Thomas Lilti • Director of A Real Job
"Collectives, groups, are the solution"
- The French filmmaker explains why he chose to explore the everyday lives of teachers through fiction, with his usual style blending realism, comedy and drama
Currently touring French cinemas and selected out of competition for the 71st San Sebastián Film Festival, A Real Job [+see also:
interview: Thomas Lilti
film profile] is the 5th feature film by Thomas Lilti who recently enjoyed excellent box office results for Hippocrates [+see also:
interview: Thomas Lilti
film profile], Irreplaceable [+see also:
film profile] and The Freshmen [+see also:
Cineuropa: Why did you take an interest in the teaching world after making three films set in hospitals?
Thomas Lilti: It’s another environment that I know very well, because, with the exception of me and my father, all of my family are teachers, at middle schools, high schools and universities. So I’ve got a real soft spot for that world, whose difficulties I’ve seen with my own eyes. And I wanted to carry on exploring my favourite themes: people’s commitment to their jobs in public sector professions which have been abused for decades by public policies which are slowly destroying them. And we don’t always view our teachers positively, especially in secondary school and high school.
Did you carry out a lot of research?
Yes, it’s essential if you want to champion a profession in the best way possible and especially if you want to understand the emotions felt by teachers, their states of mind. I carried out documentary-style research: I watched reports, read newspaper articles... I really like journalistic work as a source of inspiration because it brings you closer to people and their speech patterns, spontaneous talking… All that’s missing is the novelistic, fictional prism which I then try to bring. I also met working teachers and immersed myself in the surrounds: staff rooms, canteens, classrooms. I also met pupils because even though the film’s distinctive feature is to only adopt the teachers’ viewpoint, hearing students talk about their teachers was quite instructive.
How did you choose the type of middle school to base the film around?
I didn’t want to make a film about school, I wanted it to be about the teaching profession. I can’t believe that there aren’t any men or women who do that job, a role which is so central to all our lives, without passion and total commitment. So it was important that the film wasn’t taken over by the image we have of schools which is relayed to us by the media, and with good cause: schools which are failing. In the large majority of French middle schools, where things are going quite well, there are clearly difficulties and pupils who aren’t doing well, but it’s not total chaos. That’s why it was vital not to set the film in a struggling or middle-class middle school. Obviously, I’m interested in modern-day society’s problems, but I knew that if I wanted to get to the bottom of what the teaching profession really involves, I couldn’t let the film be taken over by bigger issues.
A Real Job is an ensemble film. How did you develop the characters to make sure they were human as well as realistic?
I was mainly able to create a group of characters because I was interested in imagining these teachers’ private lives. So each of them had a slightly singular story. When you’re a pupil, teachers only exist when they enter into your classroom, until the moment they leave, and when you bump into them in the supermarket, it’s unbelievable, almost impossible. I wanted to explore those things we’re not familiar with: what happens when teachers are outside of their classrooms? I also wanted to bring Vincent Lacoste and François Cluzet back together, which resulted in the film revolving around two generations. Then the other characters came along, with the idea of a group cast, which I really like: working with actors and actresses that I really like and, as they like me too, it creates a sense of affection and bonds between them. You might say it’s an idealistic vision and not all teachers get on in that way, that there isn’t any real sense of fraternity to speak of. That may be, but my aim is to talk about the solidarity in a middle school because I sincerely believe, as I also did in my films about carers, that collectives, groups, are the solution in those professions, practically a lifeline to make the difficulties of the job more bearable; to show that these men and women find a bit of comfort and meaning in their work, despite the difficulties involved in such a solitary profession, because they’re in it together.
(Translated from French)
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