Samuel Theis • Director of Softie
“This film is a child’s portrait, but most of all it is about the question of defecting from one’s class”
- CANNES 2021: The French filmmaker discusses his second feature, a very endearing, simple and subtle work presented in Critics’ Week
Caméra d’Or in 2014 with Party Girl [+see also:
interview: Marie Amachoukeli, Claire B…
film profile] (which he co-directed), Samuel Theis returns on the Croisette, this time solo, with his second feature, Softie [+see also:
interview: Samuel Theis
film profile], presented in a special screening at the 60th Critics’ Week of the 74th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What was your motivation for Softie: to make another film in Forbach, your hometown, and about a social class that you know perfectly well, or to make the portrait of a boy at the frontier between childhood and teenhood?
Samuel Theis: It was evident to me that this would be shot in Forbach because drawing the portrait of this child is also a way to restore the memories of an experience that I personally lived, and to depict an age that I find extremely interesting for cinema because it truly is the threshold of teenhood. To plan a shoot in France with a kid is complex because the law means that we can only shoot four hours per day. But I wanted to talk about that age and about the realisation I had at 10 of the violence of my social background and of knowing deep inside that I wouldn’t spend my life there, that I would leave, and therefore that I would turn my back on my family. At that age, to understand that is challenging! This film is a child’s portrait, but most of all it is about the question of defecting from one’s class.
Your description of this popular social class is indeed harsh, but never accusatory because there is love there.
It is very important for me to make films that allow this social class to be seen, since it is slowly disappearing from the cinematic landscape, at least in France. It’s very important to talk about it, to tell stories in that social milieu and to do so with faces, bodies, people who really come from this social class. I really care about that and I will also shoot my next film in Forbach because it is a very cinema territory: it’s a frontier, a France that is dormant, this France of deindustrialisation, these regions that we robbed of their work tool by relocating but without replacing that with anything else, by abandoning these people a little. This makes me sad and makes me want to tell that story, to become curious about these people that are there, that stay there. It’s also a region that has a long history with immigration and all that, it reflects today’s France and the questions that we are debating today.
The Johnny character, in the middle of an age all about awakening, about desire, curiosity, meets a master with his teacher. What kind of look did you want to have on education?
He represents the mentor figure. We all have masters, a person on whom we want to project. That always occurs when the adult casts a gaze on the kid first, the gaze of someone who believes in us, who sees our potential and reveals it. These encounters are decisive, particularly on journeys of social class defection. Education as an institution is objectionable because I don’t know if what we call equal opportunities actually exist, but for me, it’s school that got me through. It’s ambivalent, complex, nuanced.
This desire, this curiosity, is also a rather blurry desire for love that has its limits. You indeed don’t hesitate from tackling the rather delicate topic of sexual awakening.
To make a film about a child is to make a film about first times, and I really didn’t want to settle for intellectual awakening, for instance. I am basing myself on a personal experience and I don’t think the film is discussing sexuality at 10, and of course, it’s very different from one child to the next. Those were upheavals in my head and it took me a long time to decipher them. My wish was to show that desire, whatever it may be, is always multiple, that different realities and perceptions communicate with each other. Because what is our sexual desire made of? It isn’t just chemistry between two people, there’s also an intellectual component and a mental construction. I’ve often desired people who could help me rise socially. But it was very important for me that in the film, the adults be irreprochable on these questions. The child is an explorer and at that age, we need to look for our limits, to experiment. A kid always goes too far. Maybe it was a way, with fiction, to put everyone back in the right place.
(Translated from French)
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