Simon Jaquemet • Director
“Violence is the last taboo”
- Cineuropa met up with Swiss film director Simon Jaquemet, who stunned and fascinated audiences with his first feature, War, a movie about rage, desire and freedom
Cineuropa: In War [+see also:
interview: Simon Jaquemet
film profile], the topic of violence in general, and teenage violence in particular, is developed in a very unexpected way, without taboos and with a great sense of awareness. Is violence a subject that affected you personally? Where do you think this teenage rage comes from?
Simon Jaquemet: Personally, I didn’t have a very violent youth. There were a few fights but nothing serious. I often used to hang out with skaters and hip-hop kids, and there were some crazy ones very similar to the characters in my film. I was fascinated by these kids who seemed to know no rules.
As a teenager, I sometimes had sudden anger attacks, which we called Jähzorn in German. I don’t have them as an adult, or at least they don’t lead to physical violence, but rather to extensive, violent fantasies. So I guess one reason for making this film was the urge to deal with my own violent fantasies, which scare but also fascinate me.
I think that violence and the ability to do evil lie at the core of every human. I think in our highly developed countries, the possibilities for rebellion have become so minute that every spark of revolt and youth culture that emerges is instantly sucked up by commerce. The model of living that society offers us is basically to do a useless, boring job and become a good consumer. For kids and also for adults, if you don’t want to assimilate completely, it feels like you are tilting at windmills: everything is very complicated, and there are no clear enemies any more. Violence is the last taboo.
So I think that teenage rage is not something that gets imposed on kids, but is rather something very human that is already there, waiting to come out when the circumstances are ideal. I want my film to be an exploration of the subject through a very personal point of view, which is presented to an audience without delivering the matching moral. It is meant to shake up, rather than to confirm.
Your movie talks about universal subjects: rage, lust and desire. On the other hand, the landscape surrounding the characters is highly specific, very Swiss. Why did you choose this particular setting?
I like the mountains as a setting. Visually, they are extremely interesting. Obviously, I am more interested in the mountains as a remote, vast, dangerous landscape than I am in the kitsch side that they can also have. When you’re in the mountains, you actually realise that we are living on a planet. I wanted to use them to oppose the idea that the mountains are an innocent place where humans can find solace and healing.
In War, the actors are extremely intense: both violent and emotional, and highly strung. Who are the actors, and how did you work with them?
The kids are all non-professionals, with the exception of Ella, who plays Ali. She had some acting experience and is going to acting school now. They are real kids who I met on the street or through contacts. We did an extensive casting led by casting director Lisa Olah and looked at around 1,000 young people for the roles. I met Benji, who plays Matteo, at the train station where kids used to hang out, and he looked very similar to how the character looks in the film at the beginning. We met Sascha (Dion) in the backyard of the production company, where some kids from the neighbourhood used to congregate at night. Ste (Anton) came to us through a youth organisation. He has been through more in his life than most of us will in our entire lives. Because of that, he didn’t want to reveal his full name. Livia Reinhardt, who plays Matteo’s mother, and Ernst Sigrist, who plays Hanspeter, are professional actors, while John Leuppi, who plays the father, is a non-professional actor.
I worked with them as I did with professional actors, and this went very well. We had already done some rehearsals during the casting process, and before the shoot there was a three-week rehearsal period during which we worked on the characters, rehearsed some scenes and just got to know each other. With Ella, I did quite a lot of character rehearsals, as she had to change a lot to become Ali. We did a ritual with her during the rehearsal when we cut off her hair and threw it into the fire.
We shot most of the scenes in chronological order, and during the shoot, I tried to make the scenes as real as possible so that the actors could immerse themselves as much as possible in the fictional reality. And sometimes I used real surprise elements and moments that they had not encountered before.
What were your influences for War?
The earliest influence is surely Kids by Larry Clark, which I saw as a teenager and which made a deep impression on me and became something of a landmark film for all my friends. But then there was also Menace II Society, La Haine,the skateboard films by Spike Jonze,and the later films by Larry Clark and Harmony Korine. I had also read books like Lord of the Flies and Clockwork Orange as a teenager.
(Translated from Italian)
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