"Appalled by injustice"
by Fabien Lemercier
25/11/2008 - One wears dark glasses, the other sports a thick beard and they both use the familiar form of address: Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern take the formality out of the interview format, alternating between caustic irony and incisive analysis. They develop this double language throughout the year for the satirical TV show Groland on Canal + and it feeds into their films.
Cineuropa: What was the starting point for Louise-Michel [trailer, film focus] ?
Delépine: A short series we made for Canal +: Don Quichotte de la Revolucion, the story of an utterly mad anarchist and a Sancho Panza-style pizza delivery man who set out to attack major multinationals. In the end, they want to kill a company boss, but the real head is in fact at La Défense; then their plan leads them to Brussels and finally a tax haven. Using this framework as a base, we changed everything to create the film Louise-Michel.
Women factory workers who are victims of company relocations, the terminally ill, transsexuals and people of modest means: the film centres on society’s rejects and minorities.
Kervern: They touch us more than the company bosses and middle-classes, or the literary and artistic circles who are often the focus of French films. Even if we have never been blue-collar workers ourselves, we are appalled by injustice.
Your story of social revenge doesn’t shy away from the subject of murder.
Delépine: Imagine a western in which labourers who are exploited by the farm owners wake up to their situation and decide to kill the village farmer – this wouldn’t shock anyone. Nowadays, there’s such a taboo surrounding the possibility of class struggle that the act of bumping off a company boss has become akin to knocking down a church statue. It’s absurd. In the cinematic realm, there have always been films like this, except nowadays, for we are reined in to such an extent.
How did you choose the two lead actors?
Kervern: We admired Yolande Moreau in the Les Deschiens television series and in her film When the Sea Rises. We couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Louise.
Delépine: She’s not afraid of herself, of her physical appearance, of looking ugly: she’s afraid of nothing. We can only work with people like that on our films, not with actors who spend their time looking in the mirror and thinking about their career plans. And Bouli Lanners – who appeared in Aaltra and Avida [trailer] – was also an obvious choice.
These two Belgian actors star alongside Belgium’s Benoît Poelvoorde in a minor role: is this a coincidence?
Délépine: Belgians are not afraid of looking ridiculous, of talking, of using their imagination. In France, everyone is afraid of everything.
Kervern: French comics are mainly concerned about their bank account.
What’s the reason behind the reference to historical figure Louise Michel?
Delépine: Our friend Noël Godin (author of the Anthology of Radical Subversion) told us all about the great anarchists of the past. Louise Michel – one of the first feminists – perfectly symbolised our story. Even if she wasn’t a transsexual, she disguised herself as a man on the barricades and recounted how she dressed as a woman when she attempted to murder Thiers.
This is your first colour film
Kervern: There was no reason to shoot it in black and white like our previous films. We concentrated on creating beautiful frames in our first two films, whereas the content was more important than the form in Louise Michel. But we nonetheless tried to create interesting frames because we use static shots.
Delépine: We only use one camera position, so we try to ensure that the action unfolding within the frame surprises the viewer. We prefer a static camera position for artistic reasons, but also due to our production methods (it enables us to shoot the film quickly) and above all because we work with many non-professionals: being able to ask them to alter their performance slightly is great, but making them repeat a scene from three different angles is impossible.
Is it easy for you to find producers?
Kervern: We’re lucky for we managed to break into the closed world of French film first of all thanks to a Belgian producer (La Parti Production), without whom we’d never have been able to make Aaltra. Then we met a crazy man called Matthieu Kassovitz who agreed to produce our second and third films. But I’m not sure that doors are wide open to us elsewhere.
With what type of films do you identify?
Delépine: With Dino Risi’s films for example, with their cruel black humour that is firmly anchored in social issues. The disadvantaged are currently under-represented in film. And yet, one of the greatest directors of all time – Charlie Chaplin – focused exclusively on this section of society and was at his most interesting when he explored such subjects. Our favourite contemporary directors are Aki Kaurismaki and the Coen brothers. We prefer the latter’s early films with their dead-end jobs, car dealers and miserably "poor bastards".