Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot • Directors of The Super-8 Years
“When I wrote the text for the film, I wrote it with the image”
- CANNES 2022: We met up with the famous French author and her son to discuss their documentary and its different levels of reading
The Super-8 Years [+see also:
interview: Annie Ernaux and David Erna…
film profile], Annie Ernaux and David Ernaux-Briot’s first film, was presented in the Directors' Fortnight at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Where did the idea to embark together on the realization of The Super-8 Years come from?
David Ernaux-Briot: From my children’s desires to see their father as a child, but also to see their grandfather, who we actually see very little of as he’s the one filming. So I organised screening sessions but filmed the screen and recorded the comments that were made by my family, in particular those of my mother who is nevertheless the holder of the family memory and who could restore the events, people, etc. By reviewing all this, I started thinking that there was perhaps something to be done that had cinematic value and above all that had a universal and collective dimension. So I offered to my mother to write a text and with the images of my father to make a documentary. Actually, the term documentary is perhaps not the most appropriate, let's say a rather unconventional cinematographic object.
How much archival material did you have and how did you work with the source material?
Annie Ernaux: At first, there was a longer version of the text because David told me I could write an hour of text. So I wrote it and if I read without stopping, it was an hour-long. It was an uninterrupted story because it had to give a sense of time. I based it a little on my book Les Années (The Years) in which there is a slippery story that does not stop, in the past tense. Then, we obviously had to take into account the constraints of the cinematographic object because we cannot hear a text without interruption over images, it is impossible.
How did you make choices and balance the different layers of the text: the family dimension, that of a woman, of a country, of the world through travels?
AE: It's not new to my writing and it's probably easier for me to do it now. If someone had asked me thirty years ago, I might not have known how to do it. It was a work that was not so far removed from my book Les Années (The Years) which was published in 2008, especially since in this book, I describe the moment when the camera appears in a family. And we now see it on the screen with me coming in with shopping bags and the kids. Then there was the alchemy of writing. I wrote the text for the film in 2019 and it was a writing adventure with the image. It is an experience that I had never had before; it fascinated me to render both what was intimate and what was more general, and also to question myself. I question myself a lot when I write and I even often bring this questioning into the writing of my books. There, I also wanted to question the images. What was my husband looking for while filming? And us, what did we expect? The preservation of happy moments is obvious, and at the same time, I believe that there is this desire, which is shared by many, to construct family fiction with images. It reinforces the family fiction and it is quite clear that at some point, when my husband is filming me less, there is a distancing that occurs and shows that the family bond is breaking.
What about this view of the world because you then made trips to countries that were quite unusual as holiday destinations at the time (notably Chile and Albania)?
AE: That’s another driving force in the film; realising that we had made trips that were politically oriented and had lots of strength, especially in Chile. But I have always been well aware that this trip was extraordinary because it came exactly a year and a half before Allende was assassinated. The strength of the footage we have from Chile is that it is a historical document. Albania, I always tended to forget this trip even though it makes a lot of sense too, it was also a pro-Chinese country at the time. This film shows the state of the world before 1989.
(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)
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