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"I switch between being completely spontaneous and well organised. It's a matter of sensitivity"

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Nicolas Wadimoff • Director


- Cineuropa chatted to the Swiss director Nicolas Wadimoff about his latest film, Spartans

Nicolas Wadimoff  • Director

Swiss director Nicolas Wadimoff talks to Cineuropa about his latest movie, Spartans [+see also:
film review
interview: Nicolas Wadimoff
film profile
, which, following a first screening at the Montreal International Documentary Festival, will be in the running for the prestigious Prix de Soleure 2015. Spartans shines a spotlight on an unusual character who manages to dig deep and find light and hope where barely any exists. It is a strong film that is extremely topical.

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Cineuropa: How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Nicolas Wadimoff:
The origins of the project are fairly unusual. In 2013, Marseille was named European Capital of Culture. In aid of this, the Swiss public broadcaster RTS launched an operation called “Marseille, European Capital”. A film journalist from the Couleur 3 radio station then thought that it was odd that there was no one who wanted to talk about the northern districts, which still account for half of the city – not only in terms of surface area, but also in terms of population. That same journalist then remembered that I had some contacts there, particularly through some of the actors I had worked with on my previous films. He asked me if I would be prepared to take up the challenge of making a little Kino film in the northern districts. So I called up my friend Moussa Maaskri (the actor who appeared in my previous movie) and asked him if we could make something together in that neighbourhood. He was the one who talked to me about Yvan Sorel, an amazing guy who does some great work with young people. So I went to see Yvan and I took up the challenge: over two days, I made a little film called Spartiates des quartiers. It’s a really short film, which merely highlights the issues, but it generated an incredible buzz. I felt there was a film to be made about this burning issue, this huge divide, a film about this world apart that has developed outside the bounds of the French Republic, with some other reference points.

Even though Yvan is a very charismatic character, in the film it is often images that prevail (over words). How did you manage to channel his energy so that he would express himself in a natural way?
That’s a very interesting question, and the answer is at once simple and complex: we had a number of meetings that took place without warning, and led to a feeling of mutual respect, sincerity and authenticity. Yvan and I are in no way in a power-struggle sort of relationship, as is very often the case when you make a film. We both have a common grounding in terms of the way we relate to the world, which allows Yvan to be 100% himself without having the feeling that I’m likely to let him down or manipulate him. He’s really let go, which is completely astonishing. We were both the conductors of the orchestra, if you like. Our relationship was a constant two-way street, and Yvan has an uncanny sixth sense! He sees things coming, he knows where he wants to go, and he’s not someone who’s easily fooled! We never argued over the film, but he knows how to insist upon certain things and forbid me from doing others. We make the roadmap without necessarily sitting down together around a table; it gets built up in quite an organic way.

With regard to the documentary genre and performances: where do you think the boundary between spontaneity and acting lies? How do you handle this duality?
This rather organic pas de deux is the “simple” answer; but the more complex answer arises from the second question. I manage to instil this spontaneity thanks to the fact that there is a constant two-way street, not just between Yvan and me, but also – and especially – between reason, or the dramaturgical make-up of the film, the notes I take, intellect and the total disassembly of these ulterior motives for narrative structure. The aim of all this is to let go, to really soak up these emotions. Personally, I need to be able to activate these two opposing poles – one is more theoretical and the other more emotional – or develop my desire to meet and to share.

Now, coming back to your question of whether there may be boundaries between performance and spontaneity, I think there’s a moment when letting go and, at the same time, the actual awareness of letting go allow you to achieve scenes that seem to be fictional sequences, even if they are rooted in reality. It’s a fairly strange kind of chemistry. Again, there are no set formulas for it; I test out different paths. Personally, I switch between being completely spontaneous and well organised. It’s a matter of sensitivity and instinct. It’s a new pas de deux that is being created – this time not between Yvan and me, but rather between the camera and Yvan.

(Translated from French)

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