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France

Ladj Ly and Giordano Gederlini • Director and screenwriters of Les Indésirables

"Building 5 is the tower I grew up in, but we were subsequently evicted"

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- The French filmmaker explains the genesis of his follow-up to Les Misérables, which revolves around a mayor, a community activist, a neighbourhood and the issue of inadequate housing

Ladj Ly and Giordano Gederlini • Director and screenwriters of Les Indésirables
Writer-director Ladj Ly (© Dario Caruso/Cineuropa) and screenwriter Giordano Gederlini (© Alice Khol)

First unveiled at Toronto, Les Indésirables [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ladj Ly and Giordano Gederl…
film profile
]
- Ladj Ly’s second feature film after Les Misérables [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ladj Ly
film profile
]
- is hitting French cinemas on 6 December via Le Pacte. We met up with the director and his co-screenwriter Giordano Gederlini in Paris.

Cineuropa: After the sensational feature film debut you made with Les Misérables, how did you arrive at the subject-matter of Les Indésirables?
Ladj Ly: When we were still in the writing phase for Les Misérables, we were already envisaging a trilogy to explore this issue as it’s unfolded over the past 30 years and to look at what I myself and the local people experienced. The success of Les Misérables came with great pressure: there was a lot to live up to. Initially, we wanted to make a biopic about Claude Dilain, who was the socialist mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois and who worked really hard on the issue of inadequate housing in particular. But we realised it would be a bit too documentarian in kind. So we developed the story and the character turned into a right wing mayor.

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The other main character is a young community activist who makes the problem of rundown housing her main focus. Why was this subject so important to you?
L.L.: Building 5 [the translation of the original French title of the film, Bâtiment 5] is the tower I grew up in, but we were subsequently evicted. When my parents arrived in the 1980s, the estate wasn’t social housing, it was all co-ownership. My parents bought a property, at a high rate of credit. And 20 years later, when they’d finished paying off that credit, they were told that their home was being expropriated for 15,000 euros. It traumatised the people in that neighbourhood. So it’s quite a personal story, but this issue affects a huge number of people in France, where there are over 6 million poorly housed people. It’s a tragedy to have to leave a place when it’s home to all your memories and when you’ve often been born there.

As for Habi’s character, it was important to have this activist in the film, a female character too, who’s black, who wears the veil; the kind of character we don’t usually see in films. It’s also a tribute to all the women in these neighbourhoods who fight, who live there, who do incredible work. Unfortunately, we don’t often hear about them, or people have a tendency to speak on their behalf. So I wanted to push them into the spotlight so that they could talk. And if it serves as a model for young people, brilliant.

Giordano Gederlini: At a certain point, she comes up against a mayor who’s planning to shake up the entire neighbourhood, to get rid of that squalid tower where people live badly, but he doesn’t offer the residents an alternative.

The mayor’s character is pretty opaque in terms of his ambitions, his ideology and his lack of understanding over social realities. Why is this?
LL: Often, we’re dealing with politicians who aren’t necessarily familiar with certain territories, who’ve been parachuted into the role of mayor, who’ve never set foot in certain areas, who have no idea what local people’s lives are like. And they have to make decisions for those people, so it’s only ever going to end badly. Through lack of understanding, these decisions lead to human tragedies.

Les Indésirables deals with real-life issues without delving into social realism per se.
GG: There’s a certain energy and rhythm in the DNA of Ladj’s films: in his mind, movies should never be boring. People accept a certain level of fiction or rather interpretation of reality because it helps them to better understand certain ways of thinking. In Les Indésirables, the characters speak, they express themselves. These dialogues dictated another rhythm because the film’s other focus is the lack of dialogue, the lack of bridges between certain people, when we should be ensuring that what people say is audible.

LL: Les Misérables involved a hand-held camera. In this film, I wanted to work on a different mise en scène approach, a more sedate, more "cinematographic" style, all the while retaining elements of documentary realism. It’s an engaged, political film, so we had to take our time setting up the characters, in order to properly understand the situation, which is pretty complex. I also wanted to stay as close as possible to the locals, getting right into stairwells, so that viewers could put themselves in their place and see what it’s like to live in these towers.

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(Translated from French)

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