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TORONTO 2021 Platform

Laurent Cantet  • Director of Arthur Rambo

"I didn’t want the film to be a trial, but everyone has their own inner convictions"

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- The French filmmaker explores the violent era of social media through the story of a young and popular novelist who suffers a vertiginous fall from grace

Laurent Cantet  • Director of Arthur Rambo

The 8th feature film offered up by French director Laurent Cantet (notably the recipient of Cannes’ 2008 Palme d’Or on account of The Class [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Carole Scotta
interview: Laurent Cantet
film profile
]
), Arthur Rambo [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Laurent Cantet
film profile
]
was unveiled in the Platform competition of the 46th Toronto Film Festival and is set to compete in the 69th San Sebastián Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Arthur Rambo is loosely based on the story of radio commentator Mehdi Meklat whose historic hateful tweets written under a pseudonym suddenly came to the surface in early 2017. What drew you to this news story?
Laurent Cantet: Back when it happened, I was very surprised and quite shocked because I’d read some of his articles in Bondy Blog, I’d often listened to him on France Inter and I found his political intelligence really interesting. When his tweets were unearthed, I struggled to get my head around the fact that it was the same person. How was it possible? It was like a puzzle, which made me think it had film potential.

Why did you choose to tell the story over the course of 48 hours?
I wanted the film to retrace a news story because news stories always tell us quite a lot about the time-period in question and often take it to the extreme, but I didn’t want it to be a biopic. I wanted to maintain a certain distance and level of freedom from the real story so that I didn’t feel obliged to stick to it. Narrowing the action down to a two-day period, following the peak of Karim D.s popularity and his fall, seemed to me to be a way of freeing myself from certain biographical aspects which would have proved an encumbrance. By narrowing the time-period down, we were also able to convey something of that era and of social media, and of the speed with which things change: you can become popular overnight and then, all of a sudden, in a matter of hours, you’re a pariah… Those 48 hours report back on the brutality of the phenomenon.

How did you avoid painting too sympathetic a portrait of Karim D., or an overly damning one?
That was the real dilemma in the writing process [editor’s note: the screenplay was written by the director in league with Fanny Burdino and Samuel Doux]: what kind of distance should we maintain from the character so as not to treat him too kindly, because I really didn’t want to do that, without depicting him as totally unpalatable? Firstly, the film doesn’t judge him or provide any explanations; the character remains an enigma, an enigma which also confuses the protagonist himself because he’s as lost as we are in the face of what he has done and, first and foremost, what he has written. It wasn’t easy keeping a distance. The film often displays a certain level of empathy for the character, but it doesn’t exonerate him from any rubbish he might have written.

The film also touches upon the question of France as an “immobile” country, both in terms of its geography and social status within society.
The character is something of a defector who was born in the suburbs into a family of Maghrebi origin and who finds a place for himself on the other side of the divide at lightning speed. But – and this is quite a pessimistic observation, as is often the case in my films – these young people are often subjected to a form of “house arrest”. The character isn’t yet familiar with the inner workings of the other world when he swiftly finds himself sent back to the other side. But, either way, whether he’s from the suburbs or not, his tweets are unacceptable.

Karim D. is faced with a succession of mirrors; encounters which reveal a wide range of reactions.
It’s constructed a bit like a courtroom drama. Karim D. is ordered to explain himself to his editor and to the entire publishing team, then to his Parisian mates, then to his suburban friends and then, last but not least, to his mother and his family. He has to answer their questions, but he can’t because he doesn’t understand it himself. Over time, he offers possible explanations, which the film examines one at a time without really giving a ruling on it, because I, myself, don’t understand it. I didn’t want the film to be a trial, but, after a while, everyone has their own inner convictions, shaped by the position each of us occupies in the world. His Parisian friends, who have had a similar journey to him, feel vulnerable because he has destroyed their reputation in one fell swoop; his suburban friends are worried that people will think they’re like him, so they reject him; his mother also rejects him, insisting that he didn’t learn to talk like that from her, etc.

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(Translated from French)

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