In Men, Lucas Belvaux observes two former soldiers of the Algerian war, now established in deep France. Forty years later, the horror has not been forgotten and the certain wounds have never healed.
Le Temps: What attracted you to Laurent Mauvignier’s book?
Lucas Belvaux: It is a very beautiful book which manages to mix intimate history and national history. He talks about individual memory and collective memory, shows how these two memories can collide and interpenetrate. This way of talking about the Algerian war, and its consequences, moved me a lot. The novel wants to be restorative, and I wanted to make a restorative film. That we can finally talk about this war and the victims of this war. Because it only made victims. There weren’t really any winners.
“Des Hommes” is the most impressionist of your films…
Yes. I like this adjective… But I’ve never really been into social realism. A little in With us, yes, but in my other films, there is a bit of distance, always a stylized part. Considered my most social film, The Reason of the Weakest is however in scope, it includes scenes filmed from a helicopter and the character who comes out of prison is a purely romantic character. It has been said that this movie was a mix of Ken Loach and Melville. This is fair enough.
It is also your first film which does not take place in the contemporary world …
Yes. He maintains a link with With us, since the National Front was founded by people nostalgic for French Algeria, including Le Pen who himself boasted of having tortured in Algeria. I wanted to show in With us that the people who switch to the extreme right are not all extreme right, far from it. Some FN candidates do not arrive out of sheer malice. It is history that determines their choices. History has made the Blackfoot outcasts. This predominantly poor population has been the victim of a terrible injustice: they are driven out of the country where they were born and when they arrive in France, they are considered responsible for the Algerian war and all supporters of the OAS …
Feu-de-Bois is racist, violent, dangerous, full of hatred. He terrorizes a woman, beats a dog to death. Yet you leave him a part of humanity …
A few months ago, I attended a conference by Leïla Slimani on the theme of the monster. She said the monster doesn’t exist. He is first and foremost a human being, with this monstrous part that we all probably have within us. I quite agree. You have to see the human before the monster. I am always moved by the images of the death of Saddam Hussein, Kadhafi or Ceausescu. At the time of dying, they are men, so they die in an inhuman way … Civilization is all the same to put the human before the monster. I don’t think Feu-de-Bois is a monster. He may be a dirty jerk, he is not friendly, but still touching. We all know people like that.
Portrait of Jean-Pierre Darroussin, featured in “Des Hommes”:
There is a form of monstrosity in Gérard Depardieu: sacred monster, simple monster, obese, scarlet, blowing like a locomotive… Is there an embarrassment or a fascination in filming the Beast?
No. It’s an actor. He knows what he is. When I offer him the role, he knows what I’m going to film, what I’m looking for. We can not ignore what the actor brings physically. Gérard has brought this physique and also the gaze of the spectators for fifty years. When the spectator sees him arrive, he also sees Gérard Depardieu arriving. It already tells him something. It’s up to the director to make him forget his past as an actor, his character. There, there is a difficulty in filming the animal. Nicloux did it before me in an even more frontal and brutal way.
All of your films ask moral questions. It is a dimension that is somewhat absent from contemporary cinema …
Oh yeah! The cinema that impressed me when I was a child – rather mainstream, John Ford, Fritz Lang, the blockbusters of the time – was moral cinema. Ambiguous, of course, since he carried propaganda, sold a model of society and democratic values. It was a soft power. But his moral outlook on things is a little lacking today. Today there is a lack of ethics, a prescription such as “a man, that is prevented”, by Camus. We don’t do what we want. We do not follow his impulses. Civilization is to differentiate between good and evil, between the other and oneself. These questions hardly arise in the cinema anymore mainstream.
You never fear disappointing expectations: we will not know who the murderer is in “38 witnesses”, the police investigation fails in “Rapt”, the heroine of “Chez nous” loses all her illusions … And in ” Des Hommes ”, the images of war reject the spectacular. Do you trust the viewer?
Yes, I give him his place. In chess, the advantage is said to be with the spectator. Not being involved in the game allows you to see things better. The cinema spectator must keep this advantage, keep his free will, have his own opinion. I do not want to make him uncomfortable or in the position of the voyeur – even the witness since he cannot act. In 38 witnesses, if I showed the crime, its position would be unbearable. He did not ask to witness a crime. Yet I can evoke a crime from a moral point of view. I don’t want to show a slaughtered little girl, but I can cause intellectual discomfort.
Have you seen films dedicated to the Algerian war?
No. I told myself that I was going to see again The Battle of Algiers, R.A.S or To be 20 years old in the Aurès… But hey, that didn’t make much sense. These are militant films made long after the conflict. They are much less interesting than Muriel from Resnais, Umbrellas of Cherbourg from Demy or The Little Soldier de Godard, which came out in the early 1960s and had problems with censorship. The Evian Accords adopt a general amnesty, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Everyone knows there have been, but no one will be judged. The Algerian called will have to bear the weight of all the horrors. Resnais’s film, which evokes torture, comes out in this period when no one wants to hear about it, everyone fearing that his son, his brother, his fiancé has committed horrors.