Clément Cogitore • Director of Sons of Ramses
"What motivates me is creating enigmas, but instead of trying to solve them, I explore them as fully as possible"
- CANNES 2022: The French filmmaker unveils a brilliantly directed, social, urban and nocturnal thriller about a real-fake medium
The directorial revelation of Cannes’ Critics’ Week 2015 on account of his first feature film The Wakhan Front [+see also:
film profile], Clément Cogitore has orchestrated a spectacular return to the very same parallel section, securing a Special Screening in the 75th Cannes Film Festival for his second opus Sons of Ramses [+see also:
interview: Clément Cogitore
Cineuropa: What gave you the idea for a story revolving around a medium?
Clément Cogitore: I lived in Paris’s Goutte d’Or district for a long time; it fascinated me and clearly it inspired the film. It all started with the very simple act - which is a bit of a cliché in our neighbourhood - of those guys who hand out flyers for mediums outside Barbès metro station, and that’s where I got the idea to start the story there. But I mostly wanted to develop a character who manages information, who plays on belief systems. What really interests me in my work is the link between fiction and beliefs; how this affects our lives and the space it occupies. So, I was looking for a very manipulative character who was difficult to work out, who suddenly finds himself caught in his own trap and starts having real visions, or at least picking up information in an irrational way, which suddenly leads him to question the meaning of his job, but it also destroys the little money-making operation he had going, revolving around consoling people and hearing dead people’s voices.
Did you carry out much research?
Yes, but I didn’t use too much of what I learned about mediums because, in my opinion, the ones I found weren’t good at their jobs: they were too over-the-top and would have been better suited to a folklore comedy, which didn’t interest me at all. So I gave up the research and for a long time I worked on the basis of what I would do if I wanted to get going in this field of work with the tools that were already available to me; how would I do it best? Little by little, I started to develop the character’s system. Research proved useful for other things, such as for migrant children living on the streets, which has actually happened; obviously that’s not what the story’s about, but it’s bolstered by a lot of information on the neighbourhood and interactions between kids and the local area.
What balance or imbalance were you looking to achieve between a psychological portrait, a portrayal of the area and a social portrait (or even a portrayal of the migrant situation), with a bit of genre thrown in, given that there’s a body?
It required a bit of fine-tuning, mostly relating to the screenplay. To begin with, things feel unrefined, but then over the course of the writing and re-writing process, they slot together; certain aspects are masked, which then appear as subtext, while others are more visible. In terms of the character’s trajectory, there were things that I wanted to say about that place and that area of Paris, where there’s now a lot of tension and precariousness, about the way that violence also runs through the city and, first and foremost, about human beings facing death and the consoling tales which come with this.
There was an element of the fantastical in your first feature film and you flirt with it in this one. Do you have a taste for it?
Yes. As a viewer I need to be missing something and for the setting, the story, the mise en scène to work around this void. The characters try to demarcate or manage it. In The Wakhan Front, it was about absence and disappearances; here, it’s more about a body coming on to the scene with no real explanation of how it was found. The character manages to glean snippets of information, but it remains an enigma. That’s a fundamental driver which gets me working - creating enigmas but instead of trying to solve them, I explore them as fully as possible.
Filmmakers are also mediums…
There’s definitely a metaphor wrapped up in this character, because filmmakers can also be storytellers in the wider sense. At what point do we slip into pure manipulation and fraud and at what point might the things we say be considered to be consoling or at least supportive in so far as the story allows, with a view to helping men and women keep themselves above water?
(Translated from French)
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