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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 Competition

Joachim Lafosse • Director of A Silence

“The venom of crime spreads by creating shame, silence and guilt”


- The Belgian director’s film looks at the role played by silence in cases of child abuse

Joachim Lafosse  • Director of A Silence

We met up with Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, whose tenth feature film, A Silence [+see also:
film review
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile
, is playing in Competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival. A heavy film with a very sombre aesthetic, it looks at the role played by silence in cases of child abuse. 

Cineuropa: What was the genesis of A Silence?
Joachim Lafosse:
I first began working on this project with my co-writer Thomas Van Zuylen more than ten years ago. It had a different shape then, but most importantly, my producers found it too heavy. I made other films, until I met Stenola Productions, and in parallel, I got a phone call from a loved one who was tell me that they’d finally seen my film Private Lessons [+see also:
film review
interview: Jacques-Henri Bronckart
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile
[editor’s note: the story of a teenager abused by a professor who crosses the lines of teaching], which some friends had advised him not to watch when it first came out. This person apologised for not having seen, not having understood, and asked me if I wanted to file a complaint. But I had made the film, I had already told my story. Fiction had helped me, but I had suffered enough, I didn’t have the strength to file a complaint, to expose myself in this direct way, the way Christine Angot did, for example, when she had the courage to talk about the autobiographical dimension of her work. I stayed very silent at the time. After Private Lessons, no one ever asked me how I was doing, even though the people who knew me when I was a teenager knew everything. I saw at that moment what shame was, and what silence was. 

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To write the film, I therefore looked at my own silence, and at the silence of the people around me. And I thought it would be best to take the point of view of the mother, Astrid. Abusers remain silent, and those who know but have nothing to do with the crime end up staying quiet too, to the point of feeling accessory to and guilty of the crime. 

This silence is rarely that of the victims, who do speak out, whether with words or with their bodies. But we do not hear them. There is no ear to welcome the freed voice…
Yes, I totally agree with you. For my part, I shot Private Lessons. That was my form of expression. What was terrible at the time, was that I heard some people say that it was a perverse film. I felt like my words were turning against me. Some people, who seemed to like the film, made it out to be a libertarian film! Today, the reception would be completely different. In 10 years, many things have changed. We always forget that there are two authors of the work: the filmmaker, and the viewer. And as time passes, works shift. 

With A Silence, I wanted to show how the venom of crime spreads. By creating shame, silence, and guilt. I also wanted to show the confrontation between generations. I think Astrid allowed her daughter to be freer, and to talk. In return, it’s her daughter who will shake her up, and I find that very moving.

What made you decide to talk about silence through the character of Astrid?
That choice was made very intuitively, it was the gaze that moved me. She seemed to me the most closed off. As soon as she learns of the crime, she is the one who has failed to protect, therefore she is guilty. And she delays her talking so much, that talking is no longer possible. She’s hoping that it will pass, in a way. But it cannot pass. 

How did you choose the way to show Astrid’s gaze on this situation?
Of my films, this is the one where I’ve been most exacting about the mise-en-scène, with the entire crew. It is such a creepy situation, that we thought we needed a very classical mise-en-scène, where nothing spills over. A silent mise-en-scène, that gives all the space to the story, and avoids all forms of sentimentalism. It was about being in something classical, though not in the negative meaning of the term of course. It was difficult to write — in fact, it’s easier to write with the camera on the shoulder, when we can move whenever we like. Here, we have single-take sequences with the Dolly. I thought that the Steadicam was too noticeable, too sexy, too spectacular. 

Astrid is a very complex character to follow, her very bourgeois identity makes it very tempting to judge her.
Yes, although she comes out of denial. The bourgeoisie was a very important dimension for me. This violence isn’t a question of milieu. The awareness of laws, of the universal laws that form the basis of humanity, does not depend on the milieu. The bourgeoisie perhaps offers even more chances to ignore these laws. As though a kind of total freedom was possible, given the cultural and financial means.

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(Translated from French)

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