrote the screenplay, I already had in mind Jonathan Zaccaï, whom I’ve known for a long time, for the role of his father. For the mother too, it was a quick choice in the end. Alexandra Maria Lara is a great actress. I was looking for a woman with a foreign accent, because she comes from the other side of the mountain. I immediately knew she was the one!
Watching your films, we get the impression that your characters are in conflict with their past history, are trying to escape from it and invent themselves.
I like being free from preconceived ideas. I hate rules. I like tackling original stories whilst making them plausible. But it’s true that in The Rashevski Tango they are trying to escape from everything that has conditioned them and in Irina Palm [+see also:
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film profile] too. When I write, I don’t analyse, things come to me, I’m intuitive and spontaneous.
Here, it’s about what could happen if we were given the chance to re-live important moments of the past. Could we change them? And if so, would we? With experience, the life experience we’ve gained, we feel differently about things. And it’s beautiful, it’s powerful. It’s perhaps a second chance [laughs]. At 14, who hasn’t had a secret love they didn’t dare pursue? Who wouldn’t have lots of questions to ask their parents? There, I ask them loads of questions. And still, asking these questions is one thing. Learning and understanding one’s parents is quite another…moving from a child’s gaze to an adult’s gaze, in fact.