Anissa Bonnefont • Director of Wonderboy
"Searching for our roots involves us reaching into the very depths of our souls"
- Anissa Bonnefont chats to us about Wonderboy, her first feature-length documentary which was nominated at the César Awards and is currently competing in Tribeca
In competition and enjoying an international premiere at the 19th Tribeca Film Festival - an event currently unspooling online for juries and film professionals - the first feature-length documentary by French filmmaker Anissa Bonnefont Wonderboy [+see also:
interview: Anissa Bonnefont
film profile], paints the portrait of Balmain's young artistic director, a star of the international haute couture scene who goes in search of his own identity, attempting to track down his biological parents.
Cineuropa: Wonderboy was born out of your own personal story and a particular encounter you had.
Anissa Bonnefont: Exactly. I'm by no means a fashion fanatic and I met Olivier by accident, because my mother was selling him the house that you see in the film. My mum told me a bit about his story and as mine was quite similar - because even though I didn't go via DASS (the Department of Health and Social Affairs), I was abandoned at the age of three by my biological father and I went looking for him at twenty-three - I asked Olivier if he'd taken the same steps. He told me that he'd tried, but that he'd since abandoned his research. I think Olivier isn't really used to people behaving naturally around him or talking to him off the cuff. As a result, we developed a really close relationship very quickly. I also asked him if he'd ever been asked to take part in a documentary because there are quite a lot of documentaries on fashion, and because it was all pointing towards a very powerful story, given his own particular story and the immense success he'd achieved as such a young man. That's how it all started.
So your intention was to follow him as he tracked down his biological parents, highlighting the contrast of his backstory with the world of fashion?
What interested me was his own personal research, so clearly we needed him to want to embark upon this research and for me to follow him in his day-to-day life, i.e. the mega exciting world that is the fashion scene. I wanted to show this contrast, where he started out in particular, and what he has managed to create, because it's a positive message for lots of young people today who feel they don't belong, who can't quite get their bearings, who no longer believe in much.
How about the uncertainty surrounding the filming of the documentary, since you didn't know whether his search for his roots would lead anywhere concrete?
It was a real gamble. There was every probability that we wouldn't find anything in his file. But I thought it was interesting to show what happens when an abandoned child begins his or her search. If there's an empty file, what happens? Obviously, I hoped there would be something in the file which would allow us to take the story further, even though it would lengthen the film shoot. But even if we hadn't found anything it would still have been interesting, because it's also important to show the flaws in this system. Because to be born anonymously in France is a very complicated thing. Now the laws are beginning to change, but they used to be very archaic.
The film is a live form of introspection, of sorts. Searching for our roots, wanting to know our backstory and where we come from...
These are very powerful topics which involve us reaching into the very depths of our souls. It becomes an obsesssion and we ask ourselves lots of questions. I didn't know Olivier Rousteing at all, only his name in relation to his work, but what immediately took me aback - and what I felt was crucial to include in the story - was the deep solitude which characterised his personal life, this almost awkward silence which reigned in his immense home, where he finds himself alone at the end of days spent surrounded by people and by constant noise and music. It's a solitude that's completely at odds with what we see on Instagram, or what we pick up on when reading or listening to his interviews.
What will you be working on next?
I've started filming - and I hope to pick it up again at the end of the summer - a documentary about Nadia Nadim, a Paris Saint-Germain footballer of Afghan origin who had to flee her country at the age of twelve following her father's murder by the Taliban. It's yet another story of resilience and one hell of a journey.
(Translated from French)
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