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Interview: Guillaume Nicloux • Director

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"Against religious fanaticism"


- Encounter with French filmmaker Guillaume Nicloux, during the world premiere of The Nun, in competition at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival.

Interview: Guillaume Nicloux • Director

Encounter with French filmmaker Guillaume Nicloux, during the world premiere of The Nun [+see also:
film review
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interview: Guillaume Nicloux
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, in competition at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival.

Cineuropa: To move from Jean-Christophe Grangé’s writing to that of Diderot is quite a surprising choice. Why did you want to bring this novel to the screen?
Guillaume Nicloux: I discovered Diderot when I was 16 years old and at that age, shocks – whether literary, visual or musical – have a much greater effect. I feel that all my great revelations came to me before the age of 20 and determined many things. This project always haunted me, but I couldn't find the right mood in which to adapt it. I always ran into the anti-clerical image linked with Diderot. Three years ago, I re-read the novel and realized that the label was in fact incorrect, and that I could do away with it. Diderot was not against religion, but against religious fanaticism. That theme sounded much more universal and contemporary to me.

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Alone against all, this is a timeless theme, but your character is a woman. Such audacity was very ambitious in Diderot’s time. Is this transgression harder to communicate in a movie in 2013?
Cinema has progressed in this respect, but Suzanne is the victim of an oppressive, patriarchal regime, which still exists in many parts of the world because of religious fanatics. The most terrible thing about Diderot’s work is its very topical nature. I didn't have to do anything, there was nothing to invent. I simply tried to portray, as sincerely as possible, a woman's destiny which had moved me very profoundly and which is echoed by so many contemporary examples. This is why I was not tempted to transpose the story to our day and age to make it more in tune with this observation. In fact, it is much more cruel to be able to draw an historical parallel. Diderot was not being pessimistic when he treated the subject in this way. He had his reasons, a context. Censorship was very present, as it still was in the '60s when Jacques Rivette filmed his version of The Nun, which rather logically ends with the young woman's death...

Why did you choose Pauline Etienne for Suzanne’s role?
I had never seen Pauline act. I didn't know her. She entered the room and, instinctively, something happened that had more to do with human relationships, the only kind that is of any interest to me. It was not a cinematic relationship that comes from a filmography. It all happened in 10 seconds. I saw very few actresses to play Suzanne’s role. Maybe two or three. I never do any casting for my actors. I meet people and either something happens, or it doesn’t.

Yet you still have fun with the cinematic relationshipwhen you give Isabelle Huppert a role that plays on her usual image. Did you write it for her?
Isabelle was my first and only choice for the role of the Mother Superior. She is perfect for this part. The comical effect is obvious and it comes solely from the fact that her usual image, so cold and distant, is here completely shattered.

Why did you film in Germany and not in Belgium or France, which are also co-producing countries?
In France, we had refusals for the sets because of the subject of the film. Such things still happen today. In Belgium, we couldn't find locations which hadn't been altered by some renovation or other. It was finally in Germany that we found two convents which had not been renovated and which authorized us to shoot the movie there. When you enter these places, the mystical atmosphere is very powerful. You are immediately cut off from the rest of the world. It is a quite fascinating experience in terms of rediscovering yourself.

Has this showing at the Berlinale had an impact on the fim's international sales?
Absolutely. It is a great opportunity. We did not even try for Cannes, because Berlin was the best choice. Le Pacte has informed me of very good news concerning our international sales. My films are rarely distributed in England for example, but the British have bought The Nun [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Guillaume Nicloux
festival scope
film profile
along with many other countries, in Europe and beyond. I think this is probably because of the theme’s universality and modernity


international title: The Nun
original title: La Religieuse
country: France, Germany, Belgium
sales agent: Le Pacte
year: 2013
directed by: Guillaume Nicloux
screenplay: Guillaume Nicloux, Jérôme Beaujour
cast: Pauline Etienne, Isabelle Huppert, Louise Bourgoin, Martina Gedeck, Agathe Bonitzer, François Négret, Gilles Cohen, Marc Barbé

main awards/selection

Berlinale 2013 In competition
Rendezvous With French Cinema (USA) 2013 
Montréal World Film Festival 2013 
Festival du Film Français d'Helvétie de Bienne 2013 
Chicago International Film Festival 2013 
Stockholm International Film Festival 2013 

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