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Interview: Xavier Beauvois • Director

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"I wanted to make a film about women"

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- TORONTO 2017: In conversation with French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois about his new film The Guardians, world-premiering at Toronto

Interview: Xavier Beauvois • Director
(© Claude Lair)

Unveiled as a world premiere in the Special Presentations section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, The Guardians [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile
]
is the seventh feature film by Xavier Beauvois (Prix de Jury and Grand Prix at Cannes in 1995 and 2010 for Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die and Of Gods and Men [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile
]
respectively, showcased at Venice in 2000, 2005 and 2014 with To Matthieu, The Young Lieutenant [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
andThe Price of Fame [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Xavier Beauvois
film profile
]
). Produced by Les Films du Worso, this is his first period film, but is also a “feminist” work. Bringing together Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet and Iris Bry as the headliners, this film will be distributed in France on 6 December by Pathé who is also handing its international sales.

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Cineuropa: How did you come across the novel The Guardians by Ernest Pérochon, and why did you decide to make it into a film?
Xavier Beauvois: He was one of Maurice Pialat and Sylvie Pialat’s (Les Films du Worso) favourite writers and they had told me about him a few years ago. I had not read the book, but it was by my side. I had another project on my hands – a war film set in 1939-45, in English and in French that was very complicated to produce, so I said “alright, I’ll read this book.” And I was immediately extremely interested. Firstly, because I had made many films on men. Even though Nathalie Baye was the lead in The Young Lieutenant, it was a film written for men, as was Of Gods and Men and The Price of Fame as well. I wanted to make a film about women. I was also quite taken by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: It is about the Algeria war and you see what happens behind the scenes – these women who lose their fiancés, who are pregnant, who get married, men who become alcoholics, lose their jobs, grenade attacks, and you learn a lot… I found it very moving to talk about the war but not on the frontlines, and The Guardians gave me this opportunity. It was also the first time I was adapting a novel and that was very exciting as I got to interpret a book. You use the characters there; you invent a few others, you change the region and it becomes your set; you critique the book and then you critique the shooting during editing and that finally means that the film doesn’t have much to do with the book while being completely linked to it. The greatest difference with the book is that I got rid of a number of characters as they grow in the course of the story and it is very difficult to shoot a film that beginss in 1914 and ends in 1919.

Your film is set in the French countryside during the First World War. What research did you do?
I have been living in the countryside for the last 12 years and I am surrounded by farms and cows… My grandfather was also a farmer and the countryside is close to my heart. The period that the film is set in was also very interesting to me with women doing all the jobs that would be done by men like herding cows, ploughing, harrowing… And it was tough on them! When you set off to make a film, it is usually something you are passionate about and when you have time to read, to specialise and to meet powerful “teachers”. I had special support from a historian through the preparatory process for a tonne of details, all the way to how the trees next to the farm should be pruned, so that it would be in line with what was done back then. There are also other things you need to know, even if they do not figure in the film.

How did you approach the rhythm of the film, life in the countryside was automatically more peaceful?
These are always compromises. If you were to truly film the countryside, every day would be practically identical. The film spans many seasons and years, and this was quite a complicated balance to strike and I had to cut a number of scenes.

The way in which you film in the countryside perhaps creates paintings of its own.
I did hold myself back because I did not want each scene to be a painting. But I did slip in an exact tableau by Degas of a girl washing her back. Furthermore, in the same vein, I also avoided the scene in The Arrival of a Train by the Lumière brothers. Other than that, I did, in fact, study many paintings but it is important to remember that in France at that time, agriculture made up 80% of the economic activity. As a result, painters who were people interested in such work produced a huge number of paintings about the countryside and rural work: Van Gogh began with a tired peasant sitting in front of the fireplace; Millet and many others as well. It would have been too easy to overdo this and it was a trap I did not want to fall into.

(Translated from French)

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