Lucas Belvaux • Director of Home Front
“It’s a film about the wounds of war rather than the war itself”
- Lucas Belvaux talks to us about his latest film, Home Front, showing at the Angouleme Francophone Film Festival and opening the Brussels International Film Festival
We met with France-based Belgian filmmaker Lucas Belvaux, who talked to us about his latest film, Home Front [+see also:
interview: Lucas Belvaux
film profile], adapted from the novel by Laurent Mauvignier and centred on the particular fate of a handful of men sent to fight the Algerian war at 20, and who are still healing their wounds 40 years later. Projected at the Angouleme Francophone Film Festival, the film opened the Brussels International Film Festival.
Cineuropa: How did you react upon discovering Laurent Mauvignier’s book?
Lucas Belvaux: It’s a novel I wish I had written. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to, but I would have liked to. But 10 years ago, I probably wasn’t equipped to make the film, and anyway, the rights weren’t available. Finally today, it’s a done deal.
In the book, the author says: “good guys, there weren’t any there, they were men, that’s it.” Who are they, these men?
I’m of a generation that was still doing military service. We meet guys from everywhere. And then we realise that in extraordinary situations, guys that we don’t think of as particularly good are much better than we expect.
In the film, it’s the same thing, these are 20 year old guys that we go seek out in their villages. In the 1950s, the world was something very abstract, that came down to the fifteen kilometers around your house. And these young men will suddenly go and discover the beauty of the world. And on top of that, they will also discover the horrors of war.
The past and the present are constantly in dialogue, evoking as much the war as the wounds of the war…
Maybe more so the wounds of the war than the war itself. It’s a film about memory and transmission. About how we tell something, or don’t. About how we are heard, or not. And the damage that not talking causes.
It’s a war that hasn’t been told, heard. However, as long as it isn’t spoken of, it can’t end.
Absolutely. But it hasn’t been solely the will of the fighters. As in every war. The people who returned from the camps, few of them spoke, because it was unspeakable, and they were afraid of not being believed. There, the fighters spoke very early, we find testimonies in some newspapers as early as 1956, but we don't want to hear them, to listen to them. France is rebuilding itself, and no one is proud of what happened over there. These men have carried this silence. Some of them committed suicide, sometimes 10 years later. These are not necessarily traumas that reveal themselves immediately, they can appear much later.
The film is constructed on voice overs that respond to each other, and around rather vertiginous temporal back-and-forths that create dialogues between the same characters aged 20 and aged 60. Can you tell us more about this device?
It’s one of the reasons why I loved the novel, and which made me want to make the film. There was a choral quality to it, with tales that told the end of the war and the suffering of men. One had to find a format to tell that in a film. I tried to build these voices like music, an oratorio or a piece by Steve Reich. One voice begins alone, then others come to add themselves to it…
The film questions the masculinity of the time, how one builds oneself as a man.
There’s an aspect we’ve forgotten a little, and thankfully, which is that since the Greeks, each generation has had its war. It was in the karma, in the fate of men to wage war at one point or another, to kill or get killed, to leave with the risk of never coming back. We talk a lot about masculine domination, and with reason, but we don’t talk so much about this masculine tragedy. There is some of that in the masculine condition presented in Mauvignier’s book.
At the origin of the trigger of the story, there is a racist gesture from Feu-de-Bois. How does this fit into your filmography? It isn’t trivial that this comes after This is Our Land [+see also:
interview: Lucas Belvaux
film profile], which talks about the grip of the National Front.
No, it isn’t a coincidence, it’s obvious. The National Front was founded by people nostalgic about French Algeria. And being racist isn’t a fatality for those who fought in Algeria. But it has clearly served as fuel for the racist machine. We see this in every country that has had a colonial war…
(Translated from French by Manuela Lazic)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.