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CANNES 2024 Semaine de la Critique

Jonathan Millet • Regista di Les Fantômes

“Il mio obiettivo era creare tensione da cose molto semplici”

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- CANNES 2024: Il regista francese parla del suo primo lungometraggio, un'opera appassionante che unisce i codici del film di spionaggio e il confronto psicologico

Jonathan Millet • Regista di Les Fantômes
(© Aurélie Delvenne)

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,  the first fiction feature from young French filmmaker Jonathan Millet opened the Critics' Week at the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Cineuropa : Where did the idea of a film about a secret organisation of exiled people tracking down Syrian war criminals in Europe come from?
Jonathan Millet : It's a true story. I was trying to make a film about war refugees and trauma, I was in the documentation phase, I was meeting Syrian refugees, but I couldn't find the angle for the film. Then I heard about these secret entities. It was exactly the theme I wanted to deal with, and an incredibly powerful subject that grabbed me straight away. Most of the plot of the film comes from reality, particularly the hunt and all the questions that arise. That's what gives the film its drive and also the genre aspect that interested me. The sensory aspect also comes from reality: recognising the executioner by voice, by smell, doubting, not knowing what to do once you've recognised him, and will it harm the exiled Syrian community to report him? I found all these major themes, which give the plot so much strength, in real life. Then I infused them with what comes from my documentary work: telling the story of exile, loneliness, distance, mourning and being able to live again elsewhere. I've created characters who are a mixture of people I've met.

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Why are you so interested in the issue of war trauma?
I've made several documentaries about exile, one about the road, the idea of crossing half a continent to go somewhere else, another about arriving in a host country. To bring the subject to a close, I felt it was extremely important to tell the story of what these people in exile are experiencing deep down inside. Often we only see their arrival through the prism of the language they don't speak and very mundane things. I was interested in the extent to which they carry within them something heavy that they can never completely shake off, the trauma, and how it is possible at some point to say “despite everything I've been through, I'm going to live again.”

How did you manage the pace of the film, with its obsessive nature, repeated shadowing, etc., without losing its captivating aspect?
My aim was for us to experience all the events inside the main character's head and for even the trivial scenes to be experienced in a breathless and powerful way. You don't think you're just sitting in a library, you think “is the character going to be able to keep it together? Will he hold on? Will he stay seated?” My aim was to build tension out of very simple things. I always knew that the image itself would be fairly unspectacular, but what's more daring is the extensive work on the sound and the rhythm of the editing, which gives the impression that everything intertwines, that nothing ever stops and that you have a particular point of view on each scene.

What were your inspirations for the ‘genre cinema’ layer?
As soon as I discovered the subject, I said to myself that it was a spy film, which fascinates me as a viewer and as a filmmaker because it's about observation and lies: these were my two main guidelines for constructing the film. My references include The Conversation, which manages to create a world and tension without being spectacular, and also the German film The Lives of Others, where we realise that espionage is just one way of exploring the question of the couple, of history and of telling the story of an era. These films inspired me to use the codes of the genre to convey a deeper message.

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(Tradotto dal francese)

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