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SAN SEBASTIAN 2023 Competition

Xavier Legrand • Director of The Successor

“I want to send the audience into a hellish spiral"


- The French actor and filmmaker talks about his second feature, a hard-hitting, tragic and murky thriller about toxic masculinities that leaves no one indifferent

Xavier Legrand  • Director of The Successor

Xavier Legrand won a slew of awards with his début feature film, Custody [+see also:
film review
interview: Xavier Legrand
film profile
, which premièred at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. Now, at the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival, he presents his second film, The Successor [+see also:
film review
interview: Xavier Legrand
film profile
and he may reap a similar success with this work, which we talk about with him below.

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Cineuropa: Custody was already partly a horror film about paternity. Now you have gone even further with The Successor.
This is a genre that I wanted to delve into differently and it builds that bridge with my previous film, as it also talks about the patriarchy. The genre allows you to do it in quite a physical way.

The father figures are terrible in both films...
Yes, but I'm not making anything up: all you have to do is read the news, where husbands and fathers do not look good; but in this film, rather than talking about violence towards women, I am showing the violence of a man towards his son and how that aggressiveness is perpetuated through silence. The Successor is the symbolic embodiment of that indestructible ghost, the one you can never escape from, the father figure. The father carries the weight in our society as the boss, head of the family, in the name of the father, the apple never falls far from the tree... that damned patriarchal culture that we carry within us, and which has imposed a regime that totally crushes children.

The horrible legacy of the father in your film is still perpetuated and he even continues to do evil deeds after he is dead.
Yes, of course. Evil is powerful and human beings cultivate it. Our culture has placed so much pressure on the father figure that it has become harmful; we need to totally dismantle the culture we live in to make it work. It also has something of the Greek tragedies about it: the oracle and fate.

In the original novel on which the film is based(L'Ascendant, by Alexandre Postel) the protagonist sells mobile phones, but in your film he is a fashion designer. Why this move towards glamour?
His life is not like everyone else’s. He is elevated, lifted off the floor, because I wanted to evoke the mythical story of Icarus and his fall from the sky: I didn’t want him to fall from the first floor. I wanted him to fall from the twentieth floor.

But when you have a terrible past... Do you seek refuge in fantasy? In this case fashion?
Yes, of course, it's called class and cultural defection; he says so himself: “I did everything I could not to be like my father." That is why he chooses a world of creation, the polar opposite to where he grew up, thousands of miles away, changing his name and his accent... He has thrown his past life overboard (or at least he thinks he has).

But the past always comes back...?
Like a boomerang.

What other changes did you make in the film compared to the book?
Lots. In the novel - hence the difficulty in adaptation for screen - we are always inside the main character’s head: as you read the book you are reading his thoughts. And the father's friend does not exist in the novel, for example. The film is faithful to the literary original in terms of situation, but I took some liberties, with the permission of the author.

The opening scenes, with that fashion show, are spectacular, but at the same time concerning.
Yes, because I wanted to send the audience in to a hellish spiral from the beginning. I wanted to create a point of no return that you can’t come back from. That is where the curse into hell starts, dropping into absolute black, into total darkness.

It is a film that is both uncomfortable and fascinating. How did you achieve this contradictory mix?
As a spectator that is what I want: to come out of the cinema different because the film has got inside me. You have to capture the audience, take them hostage: not be violent towards them, but make them feel uncomfortable without abusing them or falling into obscenity.

Finally, which disturbing film makers do you like?
I'm a fan of Michael Haneke and his dryness, and of Alfred Hitchcock, but I also like adventure films.

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(Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Stephens)

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