"These mercenaries that we summon from the four corners of the earth"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2016: Sacha Wolff talks about Mercenary, his hard-hitting and stunning feature debut, unveiled in the Directors' Fortnight Europa Cinemas Label
The day after the very warmly received premiere of Mercenary [+see also:
interview: Sacha Wolff
film profile], screened in the Directors' Fortnight of the 69th Cannes Film Festival, French filmmaker Sacha Wolff explained to Cineuropa why he chose to portray the misfortunes of a young Wallisian in the world of French professional rugby in his original and powerful feature debut.
Cineuropa: What made you decide to attempt a film set in the world of rugby, which is depicted very rarely in film?
Sacha Wolff: It's a sport that I've always enjoyed watching, and I thought it had a lot of potential for a film – I found it strange that it hadn't been tackled before. I also like boxing films, for instance, which have a very strong physical aspect to them, but the interesting thing in rugby is its group and social dimension. At the start, it was a fairly hazy idea, as I stumbled across an article in Le Monde that talked about these players, these mercenaries that we summon from the four corners of the earth to help the tiny teams to make progress in the bigger leagues. At that point, I thought to myself that it might perhaps be a subject worth covering, and I met Laurent Pakihivatau, who plays the role of Abraham in the movie, a New Caledonian prop of Wallisian heritage, who played for Lyon. I told myself that the subject matter for the film was right there, in these Frenchmen who come from abroad and who face up to their identity through this journey and this expatriation.
What research did you do to get to grips with the culture of Wallis and Futuna?
When I was presenting the project to find funding or even just outlining it to friends, people always asked me: "But what are these Wallisians?" There's a huge lack of awareness regarding this part of the world, which is French but which people know nothing about. I really wanted to explore this grey area. Ours was only the third feature to be shot in New Caledonia, and filming in such an unspoilt land was so exciting! Seeing as I originally come from a documentary background, I also needed to spend a lot of time getting to know this world. I had to soak up the Wallisian culture. So I went there several times, and I spent quite a bit of time with Laurent Pakihivatau, who flung open the doors of his family and the local culture for me.
And for the world of professional and semi-professional rugby?
Here, in mainland France, I met some managers and a lot of foreign players, and I tried to get my head around all of the problems it could throw up. Then, I felt the need to distance myself from the documentary medium and move closer to fiction, which was a much more appropriate way of using all this material I had accumulated.
What about the doping, "the magic sweets" that we see in the film?
Everyone talks about it, no one's seen it, no one knows who knows about it, but it really stands out like a sore thumb. However, I kind of wanted to play down this aspect and avoid the pitfall of taking a gamble and saying, "Doping's bad."
Above all, this brings to mind a kind of force-feeding related to the type of “livestock” trading – a word used in the film – which you imply through the recruitment and the transfers of the players. Is this something that is linked to these players in particular because they come from somewhere else, or is it the professional sport in general that works like this?
It's the professional sport and even, more broadly speaking, the business world, in my opinion. I came across a recruiter who told me: "It's simple – we go over there to look for the youngest, the biggest, the bulkiest." That's the first sentence in the film because it seemed so revealing to me and true to life regarding the core principle that the sport rests on today: performance, profitability, teams being managed like businesses, with a workforce that you reshuffle constantly, where everything is measured and calculated so as to obtain the best possible performance. That's the logic of the professional spectator sport. But I'm no investigative reporter, and I just wanted to make use of this material to tell a fictitious story about one aspect of this economy, of this hidden universe.