“You mustn’t accept misfortune as fate”
by Gonzalo Suarez
- Excessive debt, family, love, survival: the French director explains the reasons that drove him to make A Better Life.
Cineuropa met with the French director at the Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival where he won the Jury Prize and the Cineuropa Award for A Better Life [+see also:
interview: Cédric Kahn
film profile], which also earned Guillaume Canet the Best Actor Award at the Rome Film Festival. According to the Cineuropa jury, the film “portrays present-day Europe, Europe affected by the loss of the meaning of human existence and, consequently, by the loss of direction of many of its inhabitants who are deceived by unscrupulous political systems”. This raw and intimate film marks a turning point in the director’s career.
One of the three main characters in your film, Nadia, is a Lebanese woman living in France, who goes off to Canada in search of A Better Life. This situation is common in other European countries. Did you intend to make a purely French film or a more universal one?
Cédric Kahn: France has for a long time been a country of immigrants. It’s a story of exile, but it isn’t especially French. It could be set in any western country, for the film denounces the violence and brutality with which all these countries treat the most vulnerable and deprived, amid the excesses of a free-market, capitalist system held up as the greatest model.
At the same time, Eldorado isn’t Canada. Nadia could have left for Australia or elsewhere. They have to change country because they have too many debts. They need to start all over again because they’ve got themselves into an impossible situation. So the moral is to run away from one’s debts. But they have nothing left: they’ve overburdened themselves with debt for nothing. Yann doesn’t even own the house he buys.
Eldorado in the film is really the family and love: the bonds which unite the man and woman, the woman and her child, but also the man and the child, a bond that isn’t a blood tie but just a bond of love. What can save the characters is family and unity. As long as they’re together, whatever their debt, whatever their poverty: everything becomes possible again.
This bond between Yann and Slimane seems to have developed by chance because Yann didn’t choose to be responsible for Nadia’s son.
Yes, he puts up with it at first, then they choose each other mutually. The child chooses the man as his father and he, in turn, chooses the child as his son. He thinks he is saving the child, but in reality, he saves himself thanks to the child. Above all, Slimane gives him the possibility of returning to Nadia and probably, perhaps unconsciously, she has left the child with him in order to be sure of maintaining the link with him. But in my view, the real tragedy of the film is the separation: suddenly, the debts and poverty destroy the love affair.
How do you justify the theft committed by Yann, a character who always tries to remain within the realms of the law and morality?
It’s survival. In a normal situation, the character is profoundly honest, but he has no choice: he acts out of necessity. This theft doesn’t mean there will be others. The character learns the rules of survival. He doesn’t want to give up, he wants to save his situation. There are people who have a good standard of living in France, we’re lucky to be fortunate, to have money, etc. On the other hand, this world has become a rather gloomy place for people who have little. Not because they have little for they live decently, but because they have little hope of improving their life. It’s very difficult to live without hope. We always need a life that is just a bit better. As soon as society doesn’t offer any hope of improving one’s life, then life becomes very difficult.
What is your solution for dealing with this situation?
You mustn’t give up. You mustn’t accept the idea that: “your place is here and you have no right to another place”. Then, you mustn’t adopt the wrong ideals. What Yann ought to have understood is that the child and woman he loves are more important than his professional ambitions. You have to live with the right priorities and the right values. But you mustn’t accept misfortune as fate.