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Emmanuel Finkiel • Director

"I play the card of total subjectivity"


- We met up with French director Emmanuel Finkiel at Les Arcs European Film Festival to talk about his remarkable new film, Memoir of Pain

Emmanuel Finkiel • Director
(© Antoine Monié / Les Arcs European Film Festival)

Unveiled in competitionat San Sebastian,Memoir of Pain [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Emmanuel Finkiel
film profile
is the 5th feature film by Emmanuel Finkiel following Voyages (Directors' Fortnight 1999, César 2000 for Best Debut Film), Nowhere Promised Land [+see also:
film profile
(Jean Vigo Prize 2008), the documentary Je Suis (2012) and A Decent Man [+see also:
film profile
(César nomination and Lumières Award for Best Actor). Cineuropa met up with the filmmaker at the 9th Les Arcs European Film Festival, where his remarkable film (which will be released on 24 January in France) was presented in the Playtime section.

Cineuropa: What was your reaction when you were offered the opportunity to adapt Memoir of Pain by Marguerite Duras?
Emmanuel Finkiel: It was worrying at first, being brought something fairly monumental, both due to the fact that it was Duras, but also the story, because it relates somewhat to her biography. It was a story that I read when I was 20 and was overwhelmed by, as were many people. And it resonated with things that I recognised in my own family, in my father in particular, who was always waiting, even with the certainty that his parents and little brother would never come back from Auschwitz. I witnessed it as a child, I felt him waiting. 

How did you go about writing the script? Did you do a lot of research?
I've been up to my ears in archives and some of them are incredible, such as people travelling through Paris with hidden cameras. As for the adaptation itself, I had no particular method other than to listen to what resonated with me personally. The things that I found to be meaningful, beautiful and deep I put aside. So that’s how the adaptation was done, without obliging myself to film this or that, just because it was Duras. I said to myself, they've asked me to do this, so I'll play the card of total subjectivity. 

You reveal the contradictions and paradoxes of this woman.
I believe that pain as she describes it is not something that can be recounted in just two sentences, it needs many. A bit like a Cubist painting, where pain is presented in many different ways. There is shame in there, perhaps as she’s waiting for her husband and does not totally feel au fait with the idea of devoting herself entirely to him, in expectation and pure suffering. We know she had a lover, Dionys, although in the film, we only briefly touch on it because in her story, Memoir of Pain, she doesn’t talk about their relationship. In a way, it's a lie by omission...  That's why I decided to divide her in two in the film, I told myself that the other side to her is the side that cannot be fooled, as happens frequently in our lives. Sometimes in moments of either anger or sorrow, we might feel as though there is a separation between what we express to others and what we really feel. Perhaps that too is an aspect that could also be described as pain. 

What motivates your very personal way of filming, playing on the blurring of footage?
I use long focal lengths. I have always done that because I think it fits in with the way that we see things, contrary to what our brain makes us believe. It restores a focal neutrality in some way. In reality, if we stop during various moments of perception, and look at each other, we realise that the background is out of focus. We are always in a medium focal length. And if I enjoy looking at someone, and focus on them further, it will become a longer focus and everything in the background will be blurry. And so that’s the way that I think we see things. The idea was to stick to the subjectivity of the main character, to try to make people feel things as she feels them, to make the audience perceive the reality of Paris at the time, as well as the people who lived there. The long focal length allows us to focus on the character, while what goes on in the background is a kind of relatively vague mass, which is the material in which the character evolves and which influences her. In this film, I pushed a little further, trying to create variations, so sometimes the main character is blurry and the background is in focus. We often live that way, with a perception of ourselves, set back from those who surround us.

(Translated from French)

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