"I wanted to dismantle the American Dream"
by Juan Arteaga
- In Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, presented in the competition at San Sebastian, Laurent Cantet gives us his vision of the dark, lesser-known side of the American Dream
In Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang [+see also:
interview: Laurent Cantet
film profile], a cinematic adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates's novel that premiered in the official competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival [+see also:
interview: Laurent Cantet
film profile], Laurent Cantet gives us his vision of the dark, lesser-known side of the American Dream, through the tale of a group of teenage girls in the 1950s that has nothing to do with the imaginary universe that American films have transmitted about the country.
Why did you choose Joyce Carol Oates' novel?
Laurent Cantet: I discovered the book and read it in one go. I felt like I was returning to themes like the group, resistance, and social violence. I tried to adapt the story to France but it didn't work. In 195os France, there wasn't any "anti-communism" or the "American Dream" that I have always seen as a myth. I wanted to see the dark side of the myth. There's an American mythology that cinema has shown us and that I wanted to dismantle.
The film is very linked to current events.
What I am interested in showing is the constancy and inheritance of struggles. This is why I was very interested in the character of the old priest, who appears to be very dogmatic but also embodies the history of struggle. It moves me to think that this man lived the 1917 Revolution live and what he is really doing is passing on the torch to these girls, who are going to struggle in a less dogmatic way and invent a new form of struggle, and who remind us of today's [struggles] via invisibility. I like it when they say, "We are strong because we are invisible."
What we see in the film is that this revolutionary, liberation movement however ends up being a dictatorship.
Unfortunately, this is often what happens to many groups. The harder we are the harder society's reaction to us and the more we are obliged to radicalise our discourse and actions. As in all groups, survival depends on new members because they have to harden their views to deserve their place in the group. This is why VV's character says "You created the rules but I want to actually implement them," which radicalises the movement and almost makes it terrorist. I hope that the film doesn't take the side of terrorism, but rather shows its failure.
What role did you want the offscreen voice to have in the film's structure?
For me Maddy's character in general is memory, the necessity to document struggles so as not to forget them, to pass it on, and continue going forward. I was interested in having a voice that was both very involved in the story and removed from it. In all films there are characters who are on the margins of the group and act as observers, and I thought it was important that she be the depository of Foxfire's memory.
When you shot the film in North America, how did you note the influence of North American filmmakers?
It's very difficult to escape this influence. I have the impression that in period films the Americas try to prove in each shot that yes, we are in the 1950s, and that they really made an effort so that we appreciate this. I wanted there be more of a near absence of any period [in my film], something that could create links between its period and ours.
In this sense, there are moments in which the narration wants to play with textures, colours, the mise-en-scene...
I wanted to fight against this, I wanted to make a rough film to show a more mundane reality. I wanted to show this America that you usually don't see. I don't have the impression that I took great care on the aesthetics. I based myself on photos from the 1950s and this served as a starting point, but it wasn't a representation as we were in its reality.