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Olivier Gourmet • Actor

Cinema, a privileged space

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- Olivier Gourmet • Actor

Olivier Gourmet • Actor

In December, Laurent Herbiet’s debut feature The Colonel [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, co-produced by Belgium’s Films du Fleuve, was released in France. A comedy with crazy origins about a failed inventor, Congorama [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, presented at the Directors’ Fortnight (see article), has now arrived on Belgian screens. The Dardenne brothers’ favourite actor continues to carve out a rigorous career path for himself, with first features, auteur films, activist filmmaking and intelligent comedy.

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Cineuropa: Where does the desire to invest a lot of emotion in a film such as The Colonel come from?
Olivier Gourmet: I think it is important to use cinema as one of the few remaining privileged spaces that exist today where painful subjects can be discussed. It shouldn’t be abandoned. After the historical events of 1956 and today, when Georges Bush wants to make torture legal, we haven’t really made much progress. It is necessary to talk about certain things objectively, in neither a provocative nor redeeming manner. It is about realising that the monstrosity of some men is not hidden in monsters. At the beginning of the film, this colonel has a vision of colonialism that is not dictatorial but open and humane. In order to defend the Republican interests at the time, when the French government used all methods they could to restore order in Algeria, all of a sudden it practiced torture. How does that fit into it? How is it possible to explain the horror today with honesty and sensitivity?

What made you embark on such a different project from Congorama?
I found the film very amusing, the script had real humour. From the outset, there was an offbeat sense of humour without the baggage of war. It was totally strange and it suited the film well. I’m offered few roles in this style. It’s happy, comedy, I like it. I have a rather cheerful outlook on life – why not if that also matches what interests me in cinema? At the same time, I think that comedy always comes from human beings, that we develop strengths and weaknesses in drama or exaggerate them to make them ridiculously funny. At the age of 43, this character realises that he doesn’t come from the civilisation with which he can identify. That is what creates all of the misunderstanding, excess and farce in the film, which is just as far-fetched in its playful and interactive construction.

Congorama is also the story of an ordinary guy whose life is turned upside down all of a sudden. You also often play “Average Joe” characters, don’t you?
I tend to choose characters that are meaningful to me in human and concrete terms, with whom I can identify, whose errors, monstrosity or humour I can understand, rather than caricatures or archetypal characters, who people get fed up with quickly. It’s really a matter of pleasure and not an intellectual decision. Working on the characters is more important, it requires more involvement and questioning. What makes him perverse, what makes us jealous, selfish or sad? I find it more amusing to ask myself these questions and develop them in a character rather than play with ready-made emotions. When everything is subtly contained within the body, almost unspeakable, almost unseen, it becomes magic. This for me, with lots of other details, is what makes cinema magical.

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