André Téchiné • Director of Farewell to the Night
"I was interested in taking a cold, hard document and turning it into a work of fiction”
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2019: André Téchiné talks to us about Farewell to the Night, a film screened out of competition in Berlin which sees a grandmother facing up to her grandson’s desire to become a jihadi
We met with André Téchiné at the 69th edition of the Berlin Film Festival to talk about his handling of a very real and serious issue in Farewell to the Night [+see also:
interview: André Téchiné
film profile], presented out of competition.
Cineuropa: What led you to take an interest in the subject of young people leaving their homes to join the jihadi cause in Syria?
André Téchiné: Very often, when I make a film, I worry that I’m the only one who’s going to be interested in it. But this is a subject which affects us all, so I decided to go with it, embarking on huge amounts of research with a real focus on accuracy. The starting point was 60 hours of interviews with jihadis, each of them giving their own experience. So the young jihadi dialogues you hear in the film aren’t dialogues that I’ve invented; they’re real-life material, taken from real people and grafted onto the characters who are supposed to represent them; because, as I listened to these interviews, I realised that a film would allow us to paint a real picture; to give bodies and faces - a physical presence - to the questions that we’re all asking ourselves, questions which are fundamental for our society. For me, it was also an opportunity to attempt a new artistic process: traditionally, we start with a story or a novel which we then proceed to adapt, but, in this instance, I was interested in taking a report - a cold, hard document – and turning it into a work of fiction and a feature film.
You regularly explore the theme of adolescence, but unlike Being 17 [+see also:
Q&A: André Téchiné
interview: Kacey Mottet Klein
film profile], which also stars Kacey Mottet-Klein, this film isn’t a tale about growing up.
What I find fascinating about adolescence is the element of transition, that moment of metamorphosis where the juvenile’s identity as a child is lost, but where his/her identity as an adult is also yet to develop. It’s this transition phase which causes Alex so much distress. He is lost and, ultimately, he decides to uproot himself and leave his childhood behind, to put down new roots in an entirely new and far-away world. I think he also wants to become a jihadi because it offers a very fixed identity (warrior, religious man, bearer of children...) and that reassures him. So, no, it’s not a film about growing up at all. Alex wants to uproot himself, to break away from his home environment, in the same way that he takes the ornaments from his mother’s grave and throws them through the air. He wants to root himself to the sky, in some sense. They’ll do their growing up over there, which they talk about a lot, in fact.
You often like to work with the same actors; this is your second film with Mottet-Klein and your eighth with Catherine Deneuve.
It’s in my nature, I feel loyalty towards the actresses or actors that I like. When it comes to Catherine Deneuve, I always want to work with her again, but in making very different films each time. Generally speaking, I like to show diametrically opposed sides of the actresses or actors that I’m fond of, but, between Catherine and I, there’s a very deep, unspoken complicity; we have no need for intellectual discussion, we each know what the other is thinking and can give one another the courage we need to embark on entirely new adventures.
We identify strongly with her character Muriel’s distress. The grandmother is the main character in a certain sense.
She’s a character who fights and fights again. She’s desperate to find a way to save her grandson who’s gone over to the other side. She’s so shocked when she discovers this, she loses her mind a bit (locking him up is a pretty ridiculous idea!), and her attempt to get him to meet with a repentant, former jihadi also fails. At the same time, as her battle draws to a close, she asks herself whether she has ultimately denied her grandson the destiny he has chosen for himself ("you don’t have the right to judge me", he tells her), and that’s what really causes the distress we see her suffering with in the end. When she’s given new hope by the former jihadi, who has returned, taken a good look at himself, and is now re-learning the values of freedom, I think it’s because this is the destiny that she really wants for her grandson.
(Translated from French)
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