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Alexe Poukine • Director of That Which Does Not Kill

"Most of my female friends have told me they’ve had a similar experience"

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- Cinergie met with director Alexe Poukine to talk about her second feature film, That Which Does Not Kill , unveiled in competition at the Visions du Réel Festival

Alexe Poukine • Director of That Which Does Not Kill

That Which Does Not Kill [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alexe Poukine
film profile
]
, Alexe Poukine’s second feature film, produced by Alter Ego and the CVB, unveiled in competition at the Visions du Réel Festival and due to be released in Brussels and Wallonia in the autumn, is developed around the testimony of a raped and abused woman, and tells the tale of another type of death, psychological in this instance.

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Cinergie: How did this project come about?
Alexe Poukine:
Ada came to see me after the screening of my first film to tell me that she had a story to tell. She told me that she’d been raped three times in one week by a man whom she knew. What shocked me was that I’m something of a "lightweight feminist", let’s say, and I realised that I felt quite sceptical about her story. It didn’t fit with the image I had of rape as being committed at night by an armed and dangerous stranger… And there were also inconsistencies in her story, which jumped back and forth in time... It turned out that she was disassociating when talking about what happened, but I wasn’t aware of this concept at the time. I didn’t have the capacity to understand her, so, I didn’t understand her. But I was obsessed with her story. I asked her to tell me all about it, which she did, very patiently, and I recorded her story over the course of two years. At the same time, I read a lot about trauma, disassociation and how traumatic memory works.

How did the format of a story told by several people come to you?
I didn’t know how to tell her story. I didn’t want to ask her to deliver her testimony directly to camera. I felt that the violent nature of her tale would create a wall, that the viewers would want to protect themselves. I was also protecting myself. We’re surrounded by ideas of meritocracy; we think that we deserve whatever happens to us. It’s one of the great tragedies of our society. We don’t want to believe that something so awful and so terribly unfair could happen to us. I could see the defences that I myself was putting up very clearing, and all so as to avoid putting myself in her place. There were real empathy issues at play. When I started to talk about this story with those around me, most of my female friends told me they’d experienced something similar and Ada’s reactions didn’t surprise them in the slightest. That the real reason I made this film, I think. Most of my male friends, meanwhile, told me that if what Ada was describing was rape, then they themselves were rapists. Our societies create an image of a rapist as some sort of monster, a sadist, a pervert, and potentially someone who’s mentally impaired… But that’s not at all the case. While making the film, I met a number of men who had carried out rapes, some of them lovely; they could have been my best friends! After a little while, I realised that the real subject of the film was empathy, and the question: how can we identify with someone who has lived through such an experience? So, I asked Ada to write a text, which I then divided into several sections, and I looked for people who could interpret it and comment on it. I wanted them to put themselves in her place and to then tell me how it made them feel. And, rather extraordinarily, by uttering these words, by absorbing them, even the more sceptical ones among them ended up understanding her, or at least they felt moved in one way or another, I think. This could only happen by walking in her shoes, by putting ourselves in her place, by forcing ourselves to do this.

Were you prepared for what this text would unleash?
Yes. No. Either way, I was terrified of causing harm, and that some people might not be able to bear the filming process. I knew that it would be difficult for some of them, but I also chose people who had worked on what had happened to them. Ada’s story – and this is why it’s so interesting – is devastatingly commonplace, but it seems extraordinary to many people, precisely because it’s so far away from the typical image we have of rape. But in 80% of cases, the victim knows her abuser, and a third of rapes take place within relationships... That’s what really shocks me: people always question why Ada went back to see this man, instead of focusing on the fact that he raped her! There’s a real lack of education here!

(Read the complete interview in French here.)

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(Translated from French)

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