Paloma Sermon Daï • Director of Petit Samedi
"A story about filial and maternal love, a film about what it is to be a mother, what it is to be a son"
- BERLINALE 2020: We met with Belgian director Paloma Sermon Daï who is presenting her first feature film, the documentary Petit Samedi, at the Berlinale Forum
We sat down with the young Belgian filmmaker Paloma Sermon Daï who is presenting the documentary Petit Samedi [+see also:
interview: Paloma Sermon Daï
film profile], her second film and first feature length offering, at the Forum of the 70th Berlinale; a work which explores the issue of addiction through the intense and heartrending relationship which unites a single mother and her drug-addicted son in their quest for a cure.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose to tackle such a personal subject?
Paloma Sermon Daï: I come from Sclayn, the village where the film is shot. I think I had a lot to say about my area, and about certain subjects that are close to my heart, and that’s probably what drove me towards the documentary field in the first place. In 2018, my brother Damien wasn’t doing very well at all; he tried to get help but struggled to find a facility which suited his needs. I wanted to take hold of all of that, as if it were a huge lump of earth, and say: "We’re going to take all of this muck and make a statue out of it". I noticed that every time I filmed Damien on his own, he had a far harder shell than when he was with our mother. At first, I thought about including a few comical scenes, to punctuate the film, but in the end their relationship was so true that I cut them out. It’s just like in cooking: when you have good quality produce, you shouldn’t add too many ingredients, otherwise you lose the basic flavour.
How did you convince your family to trust you?
When I first broached the subject with Damien, he was already keen to help others, wanting people affected by addiction to be able to say to themselves: "I’m not alone". As my mum says in the film, all families have problems of one form or another. And despite it all, people who suffer from addictions like Damien rarely seek treatment. He’s got lots of friends who died very young, because they didn’t have the same life force or people who could support them. He wanted to talk.
To begin with, it’s a film about Damien. But then another character emerges, that of your mother…
My mum took care of Damien a lot, but it’s a co-dependent relationship. Damien also takes care of my mum a lot, she can depend on him. I’m pleased that we tackled the issue of addiction through the prism of a mother/son relationship, that we worked on something a little bit different, in terms of its format, too. Ultimately, it’s a story about filial and maternal love, a film about what it is to be a mother, what it is to be a son. If Damien didn’t have his love for his mother, he would have gone totally off the rails. It provided him with an anchorage point; a reason to keep his head above water, to remain a respectable person.
As the film progresses, the camera moves closer and closer towards the protagonists…
For the initial scenes in the bedroom with Damien, where we see him shooting up, the idea was to talk about it without actually talking about it; to show it without actually showing it. I had to find the right approach. It wouldn’t have added anything to the film to be in his face during those darker moments where he hurts himself. Also, those conversations we were having made us want to get closer and closer to their emotions, because we felt we could afford to do so. It’s a very static film, after all, and we wanted it to be increasingly personal. This closeness also pushes viewers to ask themselves what they would have done.
The film focuses on the relationship between Damien and his mother, but the region itself also has a strong presence…
Small Walloon villages, such as the one in the film, are a bit overlooked. If Damien grew up like that, it’s also as a result of the area. He was part of a group of kids who got up to no good. Lost children left to their own devices. Damien had his family structure as a refuge, luckily, but he did have a troubled youth.
(Translated from French)
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