"Ici-bas / Down here" is inspired by a true story that took place in Périgord in 1943. How did you hear about this story? Where did you find material for a film?
It was during meetings with resistance fighters, for the production of a documentary film about the resistance (The Maquis) in Perigord, I stumbled across this story and I was immediately struck by how well it would translate to a film, it's dramaturgy in the classic sense of the term, by the wealth of existential, moral, political, and religious questions it raised.
Sister Luce was really called Sister Philomena. Why change her name?
This is a fiction drama film that was inspired by real events but the film does not aim to showcase "the case of Sister Philomena " which inspired the story. However, in the Papin affair, for the film " Les Blessures Assassines" I had actual elements such as trial evidence, a blog and psychiatrists work, whereas in this film here I had less actual material to work in the intimate characters and fill in the gaps in the story. For the same reason I refused to film at the actual scene of the drama associated with this story, out of respect for the memory and for the families of the thirty- four young guerrillas tortured and executed by the Nazis.
Would you say that Sister Luce is a heroine akin to the women of Jean Racine's works?
Sister Luce is in the ranks of Racine's heroines in that for her, her love is an uncontrollable irresistible force, but her slide from holy spiritual love to physical love is what is singles her out here. How she is like Racine's heroines, is that for her love becomes suffering and can bring the heroine to cause the downfall and destruction of her beloved. From "The suffering of the young Werther," by Goethe to "Fragments of Lover's Discourse" by Roland Barthes, many works have helped me in my thinking about this destructive sprial with love before.
We empathize with Luce despite the act that she commits, no matter what the personality of the heroine or the monstrosity of ther deeds - I have already experienced this for Christine Papin in " Les Blessures Assassines" - I think any author cannot escape a certain attachment to his character.
But in accompanying the heroine on her journey is not to seeking to love her or be loved by her. Sister Luce came to me as a woman who says "I" and knows what she wants and how she wanted it to be written, and I think that the feeling of empathy happens naturally when you watch the film rather than just a story attempting to understand and illuminate the inner journey of a character returning to her dark side.
How would you describe the evolution of her state from spiritual passion to carnal passion?
In the progress and evolution of the character of Sister Luce, I strive to put across from her encounter with Martial, a profound change and a change which is instilled in her unknowing. Sister Luce wants knowledge, and questions the Mother Superior, but her questions remain unanswered. After this internal shift taking place, the love of Christ to that of a man, I caused this situation where the excitement of one and distress of the other end in an act of brutal and painful love. The day after the embrace, it remains in the worship of the Lord in prayer. She does not know what physical love is.
In writing this story, I knew that the first time she would experience love, it would be very painful and she would cry. Sister Luce transcends herself beyond that however: in her head she is in the most sublime and exalted relationship. It is in this also that relationship is doomed to failure. Out of her closed world (Christ, the convent, the hospital) Sister Luce experiences difficulties in understanding the external realities and asks God, always at her side, to enlighten and to guide her.
By choosing the title " Ici-Bas / Down here" what meaning did you wish to communicate?
Writing this film took me from heaven to the depths of hell and it is there that this title came to me. By opening and closing the film with the image of a flowing spring, I think I wanted to include this story and even the history in our fleeting time on this planet underneath the heavens.
You confirmed the talent of Sylvie Testud in "Les Blessures Assassines" You gave her first major role as Céline Sallette. How do you choose a lead actress? How did you work with her?
As I work pretty slowly and my projects are always very difficult to "climb" into production, time sometimes gives me great services: like the slow development of defining a character to the point that one day an actor seen on screen or whom i've met comes to me. For Céline Sallette that's really what happened. I saw for the first time on Canal + in the miniseries Raoul Peck on the ENA, "School of Power" and the next day I called my daughter, Juliette, a casting director, to find out who this young actress was whose presence and inner strength had so impressed me. Then I met Celine ... and from there, our excitement was mutual and we went together to "seek out" Sister Luce, aided and surrounded by a magnificent team.
Enjoy Ici-bas in August on TV5MONDE!
Laurent Delahouse will be interviewing the French President Emmanuel Macron, this Sunday 17th December. The interview will be broadcast in a news report from France 2 and will be shown on TV5MONDE Europe at 7:30pm (UK time GMT).
The 25th French Film Festival UK offers a rich programme of films to enjoy, involving leading independent cinemas around the country from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London, from Inverness to Dundee and Belfast, from Warwick and Leicester to Chichester and Bristol, plus many more places in between watch the crème de la crème of contemporary and classic French-speaking cinema from 2 Nov to 17 Dec 2017. See what's on where here