Robert Guédiguian • Director
by Bénédicte Prot
31/03/2008 - Lady Jane [trailer], Robert Guédiguian’s 15th feature, is also his first film noir. In this well-structured story set against a backdrop of rock guitar chords and resounding gunshots, three activist-burglars, who haven’t seen each other since the 1970s, are confronted with their past and the disappearance of a son (see news). Cineuropa met with the director in Berlin, where his film screened in competition.
Cineuropa: Lady Jane centres on several themes: the past that torments the characters, the story of a mother, the cycle of violence…. What was the starting point for the screenplay?
Robert Guédiguian: The theme of revenge. My mother is German and my father is Armenian, so I belong to a people who perpetrated genocide and to one who suffered genocide – I’ve obviously given thought to the issue of revenge. The true heroes, in life and in films, are those who break the cycle of revenge that is mad and all-consuming, as described in the Armenian proverb at the end (which we completely made up). Today, revenge is an archaic reflex quickly set in motion by Thug States and people have to fiercely rise up against this impulse. This film is a film noir because it tells the story of an individual crisis set against the backdrop of a society in crisis.
Certain scenes in the film are shockingly violent. Why did you choose to portray such harsh images?
You have to be violent in order to teach people a lesson. If we continue, it’s our children who will die. When Muriel flees from the image of her son killed before her eyes instead of reaching out towards him, the idea is to put the viewer in the same position – she recoils from this scene because this death cannot be shown. We see so much violence nowadays that it hardly shocks us anymore. On the contrary, I wanted to provoke a feeling of abhorrence that goes against this tolerance of violence.
What do you think has changed since the 1970s?
Our outlook has changed. Back then, we dreamed of a classless society and world peace. Then this dream faded, or rather the outlook shifted, and it’s a sad realisation for people of my generation who have lost their former lyricism.
They share the same past, yet the three characters have three different personalities but above all three different moral codes. Was it important for you to differentiate between them?
Yes, because you have to distinguish between individuals. In the revenge she seeks, the female character is looking for oblivion. It is she who would most like to forget. François dreams only of rediscovering something he has lost by applying the methods of 30 years ago. René is more ponderous and stubborn, and he has always had his doubts about Lady Jane. He isn’t under any illusions.
Your actors, who accompanied you to Berlin, emphasised the spontaneity of your directing style. Once the screenplay is written, how do you prepare the actors?
Ariane compared it to bungee jumping because the actors need to know that someone is there to catch hold of them and stop them from falling. This trust is also emotional: you have to show them that you love them. Moreover, my actors are my friends. And so, as soon as the screenplay is ready, we can get going. It’s true that the actors immerse themselves in their roles when the costumes are chosen, but on the whole, I think it’s pointless preparing too much, otherwise you risk "fixing" things and narrowing your possibilities.