Rachel Lang • Director of Our Men
"It’s a film about relationships, and the frustration involved in waiting"
- CANNES 2021: The French director living in Brussels tell us more about her motivations for exploring the fragile state of Foreign Legion relationships with such force and intensity
We met with the young French director living in Brussels Rachel Lang to discuss her second feature film Our Men [+see also:
interview: Rachel Lang
film profile], which screened in the closing slot of the Directors’ Fortnight.
Cineuropa: Where did you get the idea for this story and what made you want to tell it?
Rachel Lang: I did my time in the army when I was 19 years old and I found it so intense that it made me wonder how men get back to a normal routine and day-to-day life. How do their wives cope with it? Civil life seemed so flat… These men lived together 24-7, holed up in trenches, avoiding grenades... It was later that I began to wonder how these men also managed to live up to their wives’ expectations. In addition, I wanted to make a film about relationships, and the hardest place to have a relationship is in the Foreign Legion. Wives don’t have any status, legionnaires enlist as single men and for 5 years they don’t have the right to get married or have children. Some of them enlist despite having a family, but they’re not lawfully married.
Is this first and foremost a film about love?
It’s actually a film about relationships, love and conjugality. Love is a feeling, but it’s also hard work. And the work involved for couples in that particular context is especially challenging.
The film offers up an unexpected view of the army, in intimate but also professional terms.
I wanted to show the job itself, the square side of the army. People often imagine war to be chaos, whereas it’s actually highly organised, everyone has their place. There’s a protocol for every situation, which is routinely applied. At the same time, you’re always dealing with the unknown, the impossibility of knowing where, when, how or why. You’re one link in a very long chain of command, and you only know what directly concerns you. Death, but also uncertainty, is always lurking.
It’s also a film about waiting…
The frustration involved in waiting can be felt on both sides: the women are waiting for their husbands; the men are waiting for the enemy. How do you manage this time spent waiting, and the frustration felt on both sides? What trace does it leave within the relationship? There’s a certain sense of fragility on both sides. What these women generate while they’re waiting is impressive. They’re also there to pick up their damaged husbands.
It’s a very taciturn film, as opposed to your first film Baden Baden [+see also:
film profile]. It’s all about movements and looks…
There’s a language that’s very specific to the Legion. The men come from all over the world and learn 400 words which are all they need to get by. So it’s not a particularly verbose world, and it’s true that the film fits in with this. It’s a film about bodies, action. The young couple, who aren’t French speakers, don’t really know how to talk to one another. The other couple, the officer and his lawyer wife, are better equipped and find their words quite easily. These two couples are jeopardised, when it comes to words and formulating and sharing feelings and emotions. When the men come home, they struggle to communicate because it’s very difficult to talk about war. And the wives don’t share what they’ve gone through either. This lack of sharing of experiences is a real problem; it’s clearly one of the couples’ major issues. They live separately and the few times they are together, they’re not equipped to live together, or don’t have enough time to get themselves on the same wavelength before the men go off on another mission.
How do you feel about the upcoming screening in Cannes?
I haven’t seen the film since Ina passed away [Editor’s note: Ina Marija Bartaité, one of the film’s lead actresses who died tragically several months ago]. I’m nervous about it, but it will also be a wonderful tribute to her. We waited a year for the film to be shown because of the pandemic and this Cannes spotlight is a precious opportunity. I hope it will help us connect with the public.
(Translated from French)
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