Stéphane Brizé • Director
"The brutality of the world is grounds for investigation and intrigue"
- CANNES 2018: French director Stéphane Brizé talks to us about his new feature film, At War
Three years after first competing at Cannes Film Festival with The Measure of a Man [+see also:
interview: Stéphane Brizé
film profile] (awarded the Best Actor prize on the Croisette), Stéphane Brizé is once again in the running for the Palme d'Or with At War [+see also:
interview: Stéphane Brizé
Cineuropa: Why choose to focus on workers fighting against the closure of a factory?
Stéphane Brizé: I’m interested in seeing what lies behind the images we see, which are always spectacularly violent images. When they crop up in the media, they destroy everything in their path, including the discourse of employees who may actually have a lot of legitimacy. As soon as these images exist, the fight is over. What happens in the months beforehand? How do we get to this point? At War certainly doesn’t legitimise violence, it legitimises anger. And before anger, comes suffering. There’s suffering, then anger and then violence. For a long time, my characters and the issues in my films were intimate and were focused more on the family and relationships. Since The Measure of a Man, I've opened up a window to the world and observed how the world treats mankind. The brutality of the world in which we live in is grounds for investigation and intrigue.
What research did you do to create a true depiction of reality?
First of all, you have to ask around, get out there, collect the testimonies of several people, union leaders, but also employee lawyers, bosses, management lawyers, experts, HR managers, etc. A huge amount of information, which is a little dizzying at times because you occasionally worry how you’re going to create a piece of fiction from something that can sometimes seem a little boring. But it's an exciting job. Employees can file a complaint, so there’s some hope, then a decision is made to either reject or approve the complaint, etc. But then ultimately the employee doesn’t win the court case, so there are a few twists and turns. We needed to create high stakes: one party wants one thing, and the other party wants the opposite.
You nevertheless seem to avoid Manichaeism and the idea that “everyone has their reasons.”
If I had created a caricature of poor workers against the big bad bosses and cynical politicians, I’d be shooting myself in the foot. It’s very important to choose a point of view and to make everyone's voice heard. As well as in real life, and that's what's both exciting and very complicated. Everyone has their own well-structured argument, that’s fairly understandable, because everyone is defending their own interpretation, with their own points of reference and consistencies. Everyone has their own truth and these truths often oppose each other.
What rhythm did you want to give the film?
I wanted to devote time to each sequence and to allow myself to take that time. The editing needed to be fast-paced enough, and there needed to be some omissions in order to advance things fairly quickly. In any case, in a social conflict, there are some moments of remarkable action and some moments that revolve around words. Paradoxically, documentaries find it very difficult to translate this discourse onto the screen because they don’t always have easy access to the places that I am able to film. But it's about making interesting sequences that last about 5, 6 or 7 minutes, as well as scenes that revolve around words. Again, these are issues of dramaturgy.
How did the alchemy between the non-professionals and Vincent Lindon unfold?
We started with a huge cast – more than 600 people – and then did some test runs. But having a person who is works well during test runs, that's one thing, but 15 people around a table interacting with each other, will it all still work well? It's a bit of a gamble in the moment. But we try these things out and build on them. I’d never had more than three people in a room before, then suddently there were at least 20 people in the frame. I put myself in a situation that was initially very uncomfortable, but I actually discovered that I took great pleasure in filming all of these people interacting and Vincent interacting with them. But the purpose of the device was not only to make these people credible, and ensure they stayed true to the role, etc., but also to ensure that Vincent fit perfectly within it all.
(Translated from French)
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