Julien Becker • Co-director of An Zéro – Comment le Luxembourg a disparu
“There are some very good documentaries about nuclear power, but we wanted our viewers to be able to project themselves”
- The co-director of this film, which imagines the impact of a nuclear catastrophe on the territorial and cultural integrity of Luxembourg, tells us about its genesis
To create this docu-fiction as original as it is rich in scientific, political and historical information, Julien Becker collaborated with Thomas Tomschak and Myriam T. An Zéro [+see also:
interview: Julien Becker
film profile] simply stars from a clear observation: the operation of the Cattenom plant (in France’s North-East) has been extended indefinitely; as such, Luxembourg citizens have the right to ask questions, about both the security of the installations and the long-term projects of the operators. Directly threatened in case of a major accident, the Grand-Duchy could indeed be totally erased from the map: no other country in the world is in this situation.
Cineuropa: Tell us about the genesis of this project: why focus on Cattenom, this nuclear plant in France, 35 km away from Luxembourg’s capital?
Julien Becker: Around 2015, the Luxembourg state distributed iodine tablets in households. That is where the idea was born in Nima Azarmgin’s mind: what would occur, should there be a grave incident in that plant? She talked about it with a friend and, one thing leading to another, they suggested the idea to Skill Lab. We were soon enthralled by it, especially since there weren’t any recent projects in Luxembourg about that theme. We managed to convince the Film Fund Luxembourg to support us for the film’s development. The latter took some time, but we managed to begin pre-production before the first lockdown of 2020.
What does this place represent in the collective imaginary of Luxembourg? And on the national political scene?
In the 1970s, a project for a nuclear plant on Luxembourg territory was in the works, but it met with strong opposition and was abandoned in 1978. The Cattenom plant isn’t on the national territory, and so Luxembourg wasn’t able to oppose its construction. There is a great political consensus about the question of the closure of this plant. Our Prime Minister even offered in 2016 to participate financially in its closure. The plant dates from 1986 and even though the installations are not comparable, it isn’t surprising that after Chernobyl or Fukushima, Luxembourg citizens could consider it to be a potential threat.
Why did you want to tackle the topic in the form of a docu-fiction?
There are some very good documentaries about nuclear power. The topic often implies factual and scientific content. But we wanted our viewers to be able to project themselves, to put themselves in the shoes of. It was therefore obvious to us that we would need characters one could identify with. Our topic is the potential disappearance of a country and finally of its culture. The questions raised by this hypothetical incident are therefore of the order of the thought exercise, but also very strongly linked to emotions. In that sense, the model of reflection-projection and therefore the docu-fiction format seemed to us completely appropriate.
In terms of mise-en-scene, what were the challenges in transitioning from fiction to documentary and vice versa? This kind of back-and-forth can be quite tricky…
This was of course a central question. We opted for sharp cuts in order to avoid confusion between fiction and reality as much as possible. We also had to adapt to the current health situation, and to go for a solution that allowed us to shoot interviews despite the pandemic. This back-and-forth between fiction and documentary, we are far from being the first people to experiment with it, but it isn’t common. I can therefore imagine people being surprised by this structure, but ultimately the experience is very subjective.
Tell us about the visual concept of the film regarding the interviews with experts. They are accompanied by 3D animations which seem inspired by the aesthetic of the disaster film, or at least by a techno-futurist style…
We wanted a sober setup. We did some graphic research and agreed on a minimalist approach with simple lines. To illustrate the themes revolving around the disappearance or about radiation, we used glitch effects, visual aberrations which echo the theme of degradation.
How did you find and choose the specialists interviewed about the nuclear threat?
My co-director, who has solid experience in topics related to nuclear power, took care of this part of the project. She picked the interviewees. The panel of speakers is quite large and covers different fields, but what is surprising is that the discussions carried out ended up cross-cutting each other. These experts are not limited to their specific field: they expressed themselves freely, as citizens projecting themselves in this catastrophic situation.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.