"How far are we willing to go to fit into society?"
by Bénédicte Prot
- We caught up with the director of I Am A Soldier, a debut feature film that was showcased in the Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Laurent Larivière’s debut feature film, I Am A Soldier [+see also:
interview: Laurent Larivière
film profile], which was showcased in the Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a French-Belgian co-production in which Louise Bourgoin plays a young unemployed woman who fights to get back everything she’s lost (even if it means getting mixed up in the illegal puppy trafficking operation of her uncle, played by Jean-Hugues Anglade), including her self-esteem.
Cineuropa: The film’s main character, Sandrine, lives in shame, which is reflected in her illegal activities and the way she hides, as if she’s trying to forget about herself...
Laurent Larivière: The point of departure of the film is the social stigma of being 30 years-old and having to go back to living with your mother, after being the only child of the family to try your luck in Paris, because you’ve failed to make it work. I wanted to focus on this stigma, on the way you feel others look at you when you’re in that situation, and then I had the idea of bringing the character face to face with a rough, hard, noisy and dirty job, far from what she dreamt of, because Sandrine is someone who can’t work out what she wants, who thinks of what others want first: of her mother, who needs money, her uncle who draws her into his seedy and illegal operation… She can’t even say "me", but all these harsh experiences she goes through bring her to bursting point which allows her to break free, to realise that the recognition she needs can’t come from others, it has to come from herself. For me, this film is a story about liberation, about a character who accedes to a new level of awareness of her own identity and learns to think about herself.
Up until her cathartic explosion, the film is very violent. For example the scene in which her brother-in-law destroys his house as it’s under construction, or with the estate agent at the beginning when Sandrine leaves her apartment…
The idea of habitat, refuge, and place in general, is central to the film. The first scene, with that awful estate agent, refers back to the issue of submission, how hard it is to rebel without taking a hit, but the big moral issue the film explores is how far we’re willing to go to fit into society. When her uncle leads her into the puppy trafficking world, Sandrine finds herself with more money than she’s ever had, so at first, it seems to fix things – because it’s nice to have a bit of money, to be able to buy things and be a part, quite simply, of the consumer society we all live in. It also gives her a role in society, something to do, even if it comes at the price of being involved in something illegal and extremely cruel.
Sandrine has a special relationship with her uncle, full of complicity as well as tension.
I wanted there to be an ever-present threat throughout her journey. When she comes back to her family home, which should be a haven of peace, I wanted this refuge to, ironically, be a place of destruction, because it’s not in her family that she will find the solutions she’s looking for, but in herself. That’s why there’s tension from the start. Even in the house she grew up in, which she comes crawling back to with her tail between her legs, there’s no room for her and she finds herself sleeping on the sofa. Right from the start, every situation she finds herself in is uncomfortable, as if the world were hostile towards her as a matter of principle.
Your film also introduces us to the incredible world of animal trafficking, where puppies are sold by the kilo…
Aside from the dirty and seedy side of the trade, which served my purposes, it’s quite dramatic, and I like the idea of the film being seen at first glance as a thriller, full of suspense. It works like a millefeuille, there are a number of layers to it. It carries a social message, the trafficking of animals can be seen as an allegory for contemporary cruelty – I think the viewer can relate it to a number of situations, to violence that is done to us all in our everyday lives.
The story is on the whole quite gloomy, but it does nevertheless feature some lighter moments: the job interview is very funny, and then there’s the lovely scene that gives the film its name, in which the characters sing the song by Johnny Hallyday...
I thought it was very important to strike a balance. That’s also why I cast Louise Bourgoin, who’s radiant and injects a lot of life into the film. I wanted to alternate between tough scenes and lighter, even funny, scenes (at the first screenings, I was so happy to hear laughing in the theatre). There’s no miserabilism in this family. They have their problems, they have no money, but they don’t complain. They have normal lives and there’s a lot of solidarity and love between them. Ironically, this love doesn’t prevent bouts of violence, humiliation and tension, but that’s because these are linked, just like in life. I tried to paint a picture that illustrates the complexity of human relationships.
(Translated from French)