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Emmanuelle Bonmariage • Director

"Manu is never obscene or vulgar, even if he does shake things up a bit"


- We met up with Emmanuelle Bonmariage, whose film Manu, dedicated to her father Manu Bonmariage, is released this Wednesday, 6 June in Belgian cinemas

Emmanuelle Bonmariage • Director
Emmanuelle Bonmariage in Manu

Emmanuelle Bonmariage was initially an actress, before writing for the radio, and then creating a documentary that led her to point her camera at an exciting subject: her own father, the filmmaker and documentary maker, Manu Bonmariage, one of the spiritual fathers of the show Strip-Tease, whose direct cinema work has had an impression on a whole generation of directors. Her film Manu [+see also:
film review
interview: Emmanuelle Bonmariage
film profile
 is due to be released this Wednesday, 6 June in Belgian cinemas.

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Cineuropa: How did the project come about?
Emmanuelle Bonmariage: The day my father gave me one of his cameras, I put aside my other documentary projects. The fact that he performed this symbolic gesture of giving me a camera when I am absolutely no cameraman meant I had to film him and use him as a subject.

It was a given, then – so much so that could he have been the subject of one of his own films?
We all have a story, an outline, depth, three dimensions. But my father is someone who is entwined with his own function, the man with the camera. He is a man who has experienced incredible things, left behind a lot of traces. He has 8 children with 4 women. It's multi-layered. I said to him, "I'm pointing the camera at you, because I'm sure if you met a guy like you, you would want to film him, too."

How would you define his working method?
He does not hesitate in entering into a certain form of manipulation, but he never makes a mockery of the people he films. It’s really up to them, even on camera. He has something of a chameleon about him, he blends into situations, alongside the protagonists. His camera is a shield, it protects him, but it is also a weapon. He gives all, or almost all, of himself when he has his weapon in his hand. Manu is never obscene or vulgar, even if he does shake things up a bit. You have to trust the people who agree to be filmed, and the empathy of the viewers.

'Real' cinema, direct cinema, is an art. Manu does not like being told he's creating report-like footage. He’s not involved with didactic or informative cinema. He re-tells the story in the editing stage, he re-arranges things, he works as a filmmaker. I watch his films just like I watch fiction films. Direct cinema is someone's view of reality. An artistic sensibility, not just a document.

How did you go about telling his story? Did the writing phase continue into the editing phase?
I knew from the start that it would be a montage film. The subject was my father, which is not a particularly easy subject matter, who in addition had Alzheimer's. Sometimes he was very good-willed, sometimes he was doglike. The film runs for 1 hour 33 minutes, but I had 95 hours of rushes to comb through! From the get-go I felt as though there were too many parameters in place that I couldn’t control during the shoot. Some sequences completely surprised me. But there was a lot of random shooting, so we had to find the right mix during the editing phase. How to go about telling the story of the filmmaker and man through the edit and through my own eyes?

Was the idea also to retrace the footsteps of his past work?
I've been watching his films since I was very young. I was always fairly close to him. Given that he resisted certain things, which he did not want to focus on, could we get a sense of him through his films, without it being too short or too didactic? I aimed to integrate his films organically into the story, and echo things from his life.

There are many layers to the film.
Yes, and many different media: my footage, his, archival footage, home videos, it was important that it all formed a coherent whole and was close to him. I often asked myself: "Is it a portrait? A testimony?"

And finally, it was also a way to honour his work. He's somewhat forgotten, Manu. My producer, who did INSAS ten years ago, was surprised that we were not talking about the Manu Bonmariage that once was. His films are full of humanity. I’m not saying that he is, but his films remind us of our own humanity, and that's what we all have in common.

(Translated from French)

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