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Rebecca Zlotowski • Director

“Not a militant film, but a dialogue between two worlds”


- Rebecca Zlotowski, the author of Belle épine, a guest at the “Rendez-vous” appointment with new French cinema held in Rome, talks about her second feature film, Grand Central

Rebecca Zlotowski  • Director

Selected in the Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, Grand Central [+see also:
film review
interview: Rebecca Zlotowski
film profile
is the second film by French director Rebecca Zlotowski. The film is set at the feet of a nuclear plant where Gary (Tahar Rahim) and Karole (Léa Seydoux) are living a forbidden love affair, marked by the invisible threat of radiations. Cineuropa met the director at the "Rendez-vous” appointment with new French cinema held in Rome, where she was a guest in the Cineasti del Presente (filmmakers from the present) section for debut and second films.

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Cineuropa: Grand Central is about a great love story, but it is also a portrait of the world of nuclear plant workers. How did you research the film?
Rebecca Zlotowski:
There wasn’t much research that could be done. The nuclear world is a very secretive one, which is difficult to have access to. We read everything we could, but there wasn’t much out there, except for some newspaper articles and a few testimonials. Then we met someone, Claude Dubout, who became very important to the film. He worked as a decontaminator and published a story on his life, which was very well read. He became the film’s technical consultant. This meant we were able to meet other people and visit nuclear plants. The original inspiration however – the book, which made me want to look into the topic - was "La Centrale" by Elisabeth Filhol: a beautiful and well-documented novel.

Where was the film shot?
In a real nuclear plant. The external shots are in France, but the internal ones are from a plant in Austria. There was a plant that had been built but had never been used. Before making use of it, the Austrian population was asked whether it was for or against nuclear plants, and Austrians answered they were against. The plant remained as was as it was too expensive to dismantle it. We shot inside it.

How did nuclear lobbies react?
The nuclear industry is huge in France. Almost 80% of energy comes from there. It is not about lobbies, it is state energy. But the film is not militant. It is neither for nor against nuclear power. If the EDF (French national energy company) had done background research on me and discovered my activist past, it may have been more difficult to shoot the film. But that wasn’t the case. No one made our life more difficult. Even in Cannes, it was not received as a political film, but more as a film denouncing certain labour practices. In movie theatres, when I met members of the public, there were some anti-nuclear activists, but there were also some nuclear supporters, who work in the industry, who were happy about the visibility.

It is the second time you work with Léa Seydoux. Could she become your fetish actress?
Léa is irresistible. A great actress. We developed strong ties with Belle épine, which was my first film and her first big role, even if she had already worked with Christophe Honoré and others. I didn’t discover her myself, but it felt like we were both doing our first film together. I didn’t think of Léa straight away for this role, but when it looked like Tahar Rahim was definitely going to be taking up one of the main roles, I wanted to see them together. I could still work with Léa, we are not done yet.

Gary and Karole almost always wear the same clothes, even if the characters themselves evolve. What was behind that choice?
The idea was that each character was a costume. Like heroes in western films, who have a uniform they put on from beginning to end. The evolution happens during a progressive intoxication. My intention was to create a conversation between two different worlds: the asphyxiating one of the nuclear plant – a tough and threatening line of work – and an outside world made up of passion, impulses and nature. I wanted the character of Tahar to understand that skin has a price. I wanted him to understand through love that life is precious and that escaping this world is increasingly dangerous for them – he contaminated, and she pregnant. The second part of the film is about how to escape it.

Why close the film with Toni (Karole’s husband) as he straddles a nuclear plant machine?
Many asked me the same question, including my producer, who did not like the idea. It was like I was closing a love triangle, it is a threat, which continues to loom over the two. There is no happy end. It’s like the nuclear plant won. And I also wanted a western style ending.

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(Translated from Italian)

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