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Dominique Cabrera • Director

“There’s no passiveness when it’s your life you’re acting out”


- At the Bergamo Film Meeting 2017 we caught up with Dominique Cabrera, the director of Corniche Kennedy

Dominique Cabrera • Director
(© Bergamo Film Meeting)

Dominique Cabrera’s films essentially fall into the category of political cinema, and have done right from her first documentaries, which explore working-class social fabrics such as that of the pied-noir – French nationals born in Algeria and repatriated in the 1960s – in the Parisian suburbs. Her working method involves a long period of observation of the human environment and landscape, which often includes herself. It’s is a method she has also applied to her fictional films, like her latest, Corniche Kennedy [+see also:
interview: Dominique Cabrera
film profile
, which will be distributed in Italy this summer by KitchenFilm (international sales will be handled by Jour2Fête). The Bergamo Film Meeting 2017 will screen Cabrera’s entire body of work, including the premiere of Corniche Kennedy. Cineuropa caught up with the director at the presentation of the film, an adaptation of the book by Maylis de Kerangal: it’s set in Marseille, where, at the foot of a luxury neighbourhood, a group of boys jump of the cliffs into the sea, observed by a girl (Lola Créton) who lives in an elegant villa. 

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Cineuropa: How did you choose the cast for the film?
Dominique Cabrera: The actors aren’t really actors. I wanted it to be like a documentary, where the actors share the ideas of the film with you, because it’s their reality, a real and not just fictitious place. I didn’t want to show the working-class neighbourhood they come from, but bring it to life through their words. I looked for protagonists walking along the Corniche, and one day I saw this group of boys diving into the sea. It triggered something, and I have never met a group of people that I’ve wanted to portray as much as them. They didn’t come to the appointment I gave them out of mistrust, but then when I pursued them, they realised that I was sincere and that this was an opportunity for them to do something different and special in their lives.

So you worked first and foremost on the language.
I worked on how the characters would speak and move, on their personalities. It was a constant exchange. I started a workshop, during which I would read the screenplay and they would tweak it with their expressions. I like the innate poetry in the way people from Marseille speak, the combinations of words and this mix of expressions from Arabic and Italian, something that I could never have made up.

And then the performance.
I worked with the actors a lot because it’s hard to be passive when it’s your life you’re acting out. This was especially the case for Kamel Kadri, a boy with a life that is violent, full of adventure, and always about life or death. I couldn’t have done without Alain Demaria, who plays Mehdi, because he was a diving champion. But he was very shy, and dyslexic too. He wanted to be a body double, and no one thought he would be able to act. In the end he really came into his own, and a star performer was born! For Suzanne I looked for a professional actress because I wanted the difference in social and cultural condition to be clear. Lola Créton is a sort of child prodigy, she started performing at the age of 10, and thankfully she accepted the role.

How did you choose the music?
Three of the songs in the film were written by Kamel Kadri, who plays Marco. He composes, and adapted the words for the film. I asked composer Béatrice Thiriet, who I’ve been working with for 20 years, to create some symphonic tracks for the film, but I wanted the songs to be a sort of voiceover expressing Marco’s thoughts.

Blue is the dominant colour in the film. Does it have anything to do with the freedom to choose your own destiny?
The blue was already there! It was what I had to work with, alongside the rocks: the Mediterranean Sea. On the one hand, a perfect abstract backdrop for the characters, and on the other, a pure colour which I could use to show their bodies in all their physicality. I was, of course, inspired by Rossellini’s Stromboli. Of course it symbolises the horizon, the future, but it was a completely unconscious choice.

Did the production process run into any problems?
We had a few problems finding funding for the film; we thought at one point that we wouldn’t be able to make it, but we decided to get on and film anyway before the boys got too old. When the film came to a standstill we spent the summer refining the screenplay, reconstructing the character of Alain with the dialogues that he himself had helped to create.

Are you now working on something new?
I have an idea but I’m touring with Corniche Kennedy and I really don’t have a lot of time to write!

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(Translated from Italian)

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