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CANNES 2019 Critics’ Week

Aude Léa Rapin • Director of Heroes Don’t Die

“Everything happened quickly, which allowed us to remain in a process of adventure”


- CANNES 2019: French filmmaker Aude Léa Rapin tells us about her surprising feature debut, Heroes Don’t Die, discovered in Critics’ Week in Cannes

Aude Léa Rapin • Director of Heroes Don’t Die

Presented in a special screening at the 58th Critics’ Week of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Aude Léa Rapin’s Heroes Don’t Die [+see also:
film review
interview: Aude Léa Rapin
film profile
tells the very strange story of a small documentary film crew, involving reincarnation and road-movie through Bosnia. 

Cineuropa: Where does this very surprising mix blend of Heroes Don’t Die come from?
Aude Léa Rapin: It’s a film that was written very quickly, in just a few weeks, based on an idea that is quite close to what we see in the film. I met a beggar in Paris who was giving the people he came across names and lives which weren’t theirs. It was his way of creating stories, in order to get people to stop by for five minutes, the way I did. I then asked myself what would happen if someone believed one of those stories. From there, a latent desire I had came into the mix: I wanted to shoot a film in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the footsteps of this war which had been part of my childhood for five years when I saw it on TV news. That later gave me the desire to visit Sarajevo, which I did in a first part of my adult life. I wanted to fit all these elements into a fiction, and set a story in this country that is haunted by the ghosts of a recent war.

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What about the idea of the film-within-a-film?
At the start of the project, I hadn’t even imagined that the film could be produced in a normal way. The actor Jonathan Couzinié and I were ready to just go make the film with a small camera, like we’d done for our short films. But my agent put me in contact with Sylvie Pialat, who decided to produce the film. It was October and there was this idea of filming during the commemorations for Srebrenica, on July 11. So everything happened very quickly, from the writing process to the search for funding, and the film-within-the-film was a kind of extension of the initial project. It allowed to remain in a process of adventure, where many things could be adjusted and changed before the shoot. Working on this generational streak where the camera becomes a character also allowed me to have a counterpoint, to work the story from the inside, and to obtain a search for point of view instead. 

Life, death, reincarnation, homage to the victims and to the survivors of this war: the film works through many broad topics.
The hommage dimension is very important, because my life crossed the path of Srebrenica very early on. I lived there for a year. I witnessed the opening of mass graves; I met the people who do the burying and those who do the digging; and most of all, I came across griefs that could never end. In my film, through this tiny and restricted view, we also glimpse the vertigo of imagining one’s own death. As for the idea of reincarnation, to make someone believe that the end doesn’t exist, it’s a rather sweet and comforting thought. In parallel to that, cinema also allows to make somebody last for longer than they can in real life. So, the film mixes variations around ideas of death, of durability; of what we leave behind, of what we live through. And how we live with the fact that we’ll have to die some day, how we live when we have lost everything, like those women the characters meet on their quest. But it isn’t a case of a closed-off philosophy, because I just wanted to go through all these things in a sensitive and intuitive manner. 

The story goes through many unexpected turns.
You could compare those turns to a kind of hara-kiri (laughs). With a premise like that, we could have tended towards a film of fantasy or science-fiction. And the same is true for the rest of the film, because I wanted to repeatedly insert dreams and fantasies, while always bringing them back to a reality principle. But one way of going around that reality principle is to do your own storytelling. It’s what the characters do, and it’s how the story progresses. It isn’t a film of theories, because I also found out what is was going to be like as I was making it. But there also was a strong desire to question the way in which stories get written. In various script workshops, I was told that there needed to be a narrative reversal every 20 minutes; that there had to be an initiating event, and lots of other things which I don’t really feel like making a film with. I’m not saying I would never make a film this way, but for me, these are not principles that are written in stone. And I’m very happy that people such as Sylvie Pialat, Adèle Haenel and Paul Guilhaume have accepted the strangeness of the script, and in the end, the film is exactly in the weird place where it was from the start.

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(Translated from French)

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