"Encourage people who have courage to remain courageous"
by Fabien Lemercier
28/08/2011 - Interview with the politically-engaged Marseilles-born director who has once again set down his camera in Marseilles for The Snows of Kilimanjaro [trailer, film focus], which was unveiled in the Un Certain Regard selection at the 64th Cannes Film Festival and has been selected as one of the three finalists for the European Parliament’s 2011 Lux Prize.
Cineuropa: Why did you return to Marseilles and the subject of the underprivileged classes after several films you shot elsewhere, dealing with other themes?
Robert Guédiguian: In 30 years and 17 films, I’ve made three films, my first one Last Summer, Marius and Jeannette and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which are like cross-sections of the neighbourhood where I was born. Thirty years ago, l’Estaque was very communist, made up mainly of workers and dockers. In these three films, it’s about taking stock of the state of a moral code, of the Left, of working-class culture in the West today. Staying true to Chekhov’s phrase, "through the whole world, through other villages", I always try to do this starting from the place I know best, where I’m most able to spot what has changed, what has disappeared, etc…
You also tackle the issue of the generational gap.
The characters in Last Summer were 25 years old, Marius was about 40 and now the main characters are about 50. In the Western world today, there is a real gap in the way in which we see politics and the belief in an alternative. No young people imagine that there is an alternative. Which doesn’t mean they don’t protest; we’ve seen proof of this with indignant youngsters rising up pretty much all over Europe. But they don’t envisage another solution which we ourselves once envisaged. We absolutely have to reinvent a transgenerational class consciousness. This film makes a harsh observation, but it ends well because we can imagine that the terrible events experienced by my characters will have taught them that they belong to the same world and have the same interests.
What about the idealism and extreme kindness of the couple played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Ariane Ascaride?
They’re very honest activists. The world has changed and their generation perhaps doesn’t have the same influence as before, but these people suffer if they imagine that their struggle hasn’t been the least bit effective. They’re also truly engaged: they don’t hide behind other people and they’re sad about what has happened to their neighbour on the same floor. They’re admirable from that point of view, but it’s not a fairytale: actually there are lots of people like that. Because every day terrible things happen, but also wonderful things, for example people who are capable, in the middle of summer in small French villages, of going to oppose the expulsion of an African kid. People who take care of others, who are concerned about them.
That’s why I was inspired by Victor Hugo’s poem, How Good Are The Poor. It tells the story of a fishing couple who have three children and struggle to get by, but they take in their dead neighbour’s two children. It’s lyrical, melodramatic, it verges on the pompous, but when I read this poem, I thought to myself we must encourage people who have courage to remain courageous.
What do you think about your nomination for the European Parliament’s Lux Prize?
It reassures me somewhat about the state of Europe. The whole of Europe needs to urgently think about these issues. For this crisis we’re talking about nowadays, we need to find solutions which don’t fall on the people. We should perhaps take the money where there is some. Why should austerity always hit the poorest?