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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Guillaume Brac • Director of À l’abordage

"I need political and social issues to be smuggled in, behind a screen of lightheartedness and comedy"

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- BERLINALE 2020: French director Guillaume Brac reveals the origins of his cheerful work À l’abordage, unveiled in the Panorama line-up

Guillaume Brac • Director of À l’abordage

Discovered by way of Tonnerre [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Guillaume Brac
film profile
]
, and later the focus of acclaim for July Tales [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and the documentary Treasure Island [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Guillaume Brac
film profile
]
, French filmmaker Guillaume Brac is making his return with À l’abordage [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Guillaume Brac
film profile
]
, a work unveiled in the Panorama section of the 70th Berlinale.

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Cineuropa: Which theme were you mostly looking to explore in À l’abordage?
Guillaume Brac: As in almost all my films, the outer shell is a screen of sorts, exploring emotion, desire and thwarted love. But what actually interested me was the relationships between different types of young people, different social and cultural worlds. After various incidents, these few days of summer bring together a group of youngsters who probably never should have met, and who ultimately succeed (in the case of the three boys, anyway) in forging a relationship based on camaraderie and even friendship.

Which social backgrounds were you looking to represent?
First of all, there were the two who work, Félix and Chérif; one as a carer - a nurse of sorts – and the other employed in a supermarket warehouse. I wanted to immerse myself into the idea of France as a holiday destination as seen through the eyes of these two youngsters, whom we suspect don’t often go on holiday; for whom going on holiday wasn’t part of their upbringing. Broadly speaking, I also wanted to immerse these two young, black men into a world and a genre that they’re not welcomed into all that easily. The question of race isn’t central to the story at all, but it does colour the relationships between the characters. This is the subtle balance that I tried to reach with the actors, bearing in mind that I didn’t write the parts then choose the cast: I met the actors first and then I wrote alongside them. It all started with a request from the director of the French national drama academy – le Conservatoire national d’art dramatique de Paris - to write for a class of young actors. When I met them, I chose a dozen out of the thirty students, and I was struck by the fact that this class could almost have been a picture of French society, and a mirror-image of its diversity.

Though it’s not a documentary, the film does have some sort of documentary substratum to it…
My first meeting with these young actors consisted of individual discussions, lasting one or two hours each, on some very personal topics: their journey, their childhood, their frustrations, their dreams, etc. The characters were born out of these exchanges, which helped awaken my imagination. There’s also the fact that these are all young actors, with very little experience in film, so to send them in the direction of more complicated roles might not have been in their best interests. We had to capitalise on their youth, their energy, their language, their codes, etc.

Comedy which verges on slapstick, social realism, romance… Is it easy to balance such a broad mix of genres?
In pretty much all my films, I try to find the balance that I love, between laughter and more uncomfortable, sometimes even more brutal things. This film is the one where I’ve ventured most openly into comedy. The situations it explores can be funny, with their misunderstandings and slapstick elements, but there are also more painful moments, and a melancholy of sorts running through the entire film. The contrast between fair-haired Édouard who’s a bit uptight in his Bermuda shorts, and these two guys who bamboozle him somewhat, immediately created a kind of class antagonism that’s funny, but which can also be quite uncomfortable. Because Félix speaks in quite harsh terms when he says he can’t stand Édouard’s altar-boy face and, on the flip side, Édouard talks about “uneducated” people. It’s actually quite brutal. What I wanted was for the meeting between these three boys to lead to some really funny situations, but also to highlight how difficult it is for these worlds to come together and cohabit harmoniously. The film ultimately revolved around the type of pleasure we end up feeling at being together.

Is a lighthearted approach the best way of tackling serious issues?
It’s like a form of politeness. I like the head-on approaches of certain filmmakers, such as Gérard Blain or Robert Bresson, but in my films, I need political and social issues to be smuggled in, behind a screen of lightheartedness and comedy.

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(Translated from French)

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