CANNES 2021 Directors’ Fortnight
Emmanuel Carrère • Director of Between Two Worlds
“The film has a social aspect, but also a hitchcockian element”
- CANNES 2021: The famous novelist once again turned filmmaker decrypts his free adaptation of the book by Florence Aubenas, which opened the Directors’ Fortnight
Between Two Worlds [+see also:
interview: Emmanuel Carrère
film profile] by Emmanuel Carrère (with Hélène Devynck as co-screenwriter) opened the 53rd Directors’ Fortnight during the 74th Cannes Film Festival. The film sees a writer, interpreted by Juliette Binoche, infiltrate the daily reality of contemporary precarity by diving incognito into the cleaning trade.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to adapt Le quai de Ouistreham?
Emmanuel Carrère: The idea didn’t come from me. The book, which is excellent, was very successful when it came out about ten years ago. And as always, when a novel is successful and has a very promising central character, many filmmakers and actresses were interested. But the writer, Florence Aubenas, was very reticent because I think she feared a lack of respect for the characters that the book talked about. In this kind of situation, the idea of a cinema adaptation is usually abandoned, but Juliette Binoche is extremely tenacious. Almost every year, she would invite Florence Aubenas to dinner and would tell her “so, when are we making this film?” And four years ago, Florence Aubenas mentioned my name. We know each other, without being close friends, but there is a mutual respect. This was therefore a real stroke of luck for me. Sometimes, when life or circumstances bring you to something that wasn’t your idea nor your desire, it takes you out of your comfort zone and this is what happened.
The film details in a very documentary way the cleaning profession. What struck you the most about that universe?
What is particularly interesting in this kind of labour, is that it is two hours here, three hours there, you have to move from one place to another, you spend a good chunk of your meagre salary on gas, you don’t have time to go home for a little nap, but you have empty time between two jobs: it’s totally exhausting work.
How did you work with this cast that brings together Juliette Binoche and non-professionals?
At the beginning of the project, I agreed to do it only on this condition. Juliette accepted, and so did the producers. We were lucky to have more than one year between the end of the script writing and the shoot. Casting lasted for three or four months with loads of tests, then for about six months, we had some workshops three or four times a month. Those were days of play, of improvisation, that were mostly a way of being together, of getting to know each other, of becoming a kind of theatre troupe. Slowly, these people who were very far from the world of actors, and even of play, familiarised themselves with the process and with each other. Juliette arrived at the last minute and the others waited for her suspiciously, wondering what the big star would be like. I didn’t know how it would go either because even if Juliette is a wonderful actress, that isn’t enough to do this kind of work. What happened, what is in my opinion the key to the film, at least what works very well in the film, is this alchemy that was born between them and Juliette. This is thanks to Juliette because she was incredibly humble, simple, kind, and she was directing them while she was acting with them: they felt more and more confident and happy to play and act. I don’t consider myself a great filmmaker, but there, there was a great story and a creative device that could be interesting.
Your books have often tackled the question of the double and of people who pretend to be what they are not, as in The Adversary for instance. Did this play a part in the writing of the character played by Juliette Binoche?
In a way, yes. The film has a social aspect, but also a hitchcockian element that absolutely wasn’t present in the book and which constitutes the dramatic base of the film. When someone infiltrates a group by pretending to be one of them, even with the best intentions, the question is inevitably raised: when will she be unmasked. It was impossible not to use this dramatic device. The entire story of the friendship between Marianne and Christèle isn’t in the novel either, with the novel being a social chronicle. Florence Aubenas firmly states that she is simply a journalist: the book never looks in her direction because she thinks that to watch and describe is more important than she is herself, and since she is a very experienced journalist, she is aware of this risk, so she allows herself good relationships, companionship, but not intimacy. In the film, the character isn’t a journalist but a writer: it’s a way to bring her closer to me and also my way of approaching the documentary capture aspect of the film. Because in documentary, I think there are two schools of thought: either we act exactly as if the observer wasn’t there, or we consider that the interaction between the observer and what he or she films is part of the process. It’s the famous Heisenberg theorema: to observe the phenomenon changes the phenomenon, and the film explores that.
(Translated from French)
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