"Personal ethics and the place you choose to accept"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2015: Interview with French filmmaker Stéphane Brizé, in competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival with The Measure of a Man Best Actor
The Measure of a Man [+see also:
interview: Stéphane Brizé
film profile], which is his 6th feature film after previous titles including Hometown Blue (Directors' Fortnight 1999), Not Here to Be Loved [+see also:
film profile] (shown in competition at San Sebastian in 2005), Mademoiselle Chambon [+see also:
film profile] (which won a César Award in 2010 for Best Adapted Screenplay) and A Few Hours of Spring [+see also:
film profile] (which was acclaimed at Locarno in 2012 and received four César nominations in 2013), marks Stéphane Brizé's first time on the Croisette at the 68th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What was it that made you decide to broach the subject matter of The Measure of a Man?
Stéphane Brizé: I wanted to look at and echo the humanity of a man made into the cog of brutality of a system. I decided to point the camera on a straight, honest type who unfortunately finds himself sidelined and experiencing his own humanity. My starting point was the question: would you do anything for a job, for a permanent contract?
What was the starting point for the screenplay, written with Olivier Gorce?
My inspiration comes from things I see around me in the media, in my everyday life. I needed to familiarise myself with all the scenes I wanted to put together, in particular the scene at the superstore. I spent months doing research and even did an internship as a security guard. Vincent Lindon also spent a good amount of time watching to see how it all works, listening, learning how to speak during interrogations, understanding how these people physically move around their environment. I also participated in various workshops held at the job centre, on CVs, on job interviews, to capture this reality, to see how the situation builds, to become familiar with the personal journey of a job seeker over 15 months, two years, etc. It was necessary because a film is not fantasy but reality that must be observed and that I cannot change just to make it fit with what I want as a screenwriter.
How did you go about avoiding the pitfall of dwelling on the dark side of life?
Ever since I started making films this has been something I've been very aware of, as I film people in their homes in the suburbs, on high-rise council estates. I have never been afraid of falling into this pitfall though, as I set about creating something fictitious. What are the tools of fiction and where do you draw the line between dignified and undignified? There are narrative tools that do not fit with my ethics, so I don't use them. And there's a certain number of answers I give that are not the result of lengthy reflections: I try to put myself in a good position and at a good distance so as not to risk tipping over into vulgarity.
You also carefully avoid Manichaeism.
What I'm interested in is realism. If you take things head-on in this world, there's no Manichaean good and bad. Sometimes you come across people who do a lot of bad things and yet come off as nice guys, and others who seem evil and are yet very nice. The archetypes of good and bad that appear in film belong to a certain type of cinema. Reality, on the other hand, is a lot more complicated. In The Measure of a Man, with the exception of the manager perhaps, everyone at the superstore is part of a system and accepts that they have a place in that system, but they don't do it out of spite. They do it without having the slightest idea of the violence it could cause to the person facing them. All this relates to personal ethics and the place we accept as having in the world. You might say: "I wouldn't put up with having a place that deals in brutality, that destroys my neighbour." But what if you don't have the financial means to follow through? It's a terrifying thought.
Was the duration of the sequences deliberate or did that come about during filming?
It was my intention right from when I wrote the screenplay. I knew that some sequences would last five minutes or more, and others three minutes at least. It's something which I always had in mind and which led me to doubt the dynamic of the story, so I cut it down. To be able to take my time in the sequences, I forced myself, and it wasn't all that painful, to cut things out and go from one scenario to the next in a radical way, without transitions, really going deep into the sequences to make them dynamic and hold the audience's suspense.
What about your choice to place a professional actor (Vincent Lindon) among non-professional actors?
I wanted to create a sense of reality and felt that this could be more effectively achieved by using what are known as non-professional actors. These people had the advantage over Vincent of being well-acquainted with their work and the professional mechanisms at work in that setting, and Vincent had the advantage of being a professional actor. I had the right balance between fiction and the elements of reality that fuel fiction.
(Translated from French)