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CANNES 2021 Competition

Ildikó Enyedi • Director of The Story of My Wife

“We have to accept and embrace the fact that we won’t find an answer”

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- CANNES 2021: The Hungarian helmer talks to Cineuropa about her adaptation of Milán Füst’s novel, which is playing in competition

Ildikó Enyedi  • Director of The Story of My Wife
(© Hanna Csata)

The Cannes competition title The Story of My Wife [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ildikó Enyedi
film profile
]
stars Gijs Naber as a freighter seaman who discovers that life with Lizzy, played by Léa Seydoux, is not something he can control like a ship sailing the seas. We talked to the film’s director, Ildikó Enyedi.

Cineuropa: What made you want to adapt the novel by Milán Füst?
Ildikó Enyedi: Füst is a sort of outlier in Hungarian and world literature, and was misunderstood when he was alive. He wrote this deeply personal book during World War II, when his life was in danger. Although the book is about a married couple, he speaks about this big, burning question: how should we live our little, short lives on Earth? We investigate this question through the point of view of a freighter sea captain who wants to understand his wife, a French woman, but in fact, he just wants to understand life. So he gets some very tough lessons where he must learn to accept and understand that life is not something controllable.

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It's a terrific performance by Gijs Naber as Jakob Störr, who is on the one hand stoic, and on the other vulnerable. How did you show these two sides to Störr?
In his world at sea, there are no maybes. When you face a problem, you have to resolve it. What he learns [in his personal life] through his relationship with his wife, Lizzy, is that you have to embrace and love this sort of ephemeral, unattainable quality of life. So, in a way, with humour, passion, and twists and turns, Lizzy functions like a Zen teacher.

This unattainable quality of life you have put into the persona of Lizzy; how did Léa Seydoux help bring a sensuality and ethereal quality to the character?
Well, it's an extremely tricky role to play because most of the time, if a character has to discover a secret in the movies, the film is about them figuring out the secret, which will lead to the character and the audience understanding. And in The Story of My Wife, we don't have this solidity. We understand the world as Jakob understands it, and we have to accept and embrace the fact that we won't find an answer to the question: who is Lizzy? And what is important to her? Léa does an incredible job at pulling off this complex role.

Louis Garrel plays almost against type as Dedin; was that why you cast him?
Louis was the first person I cast in the film. I didn't have a plan B. Dedin, in a way, is the most dangerous person that someone like Jakob can come across because he represents everything that he is not. Jakob is a very powerful and capable person when at sea, but when he's in the company of Dedin, he feels clumsy, awkward, out of place, slow and dumb. He sees Dedin as a sort of villain.

In adapting the novel from page to screen, you have used seven chapter headings not taken from the book – how did you come up with these?
The book is one huge, rambling inner monologue, a stream of consciousness. Somehow, and tenderly, I just wanted to have the audience see beyond the classical love story. And because it's a huge, meandering and very complex novel, I wanted to boil it down to the essence – let’s call them lessons. These chapter headings can help the viewer focus on the layers beneath the surface.

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